Clients will often ask me, “What are the latest trends in resume writing?” One trend I’ve seen over the past few years is the achievement-based resume. This style focuses on measurable achievements, and it is supposed to make employers think the applicant can deliver results.
I have two problems with this style.
First, a list of achievements quickly loses coherence. It’s hard for the reader to remember anything specific about the applicant. Rather than impress an employer, this style leads to confusion. Achievement follows achievement, and it sounds like buzz, buzz, buzz.
Second, the all achievement style doesn’t address what an employer is looking for. I’ve never seen a job posting that says, “Send a list of your success stories.” Instead, they ask for a mix of experience, skills, and education. If those elements aren’t featured in your resume, it will be difficult for a screener to see how you are qualified for the position.
I’m not saying achievements should not be part of a good resume. They need to be balanced by information that shows why you are qualified to do the job. The sample at the end of this post demonstrates what I mean about mixing achievements and qualifications. Don’t get lost in the buzz.
A good resume will blend your experience and skills with a relevant list of achievements. Use achievements to show your next employer how you can do more than just “do the job.”
Here are some questions that can guide you in identifying achievements. Do they have to be quantifiable? No. If you have numbers, great. If not, tell your success story in the best way that shows your value to you next employer.
What have I done to help my employer make money?
What have I done to help my employer save money?
What have I done to make the company more efficient?
How have I exceeded performance goals?
What has happened because I took the initiative to do something?
Has an employer said something about me in a review that speaks to my character?
Have I trained or mentored an employee who took on a position of greater responsibility?
Have I been selected for special projects or assignments?
ave I won any awards?
I’m seeing a trend in resumes clients are bringing to me for review. Many are nothing more but a list of achievements. The theory behind this resume style is that employers want employees who have a history of making a difference. Of course, employers want employees who achieve and exceed goals, but they need to know more than that.
The problem with employment-focused resumes is that they often fail to tell employers what they are looking for. Examine several job posts. Do any say: Send in a list of achievements? Instead, they ask for experience, skills, education, and certification. A good resume blends what the employer is looking for along with relevant achievements.
Like most things in life, balance is the key. Identify key words by reviewing several job postings. Demonstrate why you have the skills and experience that the employer needs. Include achievements that will show an employer how you will be an asset. A good mix of these elements is the recipe for a winning resume.
A client sent me a job posting for a technical position. It posed this excellent question: “How do you stay one step ahead of others in your field?”
The answer to this question will help you set yourself apart from your competition both in your resume and during interviews. Review what you have done professionally over the last year. Make a list of the things you have done to improve you skills and performance. This list could include:
1. Education or training
2. Publication in a professional journal
3. Professional conferences
4. Being selected for a special project that extended your responsibilities
5. Being recognized with an award or commendation
6. Self-taught skills that you have used on the job
7. Learning from a mentor or expert in your field
This list does not contain all the possible ways you could have improved your skills. Keep asking yourself this question: What sets me apart from my competition? Don’t focus on what makes other people good. That’s too easy, and it doesn’t help you. Similarly, don’t dwell on what you haven’t accomplished. That’s self-defeating. Be positive. What have you done over the last year that makes you very good at what you do? Use the answer to that question to improve your professional reputation, update your resume, and enhance your interviewing skills.
You know that the job market is very competitive. Companies want the best talent. Show them why you are a leader, someone they have to hire.
A client sent me a model of a resume today that had a compelling way of demonstrating achievements. A manager wants to show how she improved her department’s performance. She lists productivity numbers in the year before she took the position and then broke down year by year a steady growth. Not everyone can quantify their performance in this way. However, if you can, it would be a good way to let an employer see how you are truly results-oriented.
One of my clients is applying for leading MBA programs. Over ten years, he has held positions that require leadership and the kind of business administration skills that make him a highly qualified candidate. His resume, however, did not reflect this level of skill. Several sentences began with verbs that undercut his responsibility: Helped, assisted, coordinated, and executed.
