As a child, writing a book report can be one of the most frightening tasks that a teacher can ask you to do. Even before you learn about narrative climax or point of view, you’re supposed to be able to explain a book’s plot, characters, and main lessons in just a page or so.
While we’re all grateful to move on from the pressures of elementary school, the organizational strategy behind the basic book report presents an interesting model for job seekers and those looking to improve or build upon professional development opportunities in their current jobs.
At its foundation, a book report is simply a one- or two-page document in which the main ideas, actors, and driving forces in a book, movie, or, indeed, person, are succinctly enumerated. More than a summary, this type of one-pager provides an overview, an explanation of main elements or themes, and a digestible description of goals that can be understood and interpreted by anyone.
For the business world, the idea of a one-pager has obvious applications for people interested in starting a business or in picking up consulting work outside of their day jobs. Since the one-pager is intended to provide an overview of one’s business model, mission, and services offered, it is a useful document to present to potential clients.
Surprisingly, however, this type of one-page document can be critical for individuals who are struggling to find direction in their careers, who are seeking professional development within their current position, or who want to change positions or careers.
Two months ago, as I was starting to assemble the rudiments of a business plan, I solicited advice from an alumni contact I had made through LinkedIn on the best ways to target my business to the corporate communications sector. This contact, Matt, has become a much-valued mentor, providing me with a wealth of information about how to break out of the nonprofit world and apply my skills in the for-profit sector.
In addition to charitably guiding me through the rocky world of social media, Matt suggested that I put together a one-page document about my company in order to explain the unique value-added of my company over competitors. In contrast to an exhaustive business plan, this one-page document is a brief synopsis of my company’s mission, client areas, and services offered.
Unlike a career map , which is perhaps a one-pager with a wider lens or a longer term outlook, the concept of a one-pager is simply an exercise in outlining what you do as a professional, what your key skills and strengths are, and what sort of work you can see yourself doing at this point in your career.
Following Matt’s advice, here are the core areas for a basic one-page plan:
Overview. The Overview is meant to be a one- or two-sentence snapshot of you or your business. It should explain who you are, what you do, and your industry/client base. This section does not need to explain the “how” or “why” of what you do, only simply the “what.” An Overview can be something simple, such as “Research Analyst for Bio-Fuel Technology,” or something longer, such as “University Research Fellow focused on sociopolitical impact of new environmental regulations.”
The point of the Overview is to home in not just on your job title but your main responsibilities and industry expertise. In this way, the Overview can provide you with a quick snapshot of your current position and its functions, which will help you later as you evaluate your career goals and if you’re on or off track.
Mission. In the Mission section, you need to explain your goals or driving factors as a professional, whether it be advocating for clean air quality or teaching students politics so they can become better attuned citizens.
While Mission Statements are common at the organizational level, it is possible -- and indeed useful -- to do this as an individual. Figuring out your own personal mission can help you target the degree to which your current job or professional path meets your needs or is at least on track to reach your professional goals.
Clients/Key Content Areas. The Clients/Key Content Areas section is designed to detail with whom you do business (or work) and on what sector you focus. List your main areas of expertise and who your main clients are.
Even if it is just a brief list of “Clients: Students, parents, administrators, fellow faculty” and “Key Content Areas: sociology, social development, and historical approaches to gender,” writing these lists out gives you a critical understanding of the main actors in your professional environment and the main issues that you deal with.
Services/Skills Offered. The Services/Skills Offered is probably the most critical part of the entire document. In this section, you should list your services or skills. As an individual, your “services” comprise what you consider your primary skills as well as your secondary skills, often divided by client functional area.
Your services/skills are the key elements in your professional toolbox and can include management experience, client relationship skills, technology expertise, and so on. This section is a good way to see plainly how you spend your time in your current job, what other skills you have that you’re not using, and which skills you would like to develop further.
So, now you’ve got a one-pager. What do you do with it?
While it may seem illogical, writing a one-page plan about yourself and your career can offer unique perspective on your own qualifications as well as your career path. After all, how often do you have time to sit back and figure out what you’re good at, what you do for a living, and how well you are fulfilling your career goals?
More than a self-evaluation, which many companies use as the basis of their performance appraisal systems, a one-pager allows you a chance to gauge your own goals as well as your career development. Think of it as your own personal career counselor, conveniently packaged in a short document. Assessing your mission and key strengths as a professional can allow you to ascertain not only your own progress and career goals but also the job-fit quotient of your current position or job search and ways in which you may need to re-evaluate or fine tune your approach.
You can use this one-pager to discuss professional development opportunities with a supervisor, evaluate your own career goals or direction, do consulting work, start a new business, or simply to figure out what it is that you like doing and do best in order to sharpen your job search or career path.
Understanding the main story, characters, themes, and driving forces of your own personal book in a one-pager can help you assess, monitor, and evaluate your professional progress and determine if you are on track to reach your goals.
Jessica Quillin owns Quillin Consulting, LLC,  a consultancy in Washington focused on content development, research, and strategy for the education and arts sectors. She holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Cambridge.