how to rewrite your resume to focus on accomplishments, not just job duties

by Ask a Manager on February 5, 2014

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If you’re like most people, your resume lists what you were responsible for at each job you held, but doesn’t explain what you actually achieved there. Rewriting it to focus on accomplishments will make it way more effective (i.e., “increased email subscribers by 20%  in six months” instead of “managed email list”), because that explains how you performed, not just what your job duties were.

However, most people really struggle with how to do this. And it’s especially tricky in jobs that don’t lend themselves to numerically quantitative achievements.

Here’s an example taken from the comments section on a recent post about resumes. Commenter Eden asked:

What constitutes an achievement, in this context?

I was the person the entire staff looked for to get on the phone or interact in person with any disgruntled client. I was also the person chosen most frequently by doctors to relay complex medical information to clients of all backgrounds.

Skill in dealing with irate, irrational people is not something I was born with, so acquiring it was very much ‘trial by fire.’ I’m proud of it—I made loyal clients out of people with gripes—but don’t want to sound like I’m bragging.

Another communications example: I was the person all the doctors and our practice manager came to for writing or editing of client correspondence or exam notes, or to write newsletters, or web content. Writing and editing was very much not what my position title entailed.

So are these achievements? Of course, I have references (boss, practice manager, clients) who would verify this, but to my ears these sound like hanging medals on myself that are hard to quantify.

They’re absolutely achievements. They speak to what you got done that someone else in your role might not have, and they speak to what kind of employee you are. The trick is just turning them into resume-friendly bullet points.

For instance:

* Built reputation for working successfully with previously unhappy clients
* Became go-to staff member for relaying complicated medical information to patients of diverse backgrounds
* Sought out by doctor and practice manager to write and edit client correspondence, exam notes, and web content

See? Now the person reading your resume knows a hell of a lot more about what kind of worker you are than if you just listed job duties.

More advice here:
how to list accomplishments on your resume when your job doesn’t have easy measures
the #1 question your resume should answer

{ 110 comments… read them below or add one }

VintageLydia February 5, 2014 at 11:13 am

Retail and fast food service is really hard to this, especially as a cashier. It’s possible for some (I was in management so I had the opportunity to get more achievements) but we had some people who came in for their 3-4 shifts a week, work their 4 hours at the register, then go home. Which is great; It’s exactly what we needed them to do. But unless you count number of loyalty card transactions (which they were scored on but personally don’t think it meant much) there were very few things those people could achieve that wouldn’t take them away from their duties they absolutely needed to do.

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Wren February 5, 2014 at 11:35 am

Working at the register, you could say something about maintaining 100% accuracy on register count, maybe.

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VintageLydia February 5, 2014 at 11:46 am

People didn’t have individual tills (another stupid idea by corporate, certainly not mine!) We’d set out one till in the morning and cashiers used their individual log-in throughout the day. We knew who rang on which tills, but we couldn’t tell who were responsible for errors. The only thing I could really think of is effective multitasking since they were responsible for taking all phone calls and directing them while they were ringing people up (and the phone had to be picked up even if you were with another customer.)

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annie February 5, 2014 at 11:53 am

Maybe something along the lines of building relationships with customers? I have friendly relationships workers with at many of the lunch places nearby my office, and it definitely is a part of why I keep patronizing their restaurants!

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Emily K February 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Hiring for someone with that kind of experience, if I was checking references I would be interested in (and thus I think good resume achievements):

-Good attendance (rarely/never called in sick, always found a replacement when they were sick)
-Known for staying late/picking up extra shifts on short notice
-Found productive tasks to complete during down-time without waiting for direction from manager
-Cheerful attitude; Positive influence on work ethic/morale of other employees
-Speed on register; Kept lines from getting backed up, dealt effectively with loud ambient noise/foreign accents/register software malfunctions, etc.

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Canadamber February 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm

The only flaws that I can really see are that a) we’re not supposed to leave our registers without asking the supervisor, but you can certainly ask for extra tasks; and b) if it’s extremely busy, lines are going to get backed up if you have to call for a price check/exchange/customer assistance, since the grocery department takes care of those things, so if they’re busy in the back and can’t come out right away, then it gets super backed up. But, otherwise, yeah! I like that list! :)

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The Other Dawn February 5, 2014 at 11:18 am

This is timely. I just helped a friend tailor her resume to target a job at my place of employment. All her jobs have been very task-driven so it’s been difficult to come up with an eye-catching profile summary at the top of the page, something that’s says things other than “proficient in MS Word and Excel”.

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Observer February 5, 2014 at 11:44 am

How about “developed a reputation for getting projects done in a timely fashion”?

And, if she was the kind of person to whom you could give a job and forget about in full confidence it could get done, you could add “with minimal need for supervision or reminders.”

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The Other Dawn February 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Thanks! That helps.

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Sascha February 5, 2014 at 11:20 am

How would you frame tasks as accomplishments in jobs where you almost literally do one thing, and nothing else? I’m helping a friend who works at a fast food restaurant and his job is grill cook. He doesn’t do anything else besides cook food. How could this be framed as an accomplishment?

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fposte February 5, 2014 at 11:31 am

Some of it depends on what he’s applying for, but information about the busyness of the restaurant, his production rate (“juggled up to 150 orders within an hour” or whatever), would shed some light on what he brought to it.

