The job market today is more competitive than ever. Potential employers receive a barrage of resumes from dedicated, capable, and well-educated applicants. Most of them will just quickly scan through this avalanche, or even leave it to computer software to do the scanning for them.
In this scenario, how can you hope to stand out from all the other qualified applicants? How can you get noticed when so many professional resumes look exactly the same?
The solution lies in accomplishments in your resume.
You can use an accomplishments (or achievements) section to tell a story of your unique abilities and the skills that set you apart.
Here are ten tips for creating an accomplishments section that makes you shine.
Begin by brainstorming.
Before you start, set a timer for five minutes and just jot down any achievements in your present position that come to mind. Don’t worry about whether or not you should put them in your resume or how to phrase them; just write down as many as you can, even those that don’t seem like a big deal.
The idea is to generate a long list of potential achievements to include so that you can narrow them down after. If you’re stuck, ask yourself a few questions.
- Have you received any commendations or awards?
- Are you recognized in your department for a specific skill?
- Have you received praise from your employer or coworkers?
- Have you conquered some important challenges or helped find a solution for any problems?
- Imagine that you’re leaving your job and your colleagues throw you a good-bye party. What might they say about you at this celebration?
This exercise will provide you a rough skeleton of facts to draw from as you craft your achievements section.
Know the difference between duties and accomplishments.
It’s very easy to fall into the trap of listing duties instead of accomplishments. Remember, duties are simply part of your job description. Accomplishments in your resume show how well you did it. That’s why listing your duties just makes you sound like any other applicant, while showing your accomplishments makes you stand out.
Here are some examples that show how you can transform your duties into accomplishments.
- “Planned and organized charity events” becomes “raised $100,000 by promoting and selling tickets to holiday charity ball.”
- “Generated reports” becomes “ensured the delivery of accurate and timely information to 50 clients through the creation and distribution of weekly reports.”
- “Worked successfully with local organizations” becomes “forged partnerships with local organizations, resulting in the recruitment of 70 new members and an 80% retention rate.”
- “Trained new staff” becomes “successfully transitioned 30 new staff members to become productive members of our team.”
Once you have generated your list of possible accomplishments, carefully evaluate which items can be reframed as true “accomplishments.”
Solicit outside opinions.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to think objectively of our accomplishments. We are conditioned to be modest, so boasting about our achievements doesn’t come naturally. Ask a coworker or a former employer to tell you your top ten strengths. You may be surprised at what they tell you and the things they notice which you haven’t. And don’t be dismissive of even the smallest accomplishments; you may think it’s no big deal, but a prospective employer will take it as one more thing that sets you apart from the crowd.
Consider a range of diverse accomplishments.
Try to “think outside the box” about your achievements. They may not always be the most obvious (such as gaining new customers or making a lot of sales). Maybe you fixed a problem which had been causing a lot of customer complaints, or maybe you came up with a really great idea that your employer put into action. Even things that seem very small are bigger than you think! Don’t neglect your contributions, even the less obvious ones.
Here are some examples of “thinking outside the box” achievements that you shouldn’t neglect.
- Staying under budget for a certain number of years or quarters
- Implementation of automation to save worker’s time spent
- Integrating new technology
- Reducing attrition rates (of customers or employees)
Don’t forget team achievements.
Perhaps you hesitate to write that your department tripled sales last quarter. You feel you were not directly responsible and that it may be taking credit for someone else’s achievement. But as long as you clearly define your role in that success, team achievements say something about you.
They show your individual strengths as well as your ability to work on a team. Just don’t forget to highlight what you personally achieved as part of this team. A hiring manager needs to see your specific contributions to the team’s success. You need to grab the hiring manager’s attention.
Include achievements from other areas of your life if you don’t have much experience.
Are you just out of school and a little light on the achievements right now? Admittedly, this makes it tougher to create a meaningful achievements section, but you can do it by making the most of your accomplishments outside of work.
Volunteer achievements such as feeding a certain number of people through organizational efforts at a local food pantry, can serve to highlight your strengths. Leading your basketball team to the state championship shows dedication and initiative. If you won an award at graduation, this shows you are hard-working and dedicated. Don’t leave out accomplishments that are part of the bigger picture of your potential contributions as an employee.
Clearly quantify your accomplishments.
Avoid vague quantifiers such as “much” or “very.” Anyone can say that they “made a lot of sales” or “assisted many customers.” Giving a clear number or a percentage offers tangible proof. Don’t be dismayed about this if your job doesn’t require you to work with numbers – you can still make numbers work for you.
Try identifying the frequency of your accomplishments; if you do something on a monthly basis, a little math will yield you the approximate number of times that you’ve accomplished this task. Or maybe your routine achievements help save money for the company. If you’re not sure about the numbers, it’s OK to say “estimated;” just make sure that you’re pretty confident in your estimation in case you are asked about this number in your interview. Another approach would be a range of numbers (“saved the company $100,000-$200,000”). If you’ve never done so before, it may be helpful to begin writing down and tracking some of your successes so that they will be easier to quantify.
Yes, your accomplishments need to show that you are a spectacular candidate for the position (because you are!). But do yourself a favor and let the facts speak for themselves. Don’t exaggerate your accomplishments because they can be checked very easily. Few things could be more awkward than trying to keep the details of a fabricated success consistent during an interview.
At best, falsifications will result in your elimination from consideration for employment; at worst, they can result in criminal charges if they are discovered after you have been hired. Only include accomplishments that can be backed up with data and that you can comfortably elaborate on in your interview.
Choose accomplishments that are above and beyond your job description.
Stand out to potential employers by listing ways in which you went at least one step further than what was expected. For example, instead of saying that you “met deadlines” (because that is what’s expected of everyone), state that you routinely finish assignments before the deadlines.
Instead of saying that you “accommodate customer needs,” say that you have achieved 100% customer satisfaction. Otherwise, you are just telling the hiring manager things that he/she already knows! They know that if you’re a sales rep, you made sales; they know that if you’re a store clerk, you helped customers. These things are part of the role so don’t waste valuable space saying what your role is; instead, show how you surpassed the role.
Choose words that reflect the requirements of the job posting.
Gone are the days of the one-size-fits-all, generic professional resume. The current trend is to create resumes that are tailored to specific employers and positions. Do some research on the company by visiting their website. Talk to current or past employees of the company if possible. Become familiar with the company’s goals and mission statement.
Above all, make sure you’re familiar with the job description. In every part of your resume, be guided by the wording in all of the above and try to make it reflect that. Use your achievements to show reviewers that you’re not only a great employee, but you’re also a perfect fit for them.
No matter how many or how few achievements you think you have, a strong achievements section is key to making your professional resume jump out from the hundreds of others that it must compete with. Make your achievements tell the real story of you, your past contributions, and a future of meeting your untapped potential. Instead of holding you back, your resume will become what it’s meant to be: the door that leads you to the next great opportunity.