To revise his resume and show his experience, I asked these questions:
- How have you been involved in policy making, decision making, or strategy?
- Do you have budget responsibility? [Give a specific amount. If applicable, show forecasting and P&L].
- Have you hired, trained, and managed employees? [Emphasize any employee development]
- Have you managed projects?
- Do you have a role in compliance?
This list is not complete and would vary by industry. A good manager’s resume will reflect specific types of leadership. It should be supplemented with achievements that show the ability to get results and manage change. Most importantly, this resume will make the reader confident in the candidate’s ability to direct operations, people, money, and resources. Don’t sell yourself short when the employer or school is looking for a leader.
School starts next week, and a logical assumption would be that most jobs for teachers are filled. Once upon a time that would have been true. Now teachers (at least in Chicago) will be hired and laid off based on the number of students attending school in the first weeks. Teachers who might be laid off or looking for work should prepare a good resume.
For a public school teacher in grades K-12 every resume needs to list qualifications (education, certification, and relevant endorsements). It should also describe what classes you have taught and how you have participated in any activities that have improved the school. For example, some teachers work in before/after school tutoring programs. Others coach or run music/art programs.
As school districts have focused more on tests, teacher also need to be able to show success stories. Improving test scores is a good way to catch a Principal’s attention. Similarly, any teacher who has had success in fund raising or grant writing needs to tell those stories.
Any teacher who loses a job at the beginning of the year has a tough task ahead. That job will be made easier by writing a resume that tells potential employers why they need you on their faculty. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Take credit for how you have helped your students.
Good resumes tell an employer more than why you are qualified for a job. They also demonstrate what sets you apart from other prospective employees. One way to identify your strengths is to ask yourself: What do I like to do? In most cases, we are strongest when performing tasks we enjoy. Another way to highlight what makes you a cut above the competition is to play up you achievements and success stories. Be sure that you are showing how your action benefitted the company. In a competitive job market, it’s not enough to say, “I can do the job.” Employers want workers who bring something extra. Show how you can do that. Start by selling your strengths.
Over my 10 years in the job game, I’ve seen several consultant and project manager resumes that string project after project. They often repeat elements like software used in completing a project. My problem with this format is that it’s hard for the reader to put an job seeker’s skills in any context when all information is presented as a series of discrete projects.
Here’s my alternative: Tell prospective employers why you’re a good consultant or project manager. Then recast your projects as achievements. How did you bring value to the client or to your employer? What was your contribution to the project? Keep your details focused on the kind of job you are applying for, not the job you are leaving.
Keep your resume focused on why the employer should want to interview you. A choppy presentation – all projects – might seem specific. However, few employers have time to figure out how your experience fits their needs. That’s your job. That’s the project behind writing a good resume.
One of the resu-myths that are repeated again and again on the web is a resume must have numbers to support achievement. Is it good to have quantified achievements? Of course. However, some success stories don’t involve numbers. Employers will still want to know this information, and it will help you land interviews.
Here are some examples of achievements that don’t involve numbers. The occupation related to the achievement follows the achievement in brackets. This information would not be included in your resume:
• Created spreadsheets to track office expenses, income from each unit (church), and outstanding accounts. [bookkeeper]
• Developed literature circles to improve skills in reading, writing, and presentation through drama and art. [teacher]
• Played a key role on teams that adjusted work force levels after acquisitions and downsizing. [HR management]
• Won several awards for exceeding sales goals. [sales]
• Opened new markets in Chicago andMiami, including high end accounts with boutique retailers (2011). [business development/sales]
• Collaborated with a Product Manager to launch a new product that required input from several departments. [tech project manager]
• Created a database with contact information for health educators throughout the state. [administrative assistant]
You can tell a success story without using numbers. The key is to start by identifying the result and then determine what you did to make it happen. That’s the formula for writing success stories, whether or not they have numbers.