Before I wrote this article, I spent at least three hours with each individual client explaining these principles. With the article, it's faster and simpler. I know you'll enjoy the self-discovery process and create the best, highest-impact resume you've ever had.
Written records of your work results, achievements, successes, and accomplishments are the heart of your marketing campaign. They explain the essence of your "track record." Sooner or later, you'll be asked about what I call your triples and your home runs--or else your field goals and touchdowns--or any other metaphor you want to use. So writing them down on paper prepares you in advance.
There are at least five reasons you should document your work performance:
1. To gain self-awareness.
2. To lift your spirits and get you feeling very confident about yourself--ready to tackle the marketplace.
3. To show that you have completed many projects that are difficult and worthwhile.
4. To give specific, measurable, concrete examples of your contributions.
5. To differentiate yourself from competitors and show how you're clearly head-and-shoulders above them.
You will use your written accomplishments in at least three places: the resume, marketing letters and face-to-face meetings. At the start of this exercise, many people--even senior executives--say something like, "I didn't really accomplish anything, I just did my job." It's natural to feel that way. Yes, you did your job, but you did a lot more besides. You were accomplishing things even when you didn't know it. You may have hundreds of accomplishments. It's just a matter of digging for them.
Many times we take ourselves for granted. But we shouldn't, because what we can do easily might sound downright impossible to the average reader.
"We look back on our life as a thing of broken pieces,
because our mistakes and failures are always the first to strike us,
and outweigh in our imagination what we have accomplished and attained."
--GOETHE, Maxims and Reflections
Duties and Responsibilities vs. Accomplishments
Your duties and responsibilities refer to the general scope of your job, such as "sales" or "selling." Accomplishment statements give specific examples of tasks you finished. The following chart shows the difference.
Duties and Responsibilities Accomplishments
Was responsible for sales in Western Region. Terminated two salesmen, yet increased sales six-fold in three months despite reduction in force.
As HR Director, was responsible for saving money on corporate benefits. Shopped for a long-term disability insurance and found package that saved 10% over present costs.
Typing 85 words per minute isn't necessarily an accomplishment. It's a skill. But quickly typing a 50 page report in two hours so it can be mailed by 5 p.m. is an achievement.
Being an excellent manager isn't an accomplishment. It's a skill. But leading a task force that develops a new money-making product in less than two months is an accomplishment.
Maintaining productivity is not necessarily an accomplishment, but maintaining productivity under adverse circumstances is. See how this works?
Where to Find Your Successes
To find your accomplishments ask yourself if you have:
Identified new markets
Invented or improved something
Achieved more with fewer resources
Improved productivity or operations
Solved a long-standing problem
Achieved a technical breakthrough
Made headlines or did something newsworthy
Improved staff or team morale
If you can't remember your successes, then think of problems you've solved. Take a sheet of paper and divide it vertically into three columns, and title with the following:
Problems I Faced Action Steps I Took Results
Poor data processing caused delays over 120 days. Established and managed data processing center. Evaluated processing. Moved company to new location. Turnaround improved to 45 days.
Unable to track history of customers' sales and contracts. Investigated and purchased PLEASE data base software. Created data base structure and report structure. Trained personnel in use of data base. Able to produce reports on client sales patterns within minutes.
Don't be afraid to take credit for what you've done, especially in the early stages of this project. Most of us undersell ourselves. We tend to claim too little for ourselves--not too much.
Job-hunters hesitate to take credit for an entire project, especially when they managed the project or had others help. Don't worry about that. If you write "Saved $20MM by installing new computer hardware and software system," the reader will assume you had help with the project and didn't do it alone. So don't be shy. Speak up!
Whenever possible, try to show how what you did contributed to company profit. This shows that you were thinking about the bottom line--and sometimes that's more important than what you actually achieved.
However, not everyone saves the company $3 million per year or improves productivity by 182%. Some people really do "just do their jobs." Still, you can find accomplishments that "sound impressive," and for the purposes of this exercise, that's what counts. So look for things that sound difficult to do, even if they weren't.
In a seminar at US Steel in Provo, Utah a secretary said, "I've never accomplished anything." I said, "How long have you worked here?" She said, "Ten years." I said, "How many days of work have you missed?" She said, "I've never missed a single day." And I said, "That sounds like an accomplishment to me."
Seven Helpful Hints
1. Use before-and-after comparisons. For example: "Before I organized the inventory, orders took three hours to process. After I organized the inventory, orders were processed in 20 minutes." Such before/after statements are easily turned into written accomplishments, like this: "Organized inventory and saved more than two and one-half hours per order."
2. Add numbers, data, details, facts and percentages.
DON'T SAY: DO SAY:
Long report 250 page status report
Very short time Two hours
Large company $250 million furniture manufacturer
Managed staff Managed 18 person sales staff
Machinery D9 Caterpillars
3. Condense long sentences into short ones.
DON'T SAY: DO SAY:
Served as SOHIO liaison with the Northwest Alaskan Pipeline Company, which headed the consortium charged with designing and constructing a $2 billion cubic foot per day gas processing facility on the North Slope of Alaska and a gas pipeline from this facility to the lower 48 states. The estimated project costs were $43 billion. Served as liaison on $43 billion project to line-process and transport 26 trillion cubic feet from the Prudhoe Bay Reservoir to the lower 48 states.
