Almost all of a resume’s useful content can be categorized in one of three ways.
- Responsibilities – Something that was part of the job on an ongoing basis.
- Skills / Traits – These may be referenced as part of an introductory profile/summary at the top or in a skills section. I’ve learned that many people have difficulty differentiating between skills and traits, which is why I mention both (but please learn the difference, and focus on skills).
- Accomplishments – These are typically rather unique projects that were completed.
Most of the resumes sent to me at Resume Raiders feature long listings of skills and traits (usually self-assessed and trite), several bulleted responsibilities, and scant mention of accomplishments. This is a problem.
Based on my conversations with resume clients, it seems that the absence of accomplishments is often a function of modesty and an unwillingness to essentially brag about something they’ve done. I find myself coaxing clients into sharing more details than they were initially unwilling to share. Other times it is an inability to recognize what qualifies as an accomplishment in the first place.
Regardless of the reason that a resume lacks tangible accomplishments, employers are looking to know what you have actually done, so it may be a useful exercise to review your resume and try to categorize the content as either responsibility, skill/trait, or accomplishment.
What Qualifies as an Accomplishment?
This can be especially complex for junior level job seekers who are generally responsible for smaller parts of larger efforts. As for some examples of accomplishments worth listing:
- Cost savings – Any efforts that resulted in significant reduced spending are worth noting. This can be saved licensing fees, payroll, hardware costs, services, or any number of things related to your work.
- Deliverable met – Product being shipped or projects completed are clear accomplishments worth noting.
- Measurable improvements – Performance metrics, user acquisition, and other positive measurable improvements are an easy approach to determining an accomplishment.
- Change – The introduction of new methodologies or product implementations are highly regarded, although the results of these changes may be difficult to measure over small time periods.
We want accomplishments to stand out, and that’s why we have bullets. For any individual job listed on a resume, the ideal situation is to first have a few sentences in paragraph form to describe responsibilities (and perhaps the employer) followed by a handful of bulleted accomplishments.
Most resumes tend to overuse bullets. If you bullet everything, you’ve highlighted nothing.
Phrasing and Structure
Once we have determined what qualifies as an accomplishment, we need to write the description. What are the key required elements?
- Role – It is usually necessary to clarify the role(s) played on the project in order to avoid being given too much or too little credit. A bullet might begin with “Led” or “Designed and developed”, which allows you to define role quickly and effectively. Projects involving leadership may choose to include team size.
- Description of solution – This should include the problem solved and reference at least some of the tools used to do it. It seems that most resumes include detail on the problem without any mention of the languages/frameworks/etc., or list far too many details on the tools without any background.
- Result – Ideally the resume will reference a positive outcome from the project, preferably with data.
Accomplishments should stand out from the other content. Remember that the resume serves as a conversation starter and not a biography, so it isn’t necessary to list every detail of a project. Accomplishment bullets are often the subject of interview questions, which gives the opportunity to frame your own interview. Provide enough information to pique interest, and let the interview provide the platform to dive deeper.