11 April, 20234 minute read

The brag sheet: your career advancement hack

One of the first things I talk about with new reports is the importance of starting and maintaining a brag sheet. Oftentimes I’ll need to bring it up a few times before the engineer will action it, and I think that’s a real shame. A lot of engineers are underpaid and under-leveled because they don’t have a brag sheet or equivalent system in place.

The brag sheet is as simple as the name suggests: it’s a big Google Doc (or whatever you prefer) that lists out all of the things you’ve accomplished. It’s a living record of all the cool shit you’ve done, and it makes getting your next promotion or raise way easier because having that information handy makes demonstrating your impact trivial.

As a manager I want to give out raises and promotions where possible—they’re great tools for recognizing hard work and building trust. But hard as I might try I don’t know the details of every single thing you did over the past two quarters, and if I have $50k available for raises I need to prioritize where that pot is going.

Ultimately, if one person simply asks for a raise while another person asks for a raise because they’ve done X, Y, and Z, then the second person is going to get more of that pot.

Even if I were perfect and knew everything you did this performance review cycle, other managers aren’t. Learning to advocate for yourself and ask for what you think you deserve is an important life skill, because we probably won’t be working with each other ten years from now. Get into the habit of maintaining your brag sheet now, and it’ll pay off massively over the course of your career—especially if you’re looking to progress beyond the “senior” job title.

How do you start a brag sheet?

Make a document on whatever cloud-based document editor you prefer. I use Google Docs, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use Notion or even a markdown file in a private GitHub repository. Critically, you should make sure the brag sheet is hosted on a personal account and not a work account—you want to keep your brag sheet after you leave your current workplace.

Share the doc with your work account so that you can easily update it during work, without needing to key your personal account’s details into your work laptop.

The exact format of the document doesn’t matter. The only requirements are that the format makes sense to you and is easy to update so that you’re not discouraged from editing it. You want to edit your brag sheet often—you can always delete something if it turns out to be useless later on, but remembering something important you’ve forgotten is very difficult.

My brag sheet has a section for each project I’ve worked on, with newer projects at the top of the document. I’m involved in things outside of my day job, so I don’t like to segregate my brag sheet by company. If you have a more linear employment history then adding in company sections is fine.

The key things you want to cover for each project are as follows:

  1. What the project was about.
  2. What your contribution to the project was.
  3. Any difficulties you ran into, and how you solved them.
  4. The final business impact of the project (e.g. $X revenue increase)

You can add extra details if you want to—I often include links to key resources like the relevant requirements doc, or any frontend designs that might have been made. More context is better than less context.

I typically cover the above points in bullet point format, and will then also write a paragraph or two as a way of practicing “telling the story” of the project. Being able to spin a good and compelling narrative is important, and forcing yourself to write down some prose about your involvement in the project will make anything you’re not clear on very obvious.

What’s the point of this exercise?

If you’ve got content on your brag sheet, then it’s a good time to start early conversations with your manager about a raise before performance reviews start. Being able to confidently discuss the projects you’ve worked on and their business impact will immediately put you in front of other engineers—the reality is that most people don’t take the time to maintain a brag sheet.

The brag sheet also helps ensure you don’t forget any of the work you’ve done. The act of merely writing down the details will help you remember them, and if you do still wind up forgetting then you can always scan over your brag sheet for a refresher.

The point about recording challenges you encountered is also a growth opportunity. Are you constantly running into the same issues, project after project? If so then you’ve found something that you should try to get better at. Not only is the brag sheet a way of recording achievements and supporting a case for your next raise, but it’s also a tool for identifying new goals.

If you’re in a hostile workplace then it’s also a valuable tool for covering yourself. It’s difficult—although admittedly not impossible—for coworkers or management to pick on you when you have documentation of the things you’ve achieved. While you should be looking for a new gig in this situation, you can at least rest somewhat easy knowing that a PIP is unlikely to come your way.

And finally, if you are thinking that it might be time to move on to greener pastures the brag sheet is a fantastic resource to have handy when updating your CV and social media profiles. The absolute best highlights from your brag sheet should form the basis for your CV, and you’ll do a much better job constructing your CV because you aren’t operating purely from memory.

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