Work Accomplishments, Part One

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

This is the most popular article on www.careerlab.com for good reason. It’s one of the most important and useful learning tools I’ve written.

Before I wrote this article, I spent at least three hours with each individual client explaining these principles. With these directions, 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.

Five reasons to 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: your 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 Versus 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.

Was responsible for sales in Western Region.

Terminated two salesmen, yet increased sales six-fold in three months despite reduction in force.

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 or competency. 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:

If you can’t remember your successes, then think of problems you’ve solved. Divide a sheet of paper into three columns, as follows:

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 in less than 10 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 hard for you.

In a seminar at US Steel in Provo, Utah a secretary said, “I’ve never accomplished anything.” I asked, “How long have you worked here?”

“Ten years.”
“How many days of work have you missed?”
“I’ve never missed a single day.”
“That sounds like an accomplishment to me.”

Dig Deep Into the Past

It’s easy to forget important accomplishments in one’s career. When I went into partnership in the Career Center on America Online, for example, they asked me for a resume, which I wrote overnight. I included CareerLab’s size and revenue, publications I’d written, and major offices I’d held. Several days later, after mailing the resume, I realized I’d left off the most important aspect of my career—the 25,000 hours I’d spent as a career consultant. There was no mention of counseling. That was a real eye-opener.

In many respects, we know ourselves so well we take our greatest gifts for granted. The way to avoid this is to cross-check your accomplishments against your core competencies. If you claim “Research” as a core competency, for example, be sure to list several research-oriented achievements on your resume. Do the same for all other core competencies.

Identify Your Core Competencies

Every mid-career professional has 6-12 big areas of capability. In the past they were called skills, but today’s buzzword is “competencies” or “core competencies.” A recruiter of employer may ask you to name your core competencies. If so, they’re asking you to identify a few of these general areas of capability. Take time to check the top 6-12 that apply to you, then prioritize them. Which is first most important to you, second most important, and so on? If you have competencies that aren’t named, add them to this list.

    1. Art
    2. Business Management (cost reduction / revenue increase)
    3. Communication
    4. Community Service / Social Responsibility
    5. Computer / Information Technology / Informatics
    6. Conflict Resolution
    7. Construction / Facilities
    8. Consulting
    9. Counseling / Caregiving
    10. Entertainment
    11. Finance
    12. Human Resources Management (recruitment, training, retention)
    13. Leadership / Managing / Administration
    14. Legal
    15. Library / Records / Knowledge Management
    16. Media
    17. Negotiating
    18. Operations
    19. Planning / Strategic Planning
    20. Political Skills / Schmoozing
    21. Presentations / Speeches
    22. Quality Assurance / Quality Control
    23. Research & Development
    24. Sales and Marketing / Advertising and Public Relations
    25. Science / Innovation / Patents
    26. Special Skills [Pilot, etc.]
    27. Teaching
    28. Technology
    29. Writing / Editing / Publishing

Use your list of competencies to help you remember, identify, and develop your work accomplishments. Your achievements should mirror your competencies, and vice versa. Example: if you check “Leadership” as a core competency, then your resume should show several leadership home runs. Otherwise, why is it listed?

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-and-after statements are easily turned into written accomplishments: “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 above accomplishment, 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 is 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.

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

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