If you're not getting results from your resume, it could be more than a poor job market. You've had years of experience and a stellar job record. So why don't employers look at your resume and want to hire you on the spot?
The answer may lie in one word: accomplishments. The key to writing accomplishments is to focus on results. Your resume can be loaded with details about your previous jobs, but without compelling accomplishments, it will blend in with hundreds like it.
What Is an Accomplishment?
Accomplishments (also called achievements) are different from abilities, duties, or strengths. Abilities are what you can do, duties are what you have done, and strengths are what you do well. Accomplishments show:
- The specific actions you have taken in a particular situation
- The skills and abilities you used to meet a challenge
- The results or outcomes you achieved
The following example is a job responsibility, not an accomplishment: "Wrote grant proposals to numerous funding sources to support program."
To turn this into an accomplishment, show the results and benefits: "Wrote three successful grant applications to private foundations, resulting in funding to serve an additional 100 clients."
Write Down Your Accomplishments
Before you start writing your resume, draw up a list of accomplishments. You won't use the same ones in every resume, so have some in reserve for different types of positions. Don't forget that your volunteer work and education can also be counted as accomplishments—as long as they are related to the job you want.
To jog your memory about your accomplishments, ask yourself these questions:
- Accomplished more with the same or fewer resources? (How? Results?)
- Received awards, special recognition, etc. (What? Why?)
- Increased efficiency? (How? Results?)
- Accomplished something for the first time? (What? Results?)
- Prepared original papers, reports, and articles? (What? Why important?)
- Managed a work group, a department? (Who? How many? Results?)
- Managed a budget? (How much? Result?)
- Identified problems others didn’t see? (What? Results?)
- Developed a new system or procedure? (What? Result?)
- Been promoted or upgraded? (When? Why important?)
Summarize Your Accomplishments
Try the Challenge-Action-Results (CAR) approach. For each accomplishment, write down the answers to the following questions:
- The Challenge: What was the pre-existing problem, need, or situation?
- The Actions: What did you do about it? Be specific. You can also include any obstacles you overcame, and the skills you demonstrated.
- The Results: What results did you produce? Quantify the results (use numbers!).
After answering the questions above, summarize your answers in an accomplishment statement to include in your resume.
How to Measure Your Accomplishments
Use numbers whenever you can—money saved, decreased costs, achieving more with less. The best numbers are in dollars.
If it's not possible to give a dollar amount, use other measures. Examples: number of people affected, amount of time saved, percent increase in subscriptions or traffic, percent reduction in customer complaints, or similar measures.
If you can't quantify, use words like "significantly" or "substantially"—as long as this is true, of course.
Examples of Accomplishments
For a job in customer relations: "Developed communication strategy to respond to customers regarding a new 150-item product list, resulting in a 20 percent decrease in the number of returned orders."
For a job managing computer operations: "Initiated and implemented a strategy for consolidating computer operations from three centers to two, saving $200,000 without interrupting processing."
For an outreach job with your local senior center: "Initiated a neighborhood watch program covering a seven-block area. Recruited over 50 volunteers, scheduled shifts, and publicized the effort to the local paper. Crime dropped over 20 percent in the first six months."
For a job as a professional storyteller: "Presented 10 storytelling workshops for grade levels K-6 at county schools and public libraries. Trained over 100 after-school group leaders on how to start a storytelling program, resulting in self-sustaining programs at five locations.
What is Not an Accomplishment
Accomplishments are specific; they state concrete actions and results. The following kinds of information are not accomplishments, and it’s best to avoid them:
- Your job description. Eliminate the phrase "duties included" from your resume. Instead, translate your job duties into specific accomplishments.
- The number of years you worked, or good attendance. Instead of how long you worked, focus on what you accomplished. It's your list of achievements that will demonstrate your future value to the employer.
- Soft skills, such as "team player," "good communicator," and "detail-oriented." Nice as it is to have these traits, leave them out of your resume. Instead, cite accomplishments that show you have these qualities.
- Vague statements about your career. Omit fuzzy language such as, "Seeking to use my broad range of skills in a challenging position." Instead, focus on specific skills and achievements.
Accomplishments = Results
Knowing your accomplishments has many advantages. You'll be able to:
- Seek out the jobs that fit you best Highlight "transferable skills" that apply to different kinds of jobs
- Tailor your resume to the specific job
- Improve your networking pitch
- Write a more focused resume