As a resume writer, I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of resume accomplishments throughout your job search. Accomplishments are the most potent element to set yourself apart in writing. It’s that simple. And they’re also very useful during job interviews.
Most resumes are filled with roles and responsibilities, and that makes them incredibly average. What makes accomplishments better is that they spell out the value for employers. The focus isn’t on what you did. It’s what they got out of it that really matters. More money, less headaches, new ideas, smoother processes, more efficient teams…
(This is at the root of what I call the 3 laws of resume writing.)
Accomplishments (also called achievements or results) are powerful because they speak your reader’s language. While I don’t believe that they’re the only thing that matters, I think they’re what matters most. Especially considering the fact that it’s the weakest point on many resumes!
Some examples of accomplishments
Here’s some material I found on real resumes. Notice the contrast between accomplishments and roles/responsibilities.
Nurse resume accomplishments:
- Member of Hospital Improvement team, with a key role in improving patient flow.
- Deep understanding of addiction and dedicated to treating it like another disease. My patients trust me and share important information that helps me attend to their medical needs.
- Demonstrated and explained hospital infection control protocol to many groups of clinical staff.
Nurse roles and responsibilities:
- Counted all narcotics/controlled substances at the beginning and end of each shift.
- Assisted with surgery and monitored patients in recovery.
- Participated in interdepartmental and multidisciplinary communications and collaboration.
- Provided information, emotional support and reassurance to patients and relatives.
Programmer resume accomplishments:
- Improved performance of a web crawler in Java.
- Took the initiative of porting [redacted] to 64-bit Linux (30k lines of C++ functions called from Java to mostly parse and craft network packets), which turned out to be a great foresight as, a year later, [redacted] “urgently” needed to migrate appliance customers away from 32-bit.
- Served in Technical Lead role for teams up to 4 people.
Programmer roles and responsibilities:
- Performed interviews and generated requirements analysis documentation.
- Maintained proprietary server software used for collection and broadcast of various compression and encryption of over-the-air messages.
- Developed year long project plan for analysis, rollout, and resource allocation.
Do you see how the accomplishments could really catch the eye of hiring managers? Value, from their perspective, means reducing expenses, improving a process, managing people, taking initiative, and so on. This is what resonates and makes you stand out. And this is how you could get you an interview.
On the other hand, roles and responsibilities are expected from people in this position. “Of course you do that. It’s your job!” They rarely have enough weight to make you distinctive.
So, are you ready to fill your resume with accomplishments?
Maximizing accomplishments on your resume
Roles, responsibilities and accomplishments are the building blocks of your Experience section. And since resumes are scanned very quickly (at first), you should present most of the information in bullet form. According to your situation, you might want to adapt how you present your career history.
To find accomplishments on your own, a list of relevant questions can be quite helpful. You’ll find one in this accomplishments worksheet. The questions look for special things you did, how you impressed your boss, your contributions to profitability, and so on. But note that they’re generic, therefore many questions might not apply to you.
If you’re looking for tailored material, I’ve worked on lists of accomplishments, by profession. Actually, the accomplishment examples I provided above come from two of my books in the Resume Hacking series. I have a book for nurses and another for occupational therapists. A book for programmers and one for system administrators. Basically, each book contains a unique, customized list of 50+ accomplishments like the ones above, just for your field. The goal is to jog your memory and help you craft bullets that carry extra weight.
Many of your peers don’t have accomplishments-driven resumes…
There are just too many resumes out there with almost no accomplishments. It’s pathetic. As a resume writer, I see this over and over again (and helplessly roll my eyes).
But for you, it’s an opportunity to stand out.
If you put in the time and effort to find and write down all your accomplishments, you’ll add strong, distinctive character to your resume. Couple that with good keyword-tailoring, to handle ATS scans, and your resume will get much more attention.
If you know other job seekers who are struggling to stand out, let them know about what you’ve just discovered by sharing this piece!
- The Simple Formula for Identifying Your Key Achievements
- 39 Resume Accomplishments Examples to Demonstrate Your Value
Richard Poulin is the founder of Resume Hacking, a website and book series to help job seekers with tailored advice, by profession. Richard has a self-proclaimed passion for resume accomplishments. One of his big ideas: the 3 laws of resume writing.
This article was originally published on August 26, 2016.