by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Accomplishments play a vital role in the job search and beyond.
Why? This article explains.
Prospective Employers Respond to Accomplishments and Results, Not Duties and Responsibilities
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. Hiring decision-makers want to see the results you attained for past employers, what you accomplished, the value you added, and how you made a difference in your past jobs. They want to gain a sense of the complexity and significance of what you’ve done. Telling employers the duties and responsibilities you handled in your past jobs is not enough; in fact, to a great extent, you should avoid focusing on duties and responsibilities when you attempt to sell yourself to future employers.
In the employment world the word “results” is virtually synonymous with “accomplishments.” Hiring decision-makers’ focus on the “results” concept may be the most important nuance to consider as we seek to characterize the types of accomplishments to uncover and communicate. Results are what employers most look for, notes a study by ResumeBucket. If you read a list of duties and responsibilities in a job description or job posting, it’s difficult to picture results springing from most of those activities.
“Though you may share the same job title with many other people, your accomplishments and how you carry out your responsibilities are what distinguishes you from other qualified candidates,” writes Linda Matias of CareerStrides.com in her article, “The Interviewable Resume,” which appears in many places on the Internet.
In her article, Is Your Resume Lost in the Great Internet Void?, resume writer Deb Walker of Alpha Advantage draws an analogy to show accomplishments can differentiate a job-seeker: “Dozens of fast-food restaurants sell hamburgers and fries. How do you choose which one you want? Chances are, one of those restaurants has a differentiating edge, something that you like better than all the others. The job market is the same way; it’s flooded with choices, so you have to make your resume stand out from all the competition. The best way to differentiate your resume from others is with accomplishments.”
To Sell Our Services — Whether to Employers or Clients — We Need a Track Record
Strategically articulating our accomplishments helps our audiences — employers, clients, and more — to picture what we can do in the future. If you achieved a given result in your past, you can probably attain a result at least that good in the future. “Employers don’t want to know what you did,” notes career trainer Bob McIntosh, “they want to know what you can do.”
To Boost Job Security in an Insecure World, We Need Our Bosses to Know What We’re Accomplishing
No one is indispensable anymore; anyone can be downsized. While ensuring that your boss knows what results you’re accomplishing is not a guarantee of retaining your job, keeping him or her abreast of how you’re helping the organization’s bottom line can certainly give you an advantage over your colleagues who aren’t doing so.
To Advance in Our Jobs and Get Raises, We Need to Tout Accomplishments
Advancement means getting promoted within your current organization, attaining increases in salary, and sometimes moving on to bigger and better opportunities with a job or career change. In each case, you need to make a case to a manager as to why you should move up or move on. Accomplishments tied to how you’ve benefited the organization are a big part of how to do that.
Walker notes that for career-changers, “accomplishment statements give credibility to transferable skills and prove your ability to cross industry or occupational lines. Well-crafted accomplishments make a big difference in whether you win the interview or are passed over.”
Accomplishments and successes may compensate for other deficiencies in our backgrounds (such as lack of a college degree, history of job-hopping, gaps in employment, age discrimination).
Many of us have aspects of our job histories that serve, unfortunately, as red flags to employers, such as current unemployment, a history of not staying in jobs very long, periods of unemployment between jobs, inexperience, lack of qualifications, or the “overqualified” label, which is often applied to mature job-seekers.
While the prejudices of a few employers are too strong to overcome deficiencies in some cases, job-seekers can greatly bolster their cases by front-loading any communication with employers with accomplishments. Any prospective employee who consistently gets results and boasts successes can potentially win over an employer who might otherwise be on the fence about a deficiency. Never try to cover up your background, but do de-emphasize the negative while accentuating the positive.
College students, who already face the challenge of less experience to draw from than other job-seekers, tend to fail on their resumes and cover letters to provide evidence of achievement – proof that their actions had positive, recognized results. In fact, that failure is the most common mistake this group makes, says Phil Hey, professor of English and writing at Briar Cliff College. “Employers don’t want a dead history of education and job descriptions;” he says, “they want some outcomes that show that the applicant really can produce on the job.”
Mature job-seekers can also use accomplishments to their advantage, advises Rachelle Canter, Ph.D., president of San Francisco-based executive development firm RJC Associates, in ExecuNet’s Overcoming Today’s Toughest Resume Challenges: “I recommend that executives focus on quantifying accomplishments, including showcasing big things they’ve been able to do fast (generally a way to show how experience can save time and money) so prospective employers can see that they can potentially get more from a seasoned employee.” (See more about quantifying accomplishments in our article, How to Quantify Your Accomplishments.)
To Identify Gaps in Our Experience, Set and Meet Goals, We Need to Monitor Accomplishments
How many times have you ended a project or job by saying, “I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to”? Reviewing and reflecting on accomplishments provides an opportunity to see the gaps between what we intended to do and what we actually did.
Monitoring and tracking accomplishments also gives us a way to set goals. We can look at what we’ve achieved and then ask ourselves: What do I want to accomplish today/this week/this month/this year?
Final Thoughts on Why Job-Seekers Must Focus on Career Accomplishments
To feel good about ourselves, we need to appreciate what we’ve achieved.
It’s a pretty good bet that anyone who feels he or she has not accrued any accomplishments also lacks self-esteem. Because our society recognizes and rewards accomplishments, those who feel they lack them feel left behind. Even setting aside extrinsic recognition for achievements, most people feel intrinsically rewarded when they check items off their lists, do what they set out to do, and even exceed expectations. Learning to identify our accomplishments and communicate them to others can only help us to appreciate ourselves, and that confidence gives a boost in the job search and other endeavors.
Brainstorming accomplishments is “a great motivational exercise to build personal confidence,” Rick Gillis writes in his book, Job! “You will be amazed as you find yourself remembering other achievements while jotting down the particulars of another. When you are done, you won’t believe how cool you feel.”
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 Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.