how do I sell myself on my resume when I don’t feel like a great candidate?

A reader writes:

I’m not looking for a job, but I want to update my resume, which is really out of date. But I’m really not sure where to start. How do you write a resume selling yourself and your skills when you suffer from Impostor Syndrome? I had my annual review recently which went well, so I was going to use that as inspiration, but even then I don’t know how to turn that into resume material. Especially since there are no numbers I can include, or at least none I know about. I’m in IT, if that helps any.

I read your article on writing a resume and you mention not using subjective traits. What else do I have?

But mostly I’m wondering how to present myself on a resume as a great candidate when I don’t really feel like one.

It might help to stop thinking of it as selling yourself (which is hard for a lot of people to do) and instead think of it as helping a hiring manager understand what type of employee you are.

If your manager was talking about why she was glad to have you on staff, what would she say? What about coworkers who seem to appreciate your work? Have you brought something new to your work that’s different than what was being done before? Have you made improvements or done something that got better results than your employer had been getting before that? What’s been the outcome of your actions?

If you’re still having trouble, try imagining someone who’s fairly mediocre at doing your job. What would be different about how they operate from how you operate?

The answers to these sorts of questions are what you want to capture with the bullets on your resume.

Not every bullet has be like this, of course; it’s fine to have some that are simply descriptive of your role. But you want the overall feel to convey what it is that an employer would appreciate about you, especially when compared to a bunch of other candidates who might have similar employment histories.

Of course, to do that, you’ve also got to work on that impostor syndrome! It’s messing with your mind.

These posts may help too:

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

how to list accomplishments on your resume when your job doesn’t have easy measures

{ 94 comments… read them below }

  1. Sabrina

    I feel like I could have written this question, except I don’t work in IT. I recently had a review as well. But all of the praise is stuff that’s very subjective. I show up on time, I don’t call in an excessive amount, I help out when needed, I make sure I do things right the first time, I ask questions, and my boss doesn’t need to spend hours on the phone calming down my clients. I don’t really think that’s anything stellar, or that I deserve a special sticker for showing up to work on time.

    1. Sadsack

      Doing things right the first time, asking intelligent questions, and keeping clients satisfied all seem like pretty good attributes, if you ask me,

    2. plain_jane

      What do you do that stops the clients from getting worked up? Is it that you listen well to begin with & make sure that you understand their needs? Work well with internal ppl to have their things done on time? Keep communication lines open so the client knows what is happening (even if there are delays)? Explain to the client clearly so the expectations are in line with reality? Are you just really good at creating and following process?

      How do you know when to help out? Is is proactive? Are you cross training (you training them or them training you)?

      If you can work those things into a cover letter or resume, that is so helpful for the hiring manager. For metrics, do your clients come back instead of going to a competitor? Do you get assigned the bigger/more difficult ones now that your manager trusts you more?

      1. Sabrina

        That’s the thing, I just do my job. I follow directions to make sure their files are done right. If my clients get screwed up it’s because either they sent us bad data (99% of the time this is the problem) or someone was ‘helping’ me out. As for helping out, I do it either when asked or when I’m caught up, I let my supervisor know I’ve got availability. It might be valuable, but I’m not sure how you can put “Follows directions” on a resume. As far as metrics, it’s not up to me to keep clients. They have multi-year contracts, and we don’t get paid nearly enough for that to fall on our shoulders. I haven’t gotten anything bigger/more complicated assigned to me. I’ve often complained that I’m bored and would be interested in something more complicated, but I haven’t seen anything.

        1. GOG11

          I tend to measure my success in things like you describe. For items like follows directions, detail oriented, and good communication skills, I always thought those were things you demonstrated throughout the application and interview process rather than things you listed on a resume. Perhaps those things could be addressed in your cover letter and/or in interviews?

          Do you have any metrics at all you could draw from? Turn around time for jobs? Error rates? Customer satisfaction ratings/customer feedback? If there’s a ticketing system or email tracking system of any sort, maybe you could look there?

