by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Your resume must — with a future-oriented flavor — emphasize results, outcomes, and career-defining performance indicators. Using numbers, context, and meaningful metrics, the resume must paint a picture of you in action — meeting needs/challenges, solving problems, impacting the company’s big picture, growing the business, enhancing revenue, and driving profits. If you can achieve the important step of identifying your accomplishments, the rest will fall into place.
“The most important thing any job-seeker should do before attempting to write a resume,” advises my partner Randall Hansen, “is to first sit down and make a list of your skills and accomplishments from all your previous experiences (work, volunteer, school, etc.) because you will take from this list those critical skills and accomplishments that highlight your fit for the next job you are seeking.”
Accomplishments vs. Duties/Responsibilities
This advice from resume writer JoAnn Nix is what got me started on my crusade to encourage job-seekers to emphasize accomplishments on resumes: “A resume should be accomplishment-oriented, not responsibility-driven. The biggest mistake that I see in the resumes people send me is that they list responsibilities. That doesn’t grab anybody’s attention. People aren’t interested in your responsibilities. They already know the general responsibilities of a position, so they don’t want to know what you do from day to day. They want to know that you’re a mover and a shaker: How you contribute to the organization, how you show initiative, that you can be a key player. That’s what they want to see. “For example, if you’re a sales and marketing manager, you could say: ‘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.’ That’s the type of accomplishment they want to see.”
I want to hammer home this point — and have enlisted the opinions of several career experts and hiring decision-makers to help me do so — because I have for so long seen resumes whose authors did not understand that resumes cannot be what recruiting expert Dr. John Sullivan calls “merely summaries of their previous job responsibilities.” Sullivan and I aren’t the only ones. “The vast majority of resumes I see read like a series of job descriptions,” writes Alison Green in “21 Things Hiring Managers Wish You Knew.” Sullivan notes that “this format will cause them to omit information on key assessment factors like skills, tools, and accomplishments.” They will also omit the answer to the question Green poses: What did you accomplish in this job that someone else wouldn’t have?”
Entrepreneur and speaker Tory Johnson concurs: “The biggest mistake is a resume that rehashes responsibilities instead of celebrating accomplishments. I don’t just want to know what you did, but, more importantly, how well you did it. The reader should understand in a heartbeat where you excel and what you do best.”
Why do job-seekers make this mistake? Whether out of sheer laziness or the kind of paralysis that sets in when an individual is faced with writing a resume, they take the job description they were given when they were first hired and copy and paste it into their resume. This information on your resume does absolutely nothing to distinguish you. “The reality is that people in similar jobs perform similar job tasks,” notes resume writer Barbara Safani. “An accountant in company A may not have job tasks that are that different from the accountant in company B,” Safani notes, “yet, the value that each brings to their organization may be totally unique. Minimize content about job tasks and focus on more compelling accomplishments.”
Most employers do not need to know about your past duties and responsibilities. “When an organization has a vacancy,” notes resume writer Sharon Graham, “the hiring decision maker is well aware of the responsibilities of the position. To feature the career successes of the candidate, resumes need to focus on achievements instead of job duties,” Graham writes in “Research Study: How Does Your Resume Compare?”
If it’s not already obvious, understand that you must avoid expressions like “Responsibilities included,” “Duties included,” and “Responsible for” on your resume. Describing your job responsibilities is tantamount to reciting a job description, which in turn suggests to the prospective employer that you did the bare minimum in the job. As Patrick Erwin writes in a comment to a blog post, “When someone very dryly lists responsibilities and duties, it comes off as ‘I had a gun pointed to my head making me do this every day.’ It’s much better to put it in the context of, “I made this happen.” How did you take initiative in the job? What did you do on the job that was different or better than anyone else holding that job? It’s not always easy to describe the value you added for your former employers, but doing so is a lot more effective than listing responsibilities and duties. (My aim in this book is to make the task a little easier.)
Duties and responsibilities are also dull and lifeless. “When I see ‘duties included’ or ‘responsible for’ on a resume, I know that what follows is going to be boring and obvious,” writes author Donald Asher. “Focus on accomplishments, not duties,” Asher echoes. “What did you do that was important? What did you accomplish or contribute? What did you learn on the job or in special training? What did you create that was above and beyond the scope of the job that was handed to you. That’s what sells.”
OK, so I’ve driven home the point that you need to emphasize accomplishments on your resume and not duties and responsibilities. It’s not enough, though, to simply list accomplishments on your resume; you must demonstrate that you’ve researched that organization and can tie your accomplishments to the employer’s needs — showing the future employer what you can do rather than simply what you did. “A good resume will show what you know, what you did, and how those things translate into value to the organization,” says David Topus. “You have to show the outcome, how you made a difference.”
How do you show employers what you can do? “It’s what we in the field call prioritizing statements, or targeting your resume to each company to which you apply,” writes Bob McIntosh in his article, “Write a resume recruiters and employers will want to read; not one they dread.” In other words, illustrate how your qualifications and accomplishments match the employers’ requirements in order of importance.”
What are some techniques to ensure you are prioritizing accomplishments on your resume in a way that tailors the document to each specific employer and that employer’s needs? One way is through scrutinizing the job posting to which you’re responding. In “How to Decode a Job Posting,” Jerome Young of AttractJobsNow.com advises focusing on the responsibilities section of a job posting: “The responsibilities section,” he writes, “describes what will be expected of the employee in the position. You’ll often find that there are five to 10 bullet points in this section, but in our research with recruiters and hiring managers we’ve found that the first three responsibilities are the most important. Job postings are usually based on a primary business need, to which additional responsibilities are added to create a full-time position. Your resume should focus on your experience, results and accomplishments in the tasks outlined in the first three bullets in the responsibilities section. Also you’ll find keywords in those first three bullets that recruiters will use in searching for qualified candidates.” If you’re working with a recruiter, ask him or her to help you identify the accomplishments most relevant to the needs of his or her client company.
