Case Management: Why Note-Taking Matters

Career professional doing note-taking in client case management.

Note-taking in career development? Yes! As career practitioners, we love working with our clients one-on-one, but many of us dread the administrative and reporting part of the work. Yet, note-taking is a vital skill for all career pros to master. Read on to learn how successful management of our clients’ cases involves elevating our note-taking abilities to a level of excellence that will improve the quality of results and outcomes.

What is the Role of a Case Manager?

Case managers are professionals who help clients resolve difficult work-life situations and problems over a period of time. The role exists in a variety of settings such as social work, education, healthcare, and the legal system. In the area of career development, case managers can be found in non-profit organizations funded by the government or other bodies; places like provincially-funded employment centres, newcomer settlement agencies, community services departments, and the like.

Career practitioners in private practice are case managers, too!

To support their clients, case managers:

  • Meet with the client and conduct a thorough intake and assessment.
  • Ask open-ended questions to understand the client’s working, learning, and life goals.
  • Identify the client’s barriers and co-create an individualized action plan.
  • Define short-term and long-term SMART goals—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
  • Identify and complete targeted referrals to programs, services, and trusted colleagues.
  • Advocate and apply for government-funded programs, where applicable, on behalf of the client.
  • Meet with the client regularly to assess their progress, collect, analyze, and synthesize data, and propose steps to achieve action plan goals.
  • Suggest alternate solutions when the client’s situation changes.
  • Follow up with the client until the action plan is complete and they can independently support themselves.
  • Remain available as a resource in case the client wants to follow up.

Through all of these steps, clear, concise, accurate, and factual notes—recorded in a timely manner—are essential for success.

Why Note-Taking is So Important

  • Clear, detailed notes are a record of the client’s starting situation, goals, and plan of action.
  • They keep track of the client’s progress on the action plan.
  • Good notes make it easy for a trusted colleague (covering for vacation or sick leave) or other professional to pick up the case and seamlessly contribute to the client’s services and progress
  • Case notes are legal documents. They provide accountability and protection for you, your employer, and funders of the services you provide. These notes may be needed by clients, auditors, judges, lawyers, government agencies, other service providers and more.

Ksenia’s Note-Taking Perspective and Advice

As a Case Manager and Program Coordinator with Immigrant Services Associaton of Nova Scotia (ISANS), the leading immigrant settlement agency in Atlantic Canada, I have gained first-hand appreciation for the importance of excellent note-taking. My colleagues (300+) are passionate people working diligently to benefit the many newcomers to Canada who are settling in Nova Scotia. Multiple staff in diverse programs work tirelessly to support every client. Excellent note-taking enables us to serve our clients better and faster.

When I took CPC’s Certified Work-Life Strategist Course (CWS), I learned how to holistically support clients in living, learning, and working. I honed the skill of following up with clients to stay attuned to new developments in their lives. I got better at accurately documenting their progress in our database and case files. Being diligent, detailed, accurate, and prompt in note-taking enabled my colleagues to stay updated and offer the most relevant and timely program support.

When I think notes, I think legacy. How do I want to be remembered by my colleagues and clients who may have access to these notes? I want to be known as a case manager who is professional, knowledgeable, ethical, thorough, and kind.

My notes accurately and clearly reflect the quality of my work with clients.

At ISANS, we say: “The service to a client not documented is a service not provided.”

In my Employment Specialist role, I supported a caseload of 125–150 newcomer clients, some of whom needed substantial support and frequent meetings. Developing an efficient note-taking system saved time for myself and my colleagues.

Here are 16 helpful note-taking tips:

  1. Follow the DAP formula – Data (facts), Assessment (meaning), Plan (proposed action).
  2. Record and verify with the client important facts and data.
  3. Take notes during the meeting while your memory is crisp and accurate.
  4. Before you see your next client, schedule 15 minutes to devote to recording the notes from your last meeting.
  5. Record notes promptly so colleagues can access them right away.
  6. Record notes that are clear, concise, unambiguous, and cannot be misinterpreted.
  7. Ensure your notes are beneficial and aim to help the client.
  8. Include facts only and omit opinion and interpretation.
  9. Record only relevant items discussed and omit sensitive personal information.
  10. Remember that others may have access to the notes; record only the key points.
  11. Document relevant legal information—notes are legal records.
  12. Record your recommendations to the client to drive accountability and gauge liability.
  13. When recording an interaction that took place over email, copy-and-paste into the database instead of paraphrasing—it creates a detailed, 100% accurate snapshot of client communications.
  14. In the notes, record actionable items for the next meeting to stay on track.
  15. For online meetings, have a secure backup system for notes in case of an internet outage. You can still counsel and coach clients on the phone and access notes in an MS Word document on your hard drive.
  16. Keep notes confidential and fully secure to protect clients.