          1. OhNo

            Even if you don’t have metrics yet, there’s no reason why you can’t start keeping a few of your own. Keep an eye on things that you want statistics about for a month or two and see how your work looks through that lens.

            What kind of error rate do you have? How long does it usually take you to finish a client’s job? Do the clients you work for ever praise your work or offer any kind of special feedback or thanks? Once you have numbers for yourself, you may be able to see where your value is.

            Oftentimes people don’t realize how fast they work or how good they are until they have numbers in front of them. What you might perceives as “just following directions” might actually be “has a near-zero error rate, completes time-sensitive work on or before deadline 100% of the time, reduces error checking time by 50%, and is routinely praised by clients for delivery of excellent final product.”

          2. Joey

            It doesn’t have to be metrics that are that specific. I like to think of it in terms of outcomes, not specific metrics. Because saying you all of your clients were satisfied means a whole lot more if you put it into context. For example, one of your accomplishments might be “the highest client satisfaction rate in my department/company.”

            But, yeah saying you show up on time is like touting that you’re eligible to work in the US-it’s a minimum expectation. Instead, talk about the outcomes that happen as a result of you being dependable and trusted to do it right the first time. We’re you tasked with handling more challenging clients, how much more do you accomplish because you do it right right off the bat, etc.

        2. Koko

          Don’t underestimate the value of consistent performance. While to you it seems like a bare minimum, many, many people don’t meet even that basic bar. Relatedly, if you pay your rent on time every month you’re probably in the top 20% of tenants your landlord has ever had, because a surprising proportion of renters don’t consistently pay their rent on time.

        3. Lils

          I think you’re more valuable than you realize. I’d describe everything you’ve outlined as “good work ethic”. Try Alison’s approach above–what would a mediocre employee in your job look like? I bet you far outshine that imaginary person…the challenge is to articulate exactly how.

        4. OP

          Thanks Alison! and thanks to everyone else as well. More this evening, but I did want to say that I agree with Sabrina…. I think my major issue is that I feel like I’m just doing my job. Nothing extraordinary. But I do have a few coworkers current & former I could ask.

          Also, my tasks are all team-oriented, or at least in my head they are, so I feel like I can’t really claim much individually.

          More later. Thanks again!

          1. Koko

            Don’t worry about whether you can claim things individually – if you weren’t doing your job properly, your whole team would certainly suffer. The reverse is true, too. Your consistently good work product is integral to your team’s success even if you work together with others.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            But if you picture someone doing your job and kind of sucking at it, what’s the difference between what they’re doing and what you do? That might lead you to things that feel like “it’s just my job” but are actually impressive on a resume — like keeping things running smoothly, maintaining good client relationships, etc.

            1. OP

              Yes, I see your point. I just have to wrap my head around that perspective – showing that I don’t suck at my job. :)

              But I guess I also don’t really know what kinds of things like that sound impressive on a resume. On my own, I wouldn’t think the things you list to be in that category. But I don’t do any hiring, thankfully.

              I mean, I know I’m reliable and approachable. I know that I’m good at explaining technical issues / bugs to a non-technical person. I think that I come at my job with a different perspective from most as I came into it later in my career. And I think that’s helpful at times. But I’m not really sure how to put those things into resume format, or if those things are resume material at all.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Have you read the two posts that I linked to in the original post, as well as the comments on them? There are a bunch of good examples in there that might really help your thinking on this.

                1. OP

                  I skimmed through the first two when i first emailed my question, but I will go back & reread those & take some notes to refer to.

                  Thanks!

        5. Artemesia

          you don’t ‘follow directions’ you work through a complex process with attention to detail and are the go to person with difficult clients because you can be counted on to get a complex process done right the first time. in your own description of your work you stress your competence at getting things right (they get messed up when others ‘help’) being diligent, paying attention to detail, making sure you are accurate are valued and not entirely common characteristics.

          1. OP

            Oh, I like that phrasing. And that’s the kind of thing I struggle with – that these aren’t common characteristics. I always imagine that everyone works like this, even though logically I know that isn’t true.

