Work Accomplishments, Part Two

by William S. Frank, President/CEO of CareerLab®

Accomplishments are written in the past tense, because that’s when they happened. They traditionally begin with “action verbs” 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? The format looks like this:

What I Did and How I Did It

The Result (So What?)

Good examples. These are well-worded success statements.

    • Produced $20M new revenue in 1.5 years in a declining market.
    • Reduced complaint answering time from 21 days to 7, saving $250,000 per quarter in customer service wages.
    • 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. [It’s even better if you can produce the rave reviews on the course evaluation forms.]

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 the leadership team 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.”

Bad examples. These are 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, perhaps even all of us, struggle with feelings of inadequacy, even though we’ve accomplished a lot. During a consulting meeting I was surprised to see these words written by a top-flight 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. Shortly after writing this, he became President of a high-tech startup company. Later, he co-founded a successful investment management firm for high-net worth individuals. Most people feel insecure from time to time, and naturally, a career transition heightens that. Concentrate on your successes, and keep reciting them in your mind. Just remember, 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, direct reports; 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.
    • Honor the struggle. Remember the words of American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

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 $100,000 resume, a $250,000 resume, and a $1,000,000 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 or work experience 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 [or core competencies] 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.
    8. Good luck and best wishes for your success and happiness.

:: Go to part one   :: Return to index of articles