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Steve February 5, 2014 at 11:38 am

I think this definitely depends on what kind if job he’s looking for now, but surely he’s learned how to organize and prioritize the orders to get the food prepared in a timely manner. Learned how to work with other team members to keep customers happy and flowing smoothly through the restaurant. Does the fast food chain recognize any accomplishments on not wasting food, always getting orders correct, helping to maintain a positive health inspection rating, etc.? Many fast food restaurants have employee of the month, reward points for positive customer comments sent to corporate or called into the manager. They may not be Nobel Peace Prizes, but if he can demonstrate that he goes above and beyond, and if it’s what’s in line with what the prospective employer is looking for, it could be well worth noting.

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Lindsay the Temp February 5, 2014 at 11:40 am

Instead of just listing that he grilled, think of it in terms of HOW he grilled. Was he timely? Was he efficient? Was he able to multitask? These are all things you can list as accomplishments.

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Emma February 5, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Another one..how did he receive changes to the order (“Jimmy, could you make it fries instead of mash on the side?”) – was he accepting or annoyed? how often did those changes come out right?

Not an exact science, but if he could eye-ball his performance, it might be another point?

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Yup February 5, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Does he help train newer grill cooks or other kitchen staff? Does the menu change regularly and he’s therefore adept at quickly implementing the new recipes? Does he help, even indirectly, with any of the inventory or ordering? Does he work at an especially busy location or routinely handles the busiest shifts? Has he made any suggestions or changes to their setup/process that resulted in better customer service?

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Sascha February 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I will ask him these things and see what I can get out of him.

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Sascha February 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm

These are all awesome suggestions, thank you so much!

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kac February 5, 2014 at 11:33 am

Oh, thank you for sharing an example. This really helps clarify what accomplishments vs responsibilities looks like!

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Audiophile February 5, 2014 at 11:34 am

I find this difficult too, as the last few years, I’ve held receptionist/admin positions, but I’m interested in transitioning into the field I got my degree in (communications/media). I’d hazard a guess that my resume is pretty strong, because I get a lot offers to interview, though that’s slowed down in recent months. I’ve basically stopped applying for admin roles and started focusing more on media/social media roles. It’s been hit or miss for callbacks with these positions.

Most of my resume is strictly outlining my responsibilities, it is difficult to quantify “stonewalled telemarketer so much that they hung up” or “refused to take sales materials so solicitor left building”.

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Observer February 5, 2014 at 11:48 am

Think of your resume as your first major communications project.

What skills do these tasks require that a prospective employer would be interested in? Find a way to express that.

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Ethyl February 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm

What about something like “successfully maintained/developed/implemented telephone and walk-in screening procedures to comply with company priorities” or something?

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Ask a Manager February 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Provided a friendly face to the organization while diplomatically gatekeeping for a busy CEO

(The CEO part might not be right, but something along those lines)

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LizNYC February 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm

You may already be doing this, but if not, if you’re applying for social media roles, make sure you are visible on a social media platform. I work at a place that regularly hires / looks for interns with interests in SM and the number of people who say “oh, well, I don’t have *any* SM account” is staggering. And if you’re more interested in the writing aspect, start a blog — any blog — and regularly update it. It’s an easy way to show writing skills without worrying about “clips” from your current job. (You don’t need every social media account, but being familiar with the ins and outs of all of the platforms, like hashtags are a go on Twitter and Instagram but passe/annoying on FB, is good.)

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Audiophile February 5, 2014 at 6:55 pm

I have a website, that links to my Twitter and LinkedIn, and Google Plus accounts. It also links to some of my published writing. I do have a blog, but I was using it more for noting interesting articles, rather than featuring my own writing. I haven’t decided whether to do a complete overhaul on the blog.

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Anonymous_J February 6, 2014 at 5:32 pm

I feel your pain. I am an admin, too, and my job was a bottom-of-the barrel, dead end job. (Admin jobs are not always like that. I just got “lucky.”) This post was really helpful for me, too.

My group basically did not utilize me, so I had literally no accomplishments. It was horrible, and I’m glad not to be in that position any more.

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Jubilance February 5, 2014 at 11:36 am

Two things that I found helpful when I started writing accomplishment-based resume statements:
* Looking at previous performance reviews. I’ve kept a copy of all my performance reviews, and referring back to them helped me remember what I’d accomplished in each role. Review time is actually a great time to add accomplishments to your resume (even if you aren’t job hunting) because you’ve just written it all down for your review and it’s fresh in your mind.
* Using the SAR method of writing statements. SAR stands for Situation, Action, Result and it’s often referenced when prepping for behavioral interviews but I also like to use it on my resume. You briefly explain the situation, what action you took, and the result, and quantify the result if possible. I also like to use strong action verbs here as well, where appropriate.

As an example, one of my accomplishment statements from my resume is “Provided cost savings of $100K annually through development and transfer of analytical test method for regulatory compliance for food contact membrane manufacturing.”

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Karen February 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Great tips! Using performance reviews or updating your resume at that time is a great idea I never would have thought about!

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NylaW February 5, 2014 at 11:41 am

Thank you for this post. It is really hard to rewrite some of my skills as accomplishments because so much of what I do is behind the scenes and doesn’t have a direct effect on the organizations bottom line.