  2. Not So NewReader

    This is a weak point for me, also. I am not so sure it is imposter syndrome for me. It seems to be more a lack of words. Sometimes I struggle with how a skill might be transferable. Other times the work just has no relevance for the new job. Annnd sometimes it takes too much real estate to even explain the nature of the particular task/assignment. I think if it were just one hurdle it would be easier to tackle.

    I will be watching the comments section and re-reading the links for sure.

    1. misspiggy

      Getting through that particular barrier often involves writing it all out in a long, detailed way – or talking it through with someone – and then reducing what you’ve said down through several iterations. It takes time, but it’s worth doing.

        1. Zillah

          On top of that, something else I’d suggest that often works for me is trying to get something out, even if it’s awful and poorly worded, because it’s easier for me to revise than to come up with the perfect wording right off the top of my head. It’s okay if it starts out looking kind of bad.

  3. Adam

    Following Alison’s advice has really helped me improve my resume writing, when before I felt hamstrung by wrong conventions that I had to list everything even if it didn’t necessarily help me. This story is only tangentially related, but I hope it helps.

    For instance, recently I took a job listing off my resume that had been dogging me for a while. It was a part time job I held for four months at a place I absolutely hated working (and most employers weren’t likely to look at it as a particularly impressive job anyways). But I always felt like I had to keep it there else I would have this half-a-year gap in my resume that I worried wouldn’t paint me in the best light.

    But I was finally able to look at it and realize that there was no reason for it to still be there. It was eight years ago this happened, I’ve been in better jobs since then and for longer including my current position which is coming up at five years if I don’t get out first, and absolutely nothing about that bust of a part-time gig is relevant today.

    So I joyfully deleted it and got two more free lines on my front page.

    Summary for OP: no one is perfect, but in many ways you are pretty great. The resume is meant to show that, so don’t worry about tooting your own horn. The potential employer wants you to do that so they can hire you and stop looking at resumes. Good luck!

  4. AW

    Another thing that might help: how did your work help the business and/or clients? Did a site or application that you worked on increase customer traffic or conversions? Are you good at disaster recovery? Did you improve something or add new features? Did you make a suggestion that the business or client ended up using? Did you research something on behalf of your manager, business, or a client (ex. “Should we move to X platform?”)

    Also: Are you good at explaining technical concepts to laypeople? If so, DEFINITELY include that. (Have an example in mind for interviews too.) Many people feel intimidated by technical subjects and some IT people can be kind of rude about non-technical people not understanding them. Employers will appreciate that you can explain things to people across teams politely.

    You don’t have to think of it as selling yourself, just as making a fair and accurate assessment of what you’ve done and can do. If someone who didn’t like you was writing it and they left something like this out, would it bother you? Would it feel like they weren’t being fair? If the answer is yes, then you shouldn’t leave it out either.

    1. OP

      Well, yes, I know my work helped with conversion and that sort of thing, but I don’t have numbers for specific projects I worked on. And I’ve made suggestions on things that were ultimately implemented, but I’ll have to figure out how to phrase that without having to explain the whole scenario.

      Ok, so that’s more to think about. Thanks!

  5. AnotherAlison

    My job has decent metrics, but what I get most recognized for is plain old Getting Stuff Done. (Apparently many coworkers lack this ability.) I’d like to submit the lyrics to Cake’s song, Short Skirt/Long Jacket in place of my resume. . .of course, that reference requires the person I’m talking to to be over 35.

    1. hermit crab

      There are also some of us who are not yet 35 but who would still recognize and appreciate your ability to use a machete to cut through red tape!

    2. JC

      Also +1 from 33 year old. I dressed up as “short skirt, long jacket” for Halloween one year in college. :)

      1. Sascha

        My friend did that at our last Halloween party. At 26! Cake transcends age boundaries. *Cake AND cake, the edible kind.

    3. AnotherAlison

      Well, good! I had to explain who Missy Elliot and Lenny Kravitz were to my teenage son, so I feared my musical references were hopelessly dated. (I