If you haven’t already guessed, you probably can’t have just one resume anymore. “If you have multiple potential targets for your job search,” advises resume writer Karen Siwak, “you may need to create completely different resumes, highlighting the accomplishments that are most relevant for each target.” For each resume, you may want to re-prioritize the bullet points you present under your jobs, giving greater emphasis to an accomplishment that will be meaningful to the employer you’re targeting. You’ve undoubtedly held jobs that encompassed a broad scope, many accountabilities, and numerous achievements. Fine-tune these to a razor-sharp list of those that are most relevant to the job you seek next. Eliminate any accomplishment that fails to support what you seek to do next.
Comprehensive research on targeted employers will aid you in this tailoring quest. “Before you sit down to write, get really clear on who your target audience is and what their challenges, goals, and pain points are,” Siwak advises. “Try to understand their buying motivators, the criteria that they will use to find the right candidate. Clearly define your value proposition, and back it up by evidence from your training and career accomplishments.”
An Accomplishments Section vs. Accomplishments Throughout the Resume
Two opposing schools of thought prevail about how accomplishments should be organized on a resume:
Don’t isolate accomplishments in a section by themselves. Everything on your resume should be accomplishments-driven, because isolating accomplishments suggests that the other things you did in your jobs were not accomplishments.
Include an isolated list of accomplishments, preferably at the top of the resume, so it quickly catches the reader’s eye.
You can find convincing arguments for both positions:
Curtis Pollen, senior director of talent recruitment for the American Heart Association, Wallingford, CT, rails when the “content layout doesn’t flow smoothly, for example, [the candidate] will list all accomplishments up front then just provide jobs and dates down below. I like to see what accomplishments were achieved in a particular job to ensure there is a match for the position I am recruiting for.”
“I’m on the side of including your accomplishments within each job,” says Indianapolis-based corporate recruiter Todd Rogers. You are conveying the idea that everywhere you go, you do things that are beyond what was expected of you – a pattern of surplus. The implication drawn is, wow, if I hire this person and she continues as she has, my department/company will be the recipient of the same results. I’ll take two of them, please.”
“I believe bullet points in the beginning of the resume sometimes throw the [reader], because I wonder where the person accomplished the bullet items,” notes Eric Bleiweis, CPC, director of recruitment and employee engagement at Liberty Lutheran. “I believe the resume should list accomplishments under each position, so the [reader] gets a better understanding of where and when the accomplishments occurred.”
On the other hand, in a CareerBuilder study (http://tinyurl.com/8ptayzq), 51 percent of surveyed hiring managers, when asked what catches their eye the most on a resume, said: Bulleted list of accomplishments.
“I prefer an isolated list personally,” says Kellie Shumaker, MBA, PHR, owner/consultant at Alternative HR, LLC, “because I go through so many resumes that I prefer them to summarize their accomplishments, skills, etc., to try to keep [the resume] to one page.” Resume writer Julie Walraven isolates accomplishments lists at the top of her clients’ resumes. “You don’t have to put every accomplishment you have in the front section,” she says, “and you do need to tie it to the company you worked at to give it value and perspective, but this [list] will give you an edge over the candidate who has buried all the accomplishments deep in the resume.”
How do you know which path to choose?
- You can experiment with both techniques and see which one gets better results.
- You can include both techniques on your resume — isolated accomplishments list at the top, but also accomplishments-rich bullet points throughout. The risk is redundancy.
- You can attempt to ask your targeted hiring decision-makers which approach they prefer.
- You can consult a professional resume writer.
- You can create one or more resume addenda to supplement your resume. See next section.
Accomplishments-Rich Resume Addenda
Supplemental sheets and addenda provide a way to present additional information without adding to the length of the resume itself. They can also address the issue of whether to isolate accomplishments on your resume or spread them throughout the resume. If you use one or more accomplishments-rich addenda, you can isolate the accomplishments on that supplementary document while also integrating them throughout your resume. An addendum simply calls extra attention to your achievements and expands on them (you don’t want them to read exactly the same way on the resume and the addendum).
You can choose to have an addendum each category of accomplishments. “A suite of addenda,” says CEO Coach Deborah Wile Dib, president of Executive Power Brand, can be “a strategic way to mention presentations, awards, published works, extensive education, and expanded success studies.” Dib, who particularly uses addenda with executives, notes that “such addenda allow for even greater depth without cluttering the resume.”
Creating various supplements and addenda enables you to choose which pieces to send along with the resume. You might instead choose not to send any addenda but to bring them to the interview. See sample addenda here.
Final Thoughts on Maximizing Accomplishments on Your Resume
Now that you have a strong framework for packing your resume with accomplishments, see Tailoring Accomplishments to Your Resume: Samples.
Read more about brainstorming, tracking, and leveraging career accomplishments in Katharine Hansen’s book, You Are More Accomplished Than You Think: How to Brainstorm Your Achievements for Career and Life Success.
Career and Work Accomplishments Section of Quintessential Careers
Find expert job-seeker accomplishments tools, resources, samples — free expert advice about maximizing career accomplishments in this section of Quintessential Careers: Career-Job-Work Accomplishments Resources for Job-Seekers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Career Resources Job Seeker Resume Resources