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Turanga Leela February 5, 2014 at 11:49 am

Anyone have experience writing accomplishments as an attorney? If you don’t litigate, there’s no win/loss record. I find myself describing the types of documents I’ve written and types of cases I have worked on, which doesn’t feel very accomplishment-centered.

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Jubilance February 5, 2014 at 11:55 am

Can you focus on how many documents you’ve completed in a week/month/year? What types of documents? Emphasis how many documents you work on at a given time?

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Cat February 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I’ve have this issue too. And if you do litigate, the win/loss record may (and in fact, probably does) have nothing to do with your actual skills; some fields you’re going to win a lot and some you’re going to lose. To say nothing of the fact that it feels weird to take credit for something that is, in theory, supposed to be based on the strength of your client’s case rather than your own acumen.

I think, though, that the types of matters you’ve handled – which shows what clients have trusted you with – can be persuasive. And your resume will generally be reviewed by other attorneys who are aware of the complexities involved.

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Ethyl February 5, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Would a focus on outcomes for clients be beneficial here?

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Cat February 5, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Yeah, that’s probably a good idea, with some common sense limitations (e.g., if you’re a criminal defense lawyer, don’t imply you’re getting guilty people off). I’m probably overthinking the lack of responsibility here.

One thing I do wonder: what do you do when you’re one person on a large team? Do you still focus on the overall outcome or do you talk only about your specific parts?

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Fellow Attorney February 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm

This is what I do as well (explain transactions worked on), although I’m conscious of the fact it is not as accomplishment-focused as Alison suggests. Also, in the transactional-legal-world, it seems like deal sheets are more where you list accomplishments. Does anyone else agree?

Also also, as someone else mentioned down-thread in a non-legal context, explaining accomplishments without divulging confidential/privileged information gets preeeetty tricky. (Especially when you work in-house where, for example, listing “successfully settled x claims regarding y matter for approximately z% of damages demanded” would be a pretty big disclosure on the part of the company and no-no.)

Help!

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Another Attorney February 5, 2014 at 1:58 pm

+1

Whenever I read AAM’s advice about focusing on accomplishments in a resume I wonder how that actually translates to a lawyer’s resume. And Fellow Attorney raises a good point – it can be very difficult to explain acomplishments without disclosing confidential information. Even if the client isn’t named, in locations like mine where most lawyers in a certain practice area know one another and know who each other’s big clients are, it is easy to guess.

I would love for AAM to break down resume tips for lawyers.

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CalicoK February 5, 2014 at 3:21 pm

+1,000

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Nicola February 5, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Yes, please!

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Corporate Attorney February 6, 2014 at 3:10 am

+1. I am the only in-house counsel in my company. My position is being eliminated because the company is in the red. There are several issues that I discovered in crafting my resume:

a. Privileged and/or confidentiality.
b. Toxic environment (e.g,, hostility, backstabbing based on relationships and chaotic decisions.).
c. My accomplishments depend on others (recommendations that would save money ignored).
d. One that is not appreciated: status matters in the legal profession more than accomplishments. Meaning, you have great experience, but you didn’t work in Big Law. Contrast with IT.

My current resume had some success in December and early January, but none after. I wrote it focusing on:

a. Accomplishments (e.g., restructured 100 partner relationships over 3 years that resulted in increased compliance, stronger audit controls and increased revenue) .
b. Listing of duties: Develop and implement compliance program based on X laws.

I have found it difficult to explain major accomplishments (left unsaid on the resume and in interviews is “given the toxic environment”). Trying to figure out how to spin this into a positive.

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Gjest February 6, 2014 at 5:46 am

Your letter c. is an important point. This was hard for me to get around during my last job search. You can’t really write “made frequent suggestions that were ignored, and which were then determined a year later that it would have been a good idea to do them” or “was prevented from accomplishing nearly every task due to a combination of bad management and bad luck- but got real close on some!”

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Corporate Attorney February 6, 2014 at 11:41 am

It is definitely a tough nut to crack. I have focused on how I yielded value in my position rather than how the value impacted bad management. If I know my recommendations, policies and contract language would have saved the company almost 4 mil in 1.5 years based on financial outcomes, I focus on the value of the recommendations, policies and contract language rather than their implementation. I can’t say whether my strategy is working. It sounds like it may not work. It sounds like part of this is picking the right organization in which to work. The problem is that I didn’t know going in that this company was so poorly managed. They put on a great face during the interviews.

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Alger March 6, 2014 at 9:29 am

Billable hours might work, depending on the type of job you’re looking for.

In the same vein, anything you can say about growing the client base (attracting new business, or more business with existing clients) would be good.

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Parfait February 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm

A lot of my accomplishments are really really hard to explain in a bullet point to someone outside my company. So OK you worked really hard on Project X for six months and did a great job on it and it was the kind of thing you could laud yourself about in your own performance review. But nobody outside your company would know what kind of project X was, what was significant about it, why it was challenging, etc.

I could explain all of that in an interview but it’s hard to get into a compelling bullet point. “took the lead on Project X and brought it in on time and everybody said it was super great?” I guess it’s ok, but doesn’t really ring my bells, ya know?