4. Be relevant. If you repainted the factory, that's irrelevant (unless you want a painting job). If you repainted the factory for $10,000 less than last year, that's significant.
5. Avoid glowing generalities, statements that fall into the category of "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound." If not supported by facts, they aren't believable.
DON'T SAY: INSTEAD ...
"Work well under pressure" Give a specific example of a pressured situation where you performed well.
"Thrive in fast-paced environment" Give a concrete example of an accomplishment that demanded fast-paced activity.
"Real decision-maker" Give one example of a decision you made that brought desirable, measurable results.
"Achievement-oriented" Fill your resume with specific, measurable achievements.
"Outstanding leadership skills" Give an example of a project that you led that produced outstanding results.
"Success-oriented" Document several big successes.
6. Be realistic. An achievement statement should sound difficult, but not impossible. If it sounds "too good to be true" and you take credit for it, it may damage your credibility.
Also, there's a thin line between sounding good and bragging. Sounding good is fine but bragging isn't. One client told me he had sold his duck logo (a piece of artwork on a business card) for $3,500. I could tell the art was inexpensive "clip art," so I disbelieved him and never again fully trusted what he said.
7. Add struggle. This may seem to contradict the advice just given, but it doesn't. I've seen too many resumes full of bulleted-accomplishments that lack impact because they lack "struggle." They sound too easy.
"Reduced operating costs 4%," is fine--but sounds as if it could've been achieved with one phone call to a vendor. Therefore, it sounds weak--or if not weak, it doesn't sound nearly as strong as it could if "struggle" were added.
Whenever possible, add the agony of the process. Show the dragons you slayed, describe the 14,000-foot mountains you climbed without oxygen, and mention the bushels of broken glass you tiptoed across to complete your task. Don't exaggerate--but don't minimize, either.
Let's reword the accomplishment given above, adding struggle:
"In midst of strong, ongoing opposition from consultants and peers on senior management team, reduced vendors from six (6) to three (3), negotiated sharply discounted raw materials prices, and cut operating costs 4%, a savings of $228,000 per month."
This wording is much better, and much more powerful. It sounds as though some work went into it, as though there were obstacles along the path. If there were obstacles in the path of your accomplishment--and there always are--tell the reader what they were.
After you've drafted your "triples" and "home runs," read them from the viewpoint of struggle. If they sound too easy--like you could've completed them on your cell phone by the pool--go back to the drawing board. You're not finished yet.
How to Write Work Accomplishments
Accomplishments are written in the past tense, because that's when they happened. They traditionally begin with "action verbs," words like implemented, initiated, designed and directed.
Accomplishment statements are often written in two parts. The first part tells what you did. The second part tells what the result was. That's the "So what?" part. Yes, you took certain actions--but so what? What measurable impact did they have? Here's what the format looks like:
WHAT I DID AND HOW I DID IT -- THE RESULT (SO WHAT?)
Here are some well-written success statements:
Was responsible for $200K new revenue in 1.5 years.
Reduced complaint answering time from 21 days to 7.
Restructured 450 turnkey construction projects to insure completion on
time and within budgetary limitations. Reduced overall cost of project by
more than $2MM.
Achieved sales of FHLMC commitments in amount of $.6B ; exceeded
volume goal by 124.8%--highest sales achievement for FHLMC region.
For a single client, prepared five private placement offerings and an R&D
limited partnership offering which together raised $10MM working capital
from U.S. and foreign investors.
Spearheaded meetings to control outside costs; resulted in 87% cost
reduction in radiology and 26% cost reduction in physical therapy.
Reduced staff by 15% through internal reorganization of staffing mix,
patient/staff ratio and use of part-time help.
Implemented revised fringe benefits program which saved $25,000 in
annual premium cost and improved employee insurance coverage.
Not all accomplishment statements follow these rules. Some wordings are good just because they sound good. If they sound impressive, leave them alone. "Operated within one and one-half percent of projected annual budget," is an accomplishment simply stated. It should be left alone. Concentrate on improving weaker text.
Sometimes two, three or even twelve small achievements can be lumped together to make them sound better. For example: If you taught the same accounting seminar every day for a year, that's fairly routine. But if you've taught the seminar 285 times with consistently excellent evaluations, that's exciting.
Sometimes companies abandon projects or shelve reports you've worked hard on. You still accomplished something even though they didn't use your work. Let's suppose you spent six months writing a report, and they shelved it. There's no "So what?" Nothing great happened. Your effort can still be written as an accomplishment, like this:
"Designed research study, interviewed 438 people, collected data from 27 academic sources and presented 187 page strategic report to management."