Another helpful tactic I use is to share the screen with my clients during online meetings. I invite them to actively participate in note-taking by asking them to help me clarify the spelling of proper names and accurately record facts.

Staying transparent in my process helps me to remain accountable and develop a trusting relationship and a safe space for my clients, while also keeping accurate records. Collaborating with my clients on note-taking ensures an engaging and meaningful process. My note-taking practice becomes less of an administrative task and more of a connection with my client as we work together to meet their needs.

Note-taking does not have to be tedious. It can help us remain ethical, organized, efficient, and accountable. It can also be engaging, collaborative, and fun!

Lori’s Note-Taking Perspective and Advice

Although different note-taking approaches exist, in my private career practice, I have found that the most efficient way is to create concise but detailed notes using point form. I then organize the points under key headings. Detail is important in note-taking because we need to write notes from the client’s perspective without bias or discrimination. The exact language used must be factual and objective.

Sometimes, I like to take a creative approach and draw images, or use mind-mapping with keywords, depending upon the client’s style, personality, background, and the nature of the case. Mind-mapping helps me break down a problem and generate creative ideas and results-driven solutions when coaching a client through a career transition. The Challenge–Action–Results (CAR) approach allows a complete story to unfold for better understanding, problem solving, and decision-making.

A few years ago, I learned a unique and effective method for preparing case notes—the Cornell Note-Taking Method—which I encourage all career professionals to experiment with.

I once coached a client in a 2-hour session using the Cornell Method. It helped me take more efficient, organized notes where I could quickly spot patterns, key points, and emerging themes, which allowed me to ask relevant questions. This method, in turn, resulted in being able to support the client in uncovering their value, addressing gaps or barriers, and carving out a clear career focus.

Be Aware of Note-Taking Pitfalls

As career strategists, we need to be aware that errors in our case notes—although entirely unintentional—can impact our business or, more importantly, a client’s personal or professional life. For example, even minor errors or gaps in information may lead to a lackluster or inaccurate résumé being created, possibly impacting a client’s job search outcome. Note-taking errors can cause miscommunication, which may derail a previously solid relationship. Taking notes using biased language can fuel misperceptions, prejudice, discrimination, and unethical practices.

Remember to keep objectivity and integrity at the heart of your case notes. Effective note-taking requires active listening to what the client is actually telling you.

However, we also need to listen to what is not being said and use our discretion, sound judgment, and questioning skills to determine what the client is trying to communicate. Often using a client’s direct quotes is an effective way to capture facts and sentiments while ensuring complete accuracy in case management notes.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind if you want to create clear, effective case notes:

  1. Don’t over simplify content.
  2. On the flip side, don’t over clarify or complicate content.
  3. Avoid informal or obscure acronyms and slang.
  4. Use simple language to avoid misunderstanding or confusion.
  5. Don’t take shortcuts that could impact clarity.
  6. Don’t include personal opinions or judgments, especially about subjects you are not expert in.
  7. Avoid taking a biased, prejudicial, or negative tone.

CPC is developing a ground-breaking course on case management that will launch in September 2022. Courses always fill up fast—especially new ones. Check the CPC schedule and register now to secure your spot in the first cohort!

Ksenia Lazoukova is a Certified Career Development Practitioner (CCDP), Certified Résumé Strategist, Certified Career Strategist, Certified Employment Strategist, Certified Interview Strategist, and Certified Work-Life Strategist. She is a proud member and volunteer with Career Professionals of Canada. Ksenia is a dynamic career development professional, case manager, program coordinator, adult educator, and learning developer working at the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia where she helps newcomers to Nova Scotia achieve their employment and career goals. In her past role as a job coach, Ksenia provided a wide range of employment services to people with disabilities in the supported employment setting. Her passion is helping people of various backgrounds overcome multiple barriers, fulfill their life and career dreams and goals, and become more fully integrated into their communities.

Lori Jazvac is a passionate, award-winning Master Certified Résumé Strategist and Certified Employment Strategist through Career Professionals of Canada. As a multi-certified Master Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Coach, she specializes in helping clients navigate challenging career transitions. In 2013, an empowering vision inspired Lori to launch Creative Horizons Communications, a holistic career services firm where she virtually supports jobseekers around the globe to embrace their next career milestone. In her spare time, Lori enjoys dance, blogging, watching comedies and reality shows, yoga, and taking long walks in nature.

Photo by georgerudy on 123RF

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