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Ethyl February 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Right, so you’d want to think about things like, what does “taking the lead” mean? Did you lead meetings? Supervise staff? Create a database where you tracked component due dates and the people responsible? Think about bringing in a project on time and within budget — how did you track that, that kind of thing. And if everyone thought it was great, who cares if anyone else understands it! You just have to say “received positive input/reviews/comments/rating from end-users/clients/etc.” Hope that helps — it’s often easier to think about this stuff when it’s not your own jobs :D

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Yup February 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm

“Managed two to three teapot projects concurrently per year, with teams of 5 to 75 engineers and budgets ranging from $5 million to $50 million.
Successfully managed complex spout aeronautics project for the firm’s biggest client, and delivered a fully reconfigured spout schematic three months ahead of schedule. Design subsequently became the client’s top selling spout for three straight years.
Led internal effort to reengineer glazing supply chain; managed team of 32 purchasing experts in six-month initiative that reduced cycle time from 5 days to 1 day — exceeding the two day target sought by senior management.”

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Dan February 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm

That’s what the PM parts of my resume looks like. All projects (in my line of work anyway) have a defined length, and a staff and budget to manage. Describe them in numbers.

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Observer February 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Well, start with the fact that you were critical to bringing a complex, important, 6 month long project to a successful conclusion on time and on budget.

As for the significance, you don’t need the technical details – more like “The project was crucial for our company to reconfigure production from standard mass production to mass customization” or “the project enabled our client to revamp its entire communications infrastructure to be more effective and usable, at a fraction of expected cost.” In short, what practical reason you did the project, not why was it technically necessary to do the project to accomplish that goal.

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Anonymous February 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm

I have extreme difficulty with this. My job is always moving in a circle–build/format exams by doing X, Y, Z, then do it all over again. You have to do one to do the other thing to do the other thing to get the exams finished (which I do 55 times a year, plus other duties). It was done this way before me and it will be done this way after me. The only thing I’ve done differently than my predecessor was increase the speed of creating copies of case studies for groups of students because I know how to use the grouping function on the copier. I work independently most of the time and just hand things off to the director/my boss as needed. As has always been done. He compliments me all the time, which I did include once in a cover letter. But my resume does tend to be more duty-based because that’s just how it seems to be. There isn’t much room for changes or improvements in my job though I do everything well and my boss tells me I’m irreplaceable. I don’t have clients, or sales, or much ability to go “off script” in my job. I don’t know if it’s good, but I do include how many exams I do (though if you’re not in academics it may not be impressive sounding, I really have no idea), but for other aspects of the job I stick more closely to duties (process evaluation data that is part of students’ grades, create and maintain student schedule, etc.). My interaction with the students is mostly through emails I send to the entire class. If anyone can see something I don’t I’d love to hear it!

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CTO February 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Can you highlight the reputation you’ve earned for your reliability, efficiency, and quality of work? Do you have few errors? Work well with minimal supervision and guidance? Have you become a trusted and indispensable team member in your boss’ eyes?

Think about what your job would look like if someone were really bad at it. What makes your work different from theirs? Don’t underestimate the worth of quiet competence and reliability. Those are really great qualities to highlight!

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Ethyl February 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm

“Think about what your job would look like if someone were really bad at it. ”

OOOH good idea!!!

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Ask a Manager February 5, 2014 at 12:19 pm

That’s the exact advice I often give to managers when they’re setting expectations for their teams and struggling to define what great performance looks like. I tell them to think about what a mediocre performance would look like — that helps them paint a picture of what a great performance is.

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Yup February 5, 2014 at 12:15 pm

“Built and formatted 55 unique online exams annually, serving more than 500 students and 40 instructors per academic year. Independently completed coding QC and usability review for each exam, which ranged from 100 to 500 questions each plus detailed case studies. Consistently exceeded expected delivery dates, allowing instructors to launch exams on time and meet strict grading deadlines. Communicated regularly with online classes to promptly resolve student user issues.”

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SaraV February 5, 2014 at 12:03 pm

This is a) extremely timely since I am just going to start rewriting my resume today, and 2)My last three jobs were very much task oriented. i.e. – These 3-5 things have to be finished by the end of the day, and repeat with the exact same tasks the next day.

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SaraV February 5, 2014 at 1:20 pm

So tacking onto my own post…

My current job is very monotonous in my job duties. While I do interact with other people, I pretty much work by myself. I was thinking about what I could bullet point. One was “Quickly learned daily processes to be able to work solo within a week” (I’d phrase that a lot better of course) I’m trying to figure out how to phrase saying I’m dependable since I’m working 7 days a week for 4 1/2 weeks while my co-workers are on a month long vacation. (I currently work retail)

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Cruciatus February 5, 2014 at 2:22 pm

I’m no expert, but maybe something like “Stepped up to work 30 days (or however many) in a row when low staffed”. That sounds like a dependable team player to me!

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themmases February 5, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I think AAM has recommended in the past that, when writing a cover letter, you think of what you’d say if you were explaining to someone, maybe a friend, why you really want this job. I do the same thing with my CV. If were talking to a friend about, say, why I clearly deserve a promotion, what would I say? In my fantasy of just bluntly telling my boss what I do and how important this role is (because he doesn’t actually know), what do I tell him? Then I clean up the language.

