Writing about achievements on a resume is hard. We don't know what to write, we struggle to describe ourselves, and we can't remember how we excelled. Even if we remember what we did, we are told to be humble and not show off. So how do we craft a resume we are proud of that can stand out in a crowded job market?
I've often had a hard time writing about my past job achievements. In one resume, I wrote a complete list of my previous job responsibilities. In another, I wrote things that made me feel like I was bragging about my accomplishments. Unfortunately, in the estimated 7 seconds the recruiter had to review my resume I know they weren't impressed. I know this because I didn't get an interview for either job.
I realized I needed to change my resume writing strategy and find a way to talk about myself in a way that was humble, empowering, and unique to me. So I asked, what was I trying to accomplish by writing my resume?
Responsibility vs Achievement
I started this journey by looking at the difference between job responsibilities and achievements. Responsibility is defined as "a thing that one is required to do as part of a job, role, or legal obligation.” I realized that I was making my resume into a job description and not making those tiny bullet points count.
At that moment I knew that making a long list of responsibilities to describe my previous jobs was not an easy way to get a callback. There is no personality to saying "I responded to customer requests on the phone and email." That sentence is not unique to me and sounds like it was copy pasted from the job description.
Achievement, on the other hand, is defined as “a thing done successfully, typically by effort, courage, or skill.” This is more exciting and will catch the eye of the recruiter. Writing in your resume "Responded to over 3000 customer cases via phone and email, receiving 4.9-star average feedback on each interaction” is much more powerful than the job responsibility in the previous paragraph. You are much more likely to gain the reviewer's interest when you focus on your achievements.
The previous example shows that this person has exceeded performance compared to their responsibilities over a significant number of calls. Also, you give the recruiter a bonus by quantifying your achievement and the best part is you are not bragging. Win-win.
Quantifying your achievement
Quantifying your achievement is helpful. It shows you understand how your achievement contributed to the success of the company. It removes ambiguity from the mind of the person reviewing your resume. It shows you are numbers and impact oriented.
The best way to tout your skills and abilities without bragging is to focus on the numbers and the raw data of your achievements. Here are a few examples to get you thinking about what accomplishments you want to write about on your resume.
- Managed five person marketing team which planned and implemented go to market strategy for three new SaaS products.
- Lead six month renewals initiative which lead to 600 renewals, reduced YoY churn by 20% and recouped $400k in lost annaul revenue.
- Published weekly newsletter highlighting upcoming events and company news which was read by 20,000 people.
By adding a mixture of numbers and sharing how you actually excelled you paint a picture of someone who is exceptional and talented. You stand out because you're focusing on what makes you unique.
Use empowering language
So you've quantified your achievements and focused on what you actually did. The next step is to use empowering language to stand out. Using empowering language adds strength to your resume and improves your chances of getting an interview. For example, using words such as "Consolidate", "Negotiate" and "Analyze" in your achievements will help you stand out from the competition. They will show the hiring manager that you know what activities matters most to the company. For a list of additional action words, read this article from The Balance Careers.
Use tailored language
As we have mentioned in previous articles, it is important to custom tailor your resumes for two main reasons. First, Applicant Tracking Systems are pervasive and are likely going to read your resume before a human being ever looks at it. If you aren't building a resume with similar language to what is included in the job post, you may not make it passed that round.
Second, if you do make it to a human who is reviewing your resume, they will want to see that you are a good fit for the job and have matched the keywords and skills described in the job post.
If the job requires you to have success in customer service, showcase your success in customer service. If it lists a specific skill that is required, make sure to include it under an achievement for your current job or in the skills section of your resume.
It is simple, but very important, to create a custom resume, and thus custom achievements, for each job you apply to. You can use a resume building platform like Savviest to help you organize each custom resume and associated achievements.
What have you accomplished?
But what if you don't think you have stood out? What if you don't have any meaningful accomplishment? My answer is that I bet you do. We are all unique and have different skills and talents. There should be an aspect or two of every job that we do incredibly well. Spend some time thinking about the following questions:
- Promotions you received?
- What Teams you lead?
- What initiatives did you introduce and how that made the company successful?
- How did you outperform your job responsabilities?
- What Awards did you receive?
- Money you helped your company save?
- What did your manager say about you in your performance review?
- What you were known for in the company?
Think of 5 accomplishments that you are proud of and write them down. Do this for each job you have had you will be well on your way to writing a great resume.
Another way to be proactive about this is to keep an accomplishments journal. At the end of ever week or month, pick a day to drop all of your achievements and accomplishments into a folder. It's a lot easier to think about how you did something well last week than last year.
Give yourself permission
My last tip on how to write a great achievement is to give yourself permission to find what makes you great. So often we look for others approval to know when we are doing a good job. Open your mind and allow yourself to be impressed by the things you have done. Chances are you have done many amazing things that will help you land the next job. This isn't about bragging, it's about accepting your excellence.
Putting it all together
It is challenging to write about ourselves for a resume. Focus on your achievements instead of your responsibilities, use data driven descriptions, use power words, and custom tailor each achievement to the job you are applying. If you're having trouble thinking of what you have done, remember everyone is unique and has their own skills and talents.
Give yourself permission and tap into what makes you unique when you are writing your next resume. For more tips, check out this article on How to Stand Out and Find the Perfect Job.