Here are some poorly written success statements:
Managed insurance, pension, employee savings, tuition reimbursement
programs. (So what?)
Advised parent company senior executives and joint venture partners and
managers on issues of strategic planning and daily operations.
(Merely a statement of job duties and responsibilities.)
How to Rework Your Writing
You'll probably need to rework your sentences many times to give them impact. When you first write your achievements, they may be too general. You may need to return to them and sharpen them up. Here are some examples of accomplishments that have been rewritten and improved:
First Version Second Version
As part of team, successfully completed project ahead of schedule and under budget. As part of management development team, successfully completed performance appraisal ahead of schedule and $10 MM under budget.
Administered labor contract effectively with minimum grievances. Administered complex union contract involving travel, transfer, seniority, wages and benefits and negotiated settlement of 70% of labor grievances at my level.
Was outstanding manager. Received 3 promotions and 18 pay raises in 38 years. As supervisor, was rated in top 25% for last 5 years.
Input 40 orders per day to give customers faster service. Input 40 orders daily, exceeding the average by 60%. Six to nine orders is satisfactory; more than 12 is considered outstanding.
Coordinated with all departments to ensure customer satisfaction. Coordinated with all departments nationwide to ensure customer satisfaction. Result was an average of six customer commendations per month.
Met all 1985 office quotas
(an accomplishment simply stated.)
Supervised publication of business telephone directory. Spearheaded production of the 3 most successful business directories in 10 years.
Successfully implemented recognition and tracking procedures for 40 employees. Successfully computerized recognition and tracking system for 40 employees. Project involved extensive data changes and accurate research, and saved $15,000 per year in clerical time.
Proven track record for system sales bringing in high revenue. Sold telephone systems and brought in $50,000 revenue per month.
A CEO Struggles With His Accomplishments
Most of us--maybe all of us--struggle with feelings of inadequacy, even though we've accomplished a lot. During a recent counseling session I was surprised to see these words written by a senior executive who had been president of several large companies:
"I have a large number of significant accomplishments, and people for whom I have a great deal of respect, note and comment favorably on these accomplishments, and also express confidence that I can continue this record in other areas. "Yet I was usually surprised when I achieved them (even though frequently I did it with ease). The circumstances were usually that these problems/opportunities simply became available to me in the course of my life or job, and it just seemed up to me to handle them. Very importantly, I did not aggressively seek them out (though I often did make myself noticeably available) and so made no promises about how well I might solve them.
"In the search for a new career, I feel that if I could bring myself to make these accomplishments more a part of my self-image, I would fare much better. The tangible evidence is there, but I seem to want the potential employer to interpret it and him place me in the new job, without my having to explicitly promise miracles.
"This is what has always happened in the past--and I have always had strong achievement in every new job. But I am still reluctant. I feel this behavior by me is not logical, and can result in my being underemployed (because I'm being rather passive in the selection of the new job). Just realizing that it's not logical doesn't seem to help that much. I really need some help on this one."
Apparently, Mark got the insight he needed. He is now President of a high-tech startup company. Most of us feel insecure from time to time--I know I do and naturally, the job search highlights that. Concentrate on your successes, and keep reciting them in your mind. Whoever you are, the future holds great promise for you.
Everyone has work accomplishments, but. . .
They're not always easy to see.
You may have to ask for help to find yours (Ask friends, peers, bosses,
subordinates; ask your spouse and your past and present customers.)
Read accomplishments other people have written to give yourself
ideas--but don't copy theirs.
Do several drafts. Don't expect them to come out perfect the first time.
This is one of the most worthwhile career exercises you will ever do. Take your time here. Don't rush. Don't gloss over it. You can easily afford to spend several hours--perhaps several days--documenting your past performance.
There's a $50,000 resume, a $75,000 resume, a $90,000 resume, a $150,000 resume, and a $250,000 resume--and the difference between them is the character and strength of the accomplishments. Your resume should read $10,000-$50,000 above your last salary level, and it will if you agonize over your past achievements.
If your resume is full of hard-hitting accomplishments, you'll shorten your job search considerably. Doors will open more easily. You'll be interviewed more often. Your interviews will go much better, and you'll be hired sooner. Good luck, and happy writing.
How to Start
1. Take a separate sheet of paper for each job title you've had. If you've had six different jobs inside one company, you'll still need six pieces of paper. Volunteer experience counts as a job. So does school. So does being a homemaker.
2. Quickly write your accomplishments for each job "off the top of your head". Don't worry about grammar or form. Just get them down. Brainstorm.
3. Then clean them up. Go back and add details. Tighten them up. Edit and shorten them.
4. Read Gary Provost's article, Pack Every Word With POWER. This is important--don't skip this step! Then rewrite.
5. Let others read your accomplishments and give you ideas. Incorporate their ideas into your work.
6. Sort your accomplishments into functional categories such as marketing, general management, budgeting and finance, cost containment, public relations and so on.
7. Prioritize your accomplishments putting the most-important first, the second most-important second, and so on, and the least important last.