Being able to list your professional achievements fully, accurately, and convincingly is an essential skill for any worker. Most of us probably know this at some level, but it's also probably fair to say that most of us feel we could be better than we are in this regard. We're often disinclined to rehash the details of past work, and the information may not be easy to find. And then there's our brains: studies have shown that negative experiences stick in the memory much more than positive ones, making the past look a bit more like a minefield, or at least cactus patch, than a meadow of successes.
Listing our achievements takes time and a clear head, so it's unfortunate that many of us don’t get to it until we find ourselves facing an unexpected career disruption like a layoff or a serious conflict and we need a strong resume. Having a master record of your accomplishments helps you stay confident in the face of challenges and puts you on the right foot for a rapid transition.
One key distinction will help you significantly on your job transition. There's a difference between the accomplishments in your resume's work history and the master record of accomplishments that you should be keeping for yourself.
If you can maintain and enrich your personal master record of accomplishments, you'll always have a ready source of material to copy into all of your resumes, taking just what you need for each one.
But that's not all; you'll also have a resource for reminding yourself and others who you are and what you can do, where your strengths lie and what your values are. It becomes a powerful tool for maintaining your focus and motivation when you need it most, during your transition, and beyond.
The best way to build and maintain your master record of accomplishments is to grow it over time: treat it as a journal that you come back to on a regular basis. Set aside time once a week to log each and every accomplishment you’ve made throughout that week and review your previous entries. Always include the date and some notes about the context. Here are some suggestions:
Getting started needs to be as easy as you can make it, or you'll be less likely to do it. This is especially true if you're in the midst of a career disruption.
All it takes is one or two short sessions:
One immediate benefit of building up your record is that uncertainty starts to go down and confidence starts to go up. As this happens, you'll be more motivated to put those accomplishments to work for you. The first and most obvious place is your resume, but there are others as well.
As you find accomplishments that you can use in your resume, you should structure them for the strongest impact. One way to do that is to use the CAR formula: Challenge, Action, and Result. Each achievement you summarize should identify the challenge you encountered, the action you took in order to solve it, and the concrete outcome. There are a number of other good approaches that you can find on the internet. Just make sure to keep your structure consistent.
As you review your master record, adding tags as you go, you'll start to see patterns. Pay special attention to the patterns that reflect your values. Your accomplishments say something about what's important to you. This is hugely valuable, because it enables you not only to list your values, but to show examples of your values in action. A few of these are invaluable for your personal statement, and for any time that you need to introduce yourself to a recruiter or potential ally.
Every accomplishment, at one point, was a part of your everyday life. If you can capture them when they happen, you'll soon have a rich source of information that will keep you motivated and confident, and help you communicate your value to the people who'll want to help you and hire you.