How Should I Describe My Accomplishments?

How Should I Describe My Accomplishments?

How Should I Describe My Accomplishments?

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.

Your Record of Accomplishments Is More Than What's in Your Resume

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.

How to Have a Master Record of Accomplishments

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:

  • Look at your calendar and notes from the week and log anything that seems good.Set a low bar. Capturing even minor accomplishments can help you find useful patterns showing your strengths and what you value.
  • Wherever you can, include how outcomes made a difference in saving money, time, or work, or in making someone's life even a little better. Doing this while the details are fresh in your mind prevents them from being lost forever.
  • As you review your achievements, tag them to show dates, projects, skills, awards, or special assignments. This will help you to find the relevant ones when it comes time to put them into a resume.

How to Get Started

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:

  1. Make sure you're in a quiet place with no distractions. Get a pen and paper, or open your favorite note-taking app. Get out the timer on your phone or computer, and set it for 10 minutes. At the top of the page, write down your most recent position.
  2. Now, for 10 minutes, use free association to write down every accomplishment that comes to mind for that position. No accomplishment is too small. Be as silly as you want. The idea is to get your mind to start using those associations to recall more and more of what's buried in your memory.
  3. When the time is up, move back in time to the previous position and do this again. Don't worry if you feel like you're on a roll when the timer stops. Use that extra momentum to get a better start on the next earlier position.
  4. Do this for every position you want to include. When you're done, copy the accomplishments into your master record. Now, every time you review the master, you'll be remembering more details and making improvements.

How to Use Your Master Record of Accomplishments

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.

In Your Resume

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.

In Your Personal Statement

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.

Keep It Going

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.

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