Has this ever happened to you? You've been instructed to list your career accomplishments, and you can't think of any. Or you're asked in a job interview, "What accomplishments are you most proud of?" - and you freeze up. You know you have had accomplishments, but you just can't dredge them up.
The inability to come up with accomplishments happens to lots of job seekers. Accomplishments are the points that really help sell you to an employer -- much more so than everyday job duties, and you can leverage your accomplishments for job-search success at all stages of the process: resume, cover letter, interview, and more. Career counselor Michelle Watson notes that "employers are seeking success stories." She observed, "Resumes are now focusing not only on 'regular' job descriptions, but also include concrete, measurable accomplishments. Physical portfolios, long thought of as tools for artists, will become commonplace as candidates strive to show their talents, not just talk about them."
Try to list some accomplishments that set you apart from other job candidates.
- In each job, what special things did you do to set yourself apart? How did you do the job better than anyone else did or than anyone else could have done?
What did you do to make each job your own?
- How did you take the initiative? How did you go above and beyond what was asked of you in your job description?
- What special things did you do to impress your boss so that you might be promoted?
- And were you promoted? Rapid and/or frequent promotions can be especially noteworthy.
- How did you leave your employers better off than before you worked for them?
- Did you win any awards, such as Employee of the Month honors?
What are you most proud of in each job?
- Is there material you can use from your annual performance reviews? Did you consistently receive high ratings? Any glowing quotes you can use from former employers?
- Have you received any complimentary memos or letters from employers or customers?
- What tangible evidence do you have of accomplishments -- publications you've produced, products you've developed, software applications you've written?
- Think of the "PEP Formula," Profitability, Efficiency, and Productivity. How did you contribute to profitability, such as through sales increase percentages? How did you contribute to efficiency, such as through cost reduction percentages? How did you contribute to productivity, such as through successfully motivating your team?
- Quantify. Employers love numbers. Examples:
- Increased sales by 50 percent over the previous year.
- Produced total meal sales 20 percent higher than those of the other servers in the restaurant.
- Supervised staff of 25.
- Served a customer base of 150, the largest on firm's customer-service team.
- Use superlatives
- Use the SAR or PAR technique, in which you describe a Situation or Problem that existed in a given job, tell what Action you took to fix the Situation or Problem, and what the Result was. Some experts call this the CAR technique, in which C stands for Challenge, or the STAR technique, in which the T stands for Task. Resume writers note that a sales and marketing manager could employ SAR/STAR/PAR/CAR technique this way: "Joined organization to spearhead sales and marketing initiative for newly developed territory. Led the aggressive turnaround of a poorly performing district and propelled sales from one to six million in 14 months."
Here are some more helpful suggestions:
- Adding nuances to the Efficiency component of the PEP Formula, Whitcomb suggests listing ways you saved time or made work easier.
- How did you make your company more competitive?
- How did you build relationships or image with internal or external constituencies? How did you attract new customers or retain existing ones?
- How did you expand the business?
- How did you contribute to the firm's Return on Investment (ROI)?
- How did you help the organization fulfill its mission statement?
A word of caution: Resist the temptation to blow your accomplishments out of proportion. Accomplishments should be measurable whenever possible and always verifiable. Don't risk having a prospective employer call a former supervisor and ask, "Did she really save the company from bankruptcy?" and have your ex-boss say, "Huh?"