For example, I manage investigator-initiated research projects that are mostly retrospective and pilot things– we just do them, if a doctor feels like it, using department resources. I also shepherd a lot of fellows, many of whom don’t want research careers, from their first and maybe only experience doing research that can stand up to peer review. So I’m quite confident that most of these projects would get started and never finished if my coworker and I weren’t here. Most people in my department have credits on their CV they would never have gotten if I weren’t here keeping them on track. That’s what I tell my best friend over a beer.

My CV says “Managed projects resulting in 6 papers, 10 presentations, and 4 posters accepted to academic journals and conferences, many by first-time investigators”.

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Anonymous February 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I know so many people who are mediocre – at best – at their jobs. What do you write if you’re really just an average employee who gets your work done but doesn’t do anything special? How do people like this get jobs when there are so many others who can describe their achievements?

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Ask a Manager February 5, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Well, it’s an argument for trying to perform at a higher level … if being well-positioned in the job market is important to you. (There are plenty of people who are perfectly happy not putting an emphasis on that and are okay with dealing with the accompanying trade-offs. It’s really a question of whether you want to prioritize it in your life or not.)

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Judy February 5, 2014 at 12:20 pm

My concern about writing numbers is that so much of it is confidential information.

The number of teapots a year that my company makes? Probably out there somewhere.

The number of teapots we’re now making using the new super smooth chocolate process? That’s confidential, even if I’m the one that managed that project.

There may be marketing claims out there, that say product line A has the new technology, but how many product A’s we make, that’s not public knowledge.

I’m pretty sure that even the revenues from Teapots vs Coffee Pots are confidential. I don’t think our annual report breaks it down by product category, just by region.

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Judy February 5, 2014 at 12:23 pm

I guess I’m saying “Reduced the number of steps to manufacturing the teapot spout from 12 to 7, decreasing cycle time from 9 minutes to 6 minutes” seems confidential, as in “Oh, wow we just got a resume and see that Teapots Inc is able to manufacture spouts in 7 steps and 6 minutes”

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Nancie February 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm

I think that’s where you’d want to speak in percentages. “Decreased manufacturing time of teapot spouts by 30%.”

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Ask a Manager February 5, 2014 at 12:31 pm

If it’s truly confidential, then you’d say “dramatically reduced timeline for…” or something else that doesn’t give numbers. That’s not ideal — numbers are stronger — but if you can’t give them, then this is the next best thing.

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Judy February 5, 2014 at 1:58 pm

What does truly confidential mean? I signed a nondisclosure agreement, which says I can’t disclose things material to the business workings of my company. All of the presentations I see with numbers of product productions, costs, etc have “Confidential Information” in the footers. Even the product quality data is confidential. Every time I log in to the computer, I see a screen about using a business system containing confidential information.

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De Minimis February 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Percentages could also be used in place of actual numbers.

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De Minimis February 5, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Nancie beat me to it.

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ChristineSW February 5, 2014 at 12:40 pm

This is *exactly* what I’ve been having a problem with and why I’ve pretty much raised my white flag. I’m really proud of my volunteer work, but a lot of it is has been as an individual contributor (reviewing grants, conducting site visits, participating in meetings). Plus, I’ve been listing these positions separately with bullet points, same as the paid jobs, even though the work is intermittent.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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ChristineSW February 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Just so that nobody misunderstands: I have always kept my eyes and ears open for paid employment; I just haven’t gotten any real bites. A couple of the regular readers may know of my challenges that are also a factor. That’s why I’ve put much of my energy into the volunteering–it seems to have been the only way I can get experience in new areas and where I haven’t had to pull teeth to prove myself.

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Ask a Manager February 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm

I might be misunderstanding, but the work being as an individual contributor shouldn’t be an obstacle. When you think of what makes you great at what you do, what do you think of?

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ChristineSW February 5, 2014 at 1:48 pm

One thing that quickly comes to mind is that a lot of times, I’m complimented on my attention to details–sometimes I catch things that others may not notice.

Also, my county council just appointed me to chair a subcommittee that oversees (with county staff input) the proposal review and site monitoring process, of which the grant reviews and site visits are a bit part. So yeah….I guess that’s an accomplishment ;)

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Ethyl February 6, 2014 at 9:43 am

It doesn’t sound like you have a lack of accomplishments or good experience, ChristineSW! It sounds to me like you’re so frustrated and demoralized by the job hunt in general that you’re not able to see how to best portray your experience. I have SO been there!

So from an outside perspective, I think you want to take a step back and look at what sounds like a long track record of excellent work and recognition by your supervisors (including appointment to chair a committee, which you should definitely include!), and think about the outcomes of your work.

So for example, if you weren’t in direct control of funding decisions, then you’d want to focus on how many grants you were able to process and the ultimate end goal of how many groups received funding because of your efficient work.

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Ethyl February 5, 2014 at 1:05 pm

So you still want to focus on outcomes — how many site visits, for what purpose, and what was the outcome? How many grants, how many got funded, etc…..?

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ChristineSW February 5, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Actually, the grant review panels I’m on (county government and a local United Way) don’t have the final say of what gets funded, but our collective scores and comments do help those who do make those decisions. Also, both panels review what are called support grants, so just about everyone gets funded to some degree–it largely depends on ranking based on final scores.

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Ethyl February 6, 2014 at 9:46 am

Ok, but you’re focusing on the wrong part of my advice :) I was just throwing that out there to help you think in a different way about your accomplishments — it’s not about “I did x, y, and z as part of the grant review board,” but about “assisted in the review of 15 grants per quarter, resulting in timely funding within organizational budget for 12 community service groups and 3 youth organizations.” Does that help?

