A common suggestion when it comes to updating your resume is to focus on accomplishments instead of duties. But what kind of accomplishments should you select? And what if your job doesn’t lend itself to easily documented successes? We’ve put together a few tips to help you upgrade your resume.
First: What is the difference between a duty and an accomplishment?
In a nutshell, duties state what you did while accomplishments demonstrate how well you did. Duties certainly let a hiring manager know the scope of your role, yet one of the primary questions that hiring managers ask is if a candidate can do the job at hand. Accomplishments go a step further by illustrating your ability to complete potential work.
Fleshing out your accomplishments
While searching for a job usually prompts us to think about our successes, you should be keeping track of your accomplishments on a regular basis. That said, accomplishments paint a vivid picture of your impact at each job you’ve held. There are many ways to quantify your success—from asking “how much or how many” to simply comparing your work this year to your work or the work of a predecessor’s from last year.
However, to better emphasize what you specifically bring to the table, you need to dig a bit deeper. Start by making a list of all of your duties, then for each one ask yourself: “What is the evidence that this was done successfully and what actions did I have to take to make this happen?”
For example, if you are a program manager at a nonprofit that focuses on after-school activities for teens, one of your duties might be to recruit and retain participants. If you ask yourself, “What is the evidence that this was done successfully and what actions did I have to take to make this happen?” you might have the following narrative: Recruited 50 new participants and maintained a 78% retention rate by launching partnerships with three local nonprofits and implementing a new tech-based curriculum.
Additionally, how you phrase your accomplishments and which ones you emphasize will depend on the job for which you are applying. Curating your accomplishments is not just about choosing the best ones, it is about choosing the best ones for the job you want to have. A longer list does not impress if most of the points on it are unrelated to the job, so align your accomplishments to what would be assets in the new job.
What if your accomplishments can’t be measured?
Not every job lends itself to hard numbers. Alison Green at Ask A Manager advises that you consider the difference between what a mediocre performance of your job would look like versus your performance:
For instance, maybe you — unlike your predecessor — keep a busy office running smoothly, completely revamped the client billing system to ensure bills are now sent out on schedule, resolved an inherited four-month backlog in three weeks, took over troubleshooting the phone system so that the I.T. department didn’t have to do it, and regularly garnered unsolicited praise from callers and visitors to the office for your helpfulness.
Those are all accomplishments, and they can all go on your resume.
Green goes on to encourage asking the question, “What did you accomplish that someone else might not have?”
What if you have related accomplishments that took place outside of work?
While work experience is important, many of us take on projects and activities outside of our day jobs that allow us to grow and learn in powerful ways. Though targeted at interns and students, YouTern lists a few areas we tend to overlook when looking for accomplishments including volunteer work, consulting projects, and papers or articles you might have published.
How we share our accomplishments varies from field to field and from job to job. For more information on presenting your best work on your resume, explore the following resources:
- 60 achievement resume writing ideas and expressions by Job Mob
- Resume revamp: How to turn your duties into accomplishments by The Daily Muse
- How to write about your accomplishments by the Houston Chronicle
- The ultimate resume test by Idealist (good for figuring out if your resume in written for the position you want)