Looking for Work? Keep a Diary

Writers get results.

Posted Nov 04, 2011

A high technology company downsized, and sixty three of its fired long service professionals volunteered for an experiment. Job seekers were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Subjects in the experimental group were required to write for five consecutive days, twenty minutes each day.

They were instructed to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding the layoff and how their lives had been affected. They wrote daily notes about their job search experiences, including their feelings about what happened during the day.

A second writing group was instructed to write about their job search experiences each day but to restrict the material to facts. Avoid writing feelings. This was Control Group Group 1.

The third group did not keep a daily diary. This was Control Group 2.

Writers Get Results

Three months later, there was no significant difference between the non-writers and the facts-only writers in finding employment. The experimental group, however, was more successful in finding full time employment:

Sixty eight percent of the experimental group found jobs versus 48% of those that wrote diaries without emotional content and 27% of the group which did not keep a diary.

Those that kept diaries with emotions also consumed less alcohol than either of the other two groups.

Why Will Diaries Work for You?

There was no significant difference between the three groups in terms of phone calls made, networking meetings, or letters sent out. The difference appeared to be the value of the diary in working out thoughts and feelings surrounding the negativity of job loss and then trying to find new employment. The inhibition of these negative feelings is itself psychological and physiological work that adds to an already stressful situation. And that might explain the difference in alcohol consumption.

Many of our job candidates have this attitude about their terminations:

"No sense in going over history. Focus on the future."

The problem with this attitude is that failing to understand what happened increases the probability of making the same mistakes again.

If you have an impartial friend or career consultant, use the individual to learn from the past. And if you do not have those services, put down your thoughts/feelings on paper. The act of writing or typing puts it all "out there" where you can deal with it.

Support for this theory can be found in other studies. On study of 200 corporate employees found that a correlation between major physical illnesses (cancer, hypertension, etc.) and unwillingness to openly discuss trauma.

Don't Like Words? Try Images

One of our job candidates has artistic skills. Each day she drew her emotions and would show it to us. The first few weeks were filled with images showing her torturing her last boss combined with images of herself as a homeless woman searching trash cans for food. As time went on, the images became more positive. Her final image was of herself crossing a finish line on a powerful white horse. Her arms were raised in victory and she was smiling.

If you don't have the artistic skills, try going on google images and selecting a photograph that reflects your feelings and past it into your diary.

What Goes into a Diary

If your diary is to be composed of words, perhaps each day might contain the following issues;

Whom did I call on the phone. Did I get through?
What did I say? How did the other person respond?
How did I feel at the end of the call?
Whom did I see today? What did I say? How did I feel?
What are my plans for the next day?

What are my hopes?
What are my fears?

Not Facebook

It is not unsual for pre-teenage girls and early teenage girls to keep confidential diaries. Perhaps they are on to something we adults should copy. But true diaries should be kept confidential and shown only to highly trustworthy people. In other words, do not use Facebook as your diary!


Stephanie P. Spera, Eric D. Buhrfeind, and James W. Pennebaker. "Expressive writing and coping with job loss." Academy of Management Journal, 1994, 37,3,pp.722-733.