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Anon Accountant February 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Thanks for posting this!

It’s helpful to see more examples of how to list accomplishments where it’s not as clear as “increased sales 30% in 2 months”.

I’ve debated with myself over listing how one is a “go-to specialist” for some issues and wondered if a hiring manager would roll her eyes at it or think “hmmm, that sounds like someone I want on my team”.

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Ask a Manager February 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Depends on the hiring manager, and on how credible it sounds (and on whether you can back it up when asked about it).

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Duschamp February 5, 2014 at 12:58 pm

As with so many here, I really struggle with this and appreciate AAM’s advice. The problem I consistently have is that virtually all of my experience (within my desired profession) has been on a voluntary/intern basis. Don’t get me wrong, I have consistently been an amazing volunteer/intern. So much so that I am frequently given/permitted to undertake tasks that are usually beyond what volunteers are allowed to do. For example: I’ve just completely organized the library of the gallery where I am currently volunteering (it was piles of books on the floor), which involved researching and creating a database of past exhibitions more extensive in date and scope than previously existed.
I have noted these things in my resume ( “-Organized and cataloged the gallery’s library and archive & -Researched and extended the database of past exhibitions”), but they look disjunctive next to the volunteer title and status. Should I just assume that a hiring manager will understand that these accomplishments are the result of trust in my skills/enthusiasm/work ethic? Does it look like I’m making stuff up?

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Ask a Manager February 5, 2014 at 1:04 pm

No, it doesn’t look made up. And you should note that it was unusual because you were great:
* Performed an array of responsibilities not normally assigned to interns, such as….

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Simonthegrey February 5, 2014 at 12:59 pm

This isn’t exactly to the same topic, but I have a somewhat related question. My friend and I have a small business. We make and sell homemade items at fairs and conventions. I list this in an “other” section of my resume, because I am actually in the academic field. I used to have a paragraph explaining how I work with the business, but I have removed it since it has no bearing on my career trajectory. Should I do that? Or is pointing out my skills in bookkeeping, marketing, and sales good for a career that’s intended to be in academia?

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Danielle February 5, 2014 at 1:36 pm

I was just thinking about this so THANK YOU! This will help!

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Carrie in Scotland February 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm

I am finding this difficult with my current postition. I am an admin assistant but a specific type of admin. I format reports of findings and then they go on the web. Make sure they make sense etc. I also do letters, anaysis of questionnaires, filing etc but some of these won’t mean anything to any other organisation – or am I missing something?

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the gold digger February 5, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Of course they will. This is all very basic and definitely can be improved upon, but start with

* Edit professional reports and make them presentable (or format them) for publication online
* Analyze surveys and questionnaires, summarize data, draw conclusions. Or – Analyzed, summarized, and provided action recommendations for four surveys done of 10,000 customers.
* Developed and maintained paper filing system that almost eliminated lost documents, improved admin response time for finding documents by x%, etc.

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Carrie in Scotland February 6, 2014 at 11:53 am

Thank you so much – now you’ve put it like that it seems so obvious. Will try to do it for all my recent jobs now =)

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Ash February 5, 2014 at 2:39 pm

This definitely useful, but in the end I think the most useful thing is having someone else look at it and give suggestions. To that end, I really hope Alison sells resume reviews again…

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Ask a Manager February 5, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Sometime this spring!

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Dan February 5, 2014 at 2:43 pm

I’m a mathematician, but I actually work in transportation research for the government. So the mathematical models that I build don’t translate well into “saved $X for company/client” bullets on the resume. It’s also a given that I can actually crunch numbers. So what’s resume worthy? TBH, there’s a crap-ton of soft skills stuff that are really important to employers hiring mid level analysts. When I got my current job, I really wanted to highlight that I was read for the next level:

*Leadership. This covers both technical and people. It’s one thing to be given a set of equations and told to solve it, it’s another to design the equations to be solved. A lot of the technical work I did I designed, so I highlighted that. This part also falls into the category of “self starter.”

Along those lines, supervising technical work of other staff is always big.

*Client interaction. There are brilliant people who bomb in front of those who write the checks. A lot of it has to do with political sensitivities. Employers want to know that you know how to handle yourself in front of clients. Here, the fact I’ve established myself is enough. I don’t have to “wow” people.

*Team work. While I can do a lot of things on my own, I want to demonstrate that I don’t know everything, know where that line is, and know how to ask others for help. These “others” tend to be experts in my domain, not necessarily other mathematicians.

*Presents technical work to non-technical audiences. While this does tie in closely with client interaction, I still need to be able to demonstrate that I can concisely present material to “normal” people in ways that they can understand.

Yeah, some of these are hard to bulletize, but if I can effectively talk to these, I will do well in interviews.

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Ethyl February 6, 2014 at 9:58 am

I’m seeing a lot of comments like this, and I think it’s interesting how tunnel-vision-y we can get about our jobs.

–Designed x numbers of numerical models in y amount of time to provide x outcome (other people used it to perform tasks? client used it to accomplish some goal?) (although I’m not sure how this is considered “leadership.”)

–Presented findings/conducted trainings/led workshops/organized charettes/ for x purpose y amount of times. Received positive feedback/reviews from stakeholders.

–Built a reputation among clients as a clear communicator of technical aspects of our work; developed strong client relationships through communication.

–Worked as part of a team to accomplish project/task and then say something about outcome — task saved money/work/time, project saved client time/money/effort, etc.

Hope this helps!

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A Librarian February 5, 2014 at 2:50 pm

This is so helpful! My job entails helping people directly, so there aren’t a lot of numbers involved and I’ve always struggled with this on my resume.

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Emsz February 5, 2014 at 2:51 pm

I’m a student-assistant (student worker, part time) at my university, working as a web-editor. I do not do any hard coding (we have more talented people for that), but I do look after content. Also, with the way our CMS works, one of my tasks is to build new parts of the website, and therefore to make the structure to work well. It’s therefore a little more technical than just writing, and my focus is more on the technical side.

I was brought in in 2012, when we went from the old website to the new website. We also went from the old CMS to the current CMS. This brought some problems. During the project I worked almost full time as my studies permitted. I became an expert in the workings of the CMS, and when a quite serious problem was discovered, I was asked to come in on my day off to sit in on a meeting about it. (Huge honor, because student workers usually just do the work they’re assigned, and very rarely have any say in the decisions)

During this meeting I was one of the only ones to understand the actual problem and the explanation given by the programmer. In the end I came up with the idea that led to the solution to the problem. My supervisor and my manager both praised me, but now I have no idea how to word this on my resume.

Here’s my problem:
- I did not propose the end solution. Although my proposal was the thing to kick it all into gear.
- I only had the idea, I did not implement any of it, because I am not a programmer (and in fact the programmers are an entirely different department!)

I still think this is one of my main accomplishments in this job, although it was a while ago, but I have no idea how to word it on my resume. Any clever ideas from people who have done this more often?

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CTO February 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Provided leadership and expertise during difficult CMS software transition? Became lead in-house expert on new CMS system and supported department during transition?

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Anon February 5, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Acted as the business intent lead during CMS software transition despite being a student worker? That might be overselling it a bit…perhaps was a consistently strong contributor to the business intent?

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Fiona February 5, 2014 at 3:27 pm

This is SO timely. Can you all help me with a specific wording? For example, when we respond to a grant RFP:

The director prints out the grant application and fills it in with his chicken scratches, along with pages and pages of narrative content. I type up the narrative, clean up the grammar and make suggestions as to flow, he revises, rinse-repeat as needed. Then I fill in the actual grant application, insert the completed narrative, format the attachments, add the finishing touches (TOC, tabs, binding, copies), make sure everything is letter perfect and to the specifications in the RFP. I basically do everything except generate the narrative content…there’s got to be a professional-sounding shorthand for this. Suggestions?

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Yup February 5, 2014 at 4:21 pm

“Partnered with Director to prepare grant proposals as part of overall development strategy. (Insert here if you have any holistic stats on how much funding you’ve helped bring in, especially if it exceeds the fundraising goal for the year.) Edited and proofed narratives created by the Director; independently completed each application according to funder guidelines and submitted the final proposals accurately and on time. (Insert quantities here, like how many you do per month/year and the level/type of funding they’re for.) “

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BebeBoomer February 5, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Yup is right, but use active language. Edit not edited.

AAM, is active language still in vogue? Maybe I’m off the mark. I am simply a HM, not a AAM. :)

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Ask a Manager February 5, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Active if it’s the present job; past tense if it’s a previous job!

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BebeBoomer February 5, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Take your sentences and make keywords. Edit, organize, revise, coordinate, produce. There’s 6 things you do, try organizing around that and fill out what you do that matches each keyword. Also, for your clerical position, I would encourage you to include as main level bullets anything similar you do for non-work: church newsletter (graphical layout), girl scout cookies (charity financials), PTA website (html, editing, writing).

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Frances February 5, 2014 at 3:27 pm

This is SO helpful! I’ve heard this advice, but I haven’t really understood how to apply it to my history of admin work, even though it would be especially helpful since I’m trying to transition to another field. Thanks so much!

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AFT February 5, 2014 at 3:56 pm

I’m really struggling with this. One of the reasons that I want to leave my current position is because I’m sick of wearing a million different hats and not getting to focus on my own area. Most of my accomplishments are in other areas, and I really don’t want to pursue jobs in those areas.

Basically, I was hired to A but due to the organization’s small size and constantly changing needs, I was continually assigned to X, Y, Z instead. Now I want a job where I can really do A, but none of my recent accomplishments are in A. Further, I really don’t want to do X, Y, Z in future jobs, so I’m reluctant to brag about accomplishments in those areas.

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CTO February 5, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Maybe that’s where a good cover letter can help make the connection between your accomplishments in X, Y, and Z and how they’ll make you terrific at A, in addition to your past record of success in A. What skills/qualities are transferable from your current work to the job you’d like to have?

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BebeBoomer February 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm

My advice is to get someone who’s good at resumes to review yours. Listen to why they marked it up, or rearranged it, or want you to redo your wording, or want you to start over. Listen to why. Ask to see their resume and compare yours to theirs. Also, the library has ancient tomes on resumes probably written in the dark ages/80s but check out the examples anyway. Active language is active language.

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Zillah February 5, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Ugh, I’ve been struggling with this a lot, too. I’ve worked in a couple archives, and I’m not sure how to frame some of the things I’ve done as achievements, or whether I should be including things like photocopy orders and paging (and if so, how to frame them). I mean, I helped process/did process multiple collections, and I wrote a finding aid, but I’m not sure how to say that in numbers or in a way that’s really going to help me. :\

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Susan February 5, 2014 at 11:39 pm

One thing I’ve been trying to write well on my resume is:

I was an intern (this internship lasted forever, though–it was a year) at a book publisher. My role had nothing to do with copyediting, but I expressed an interest in it. Because I had developed a reputation for being incredibly detail-oriented, I think they gave me a chance. When they realized I could do it, they gave me more and more chances until my last six months I was almost unofficially a copy editor!

I have this bullet on my resume about copyediting x number of books or something, but I feel like it reads as one of my responsibilities when I want to get the point across that I really went above and beyond and gained the management’s trust to do something very non-interny.

But I really don’t know how to write that succinctly (clearly!). Any ideas?

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Zillah February 6, 2014 at 2:14 am

Hmm.

How about, “Developed a reputation for attention to detail and was given increasing responsibilities as a copy editor, including [x] books” or “Developed a reputation for attention to detail and strong copy editing skills”? Or something like that? Then, in your cover letter, you can talk about how it wasn’t initially part of your responsibilities at all but you ended up proving yourself?

(Not great, I know, but maybe it’ll spark something.)

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Josh S February 6, 2014 at 12:40 am

Thank you! This article is getting a bookmark as “That Article from AAM that I pass along any time I review someone’s resume for them.”

So many of my friends & acquaintances are SO awful at making resumes. This article, along with the comments, and the “#1 Question” article, will definitely be part of my ‘handbook for resume building’ from here on out.

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Clinical Social Worker February 6, 2014 at 10:26 am

Can I pick the reader’s brains on this one? I’m a clinical social worker in a prison. I provide case management and can talk about the number of people on my caseload, the number of crises I handle etc but I have a hard time showing my daily duties as accomplishments. Especially because in my field patients rarely “get better,” so I can’t point to that. I’ve managed I think the point out some achievements (like securing a translator service for patients that require this as they don’t speak english, indicating the number of patients I serve, being the go-to person for the legal panel process etc) but large parts of my job I feel are not captured well on my resume because I describe what I do and I have a hard time framing it as an achievement. So, what would you suggest readers? Are there other social workers out there that have the same problem?

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Eden February 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Do your patients trust you? Can you establish rapport with people from diverse backgrounds? Does your caseload differ from others’ and if so, how? Do you handle more, or different kinds of cases because of special skills? Are there any things you routinely do for your cases (research, etc.) that others don’t do?

There seem to be lots of people skills you could potentially highlight. I’m not a social worker and, frankly, terrible at doing this myself, so take all advice with a grain of salt!

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Eden February 6, 2014 at 1:06 pm

I love the bullets you made of my post, can I use them or should I rewrite them? I feel faintly fraudulent (and apparently alliterative) about using them.

One further question I have that’s being touched on here: is it weird to list essentially no accomplishments that are directly related to my last job title? I want to highlight my transferable skills, and to draw attention away from my last job title.

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Ask a Manager February 6, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Yes, please use them!

In answer to your question, it would be weird to have something like this:
Clinical nurse
- sold teapots
- drew portraits of office staff
- decorated cakes

You want to have SOME stuff in there that’s related to your core job function, even if lots of it doesn’t.

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Underemployed Scientist February 6, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I’m an academic lab-based research scientist, and I have been trying for some time to work out how to incorporate this advice into my own cv. In my line of work, the only accomplishments that matter are publications, and they would already be detailed in the publications section, so I have a been outlining technical skills and research duties for the few positions I’ve had, rather than accomplishments.
Once I get that sorted, I just need to work out how to ‘sell’ the work I’ve done in a job where the chance of me getting any papers is virtually nil!

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Cath@VWXYNot? February 6, 2014 at 7:15 pm

“the only accomplishments that matter are publications”

I would argue that that’s not the case. The other accomplishments that do matter will be different for different jobs, but off the top of my head:

- students and other trainees successfully mentored
- new protocols developed
- troubleshooting
- becoming the go-to person for a given technique / skill (e.g. editing other people’s proposals or manuscripts)
- contributions to proposal writing
- collaborations initiated
- outreach activities, including any contributions to your org’s website

etc etc etc.

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RQSCanuck February 6, 2014 at 4:49 pm

I am so excited for this post. I constantly struggle with listing accomplishments. One thing that I am struggling to as an accomplishment is that in one of my positions was to register patients for upcoming appointments over the phone. I regularly out prrformed and often registered a substantial number of patiemts in a single day (sometimes this number would be in excess of 100 appointments). I don’t know how to put this in a simple bullet point. It wasn’t like we were given daily targets to meet that I exceeded, but I do know that I excelled at this relative to my co-workers. I know I am late to this posting, but any suggestions would be appreciated.

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Elaine jones May 18, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I am an executive assistant and I am struggling with wording achievements in that I know I give huge support to my boss in keeping his work flowing while his away fighting appeals in court how do I word this as an achievement?
Also I work part time and his workload has increased year on year I have still managed to keep up with the increase on part time hours how do I word this? Help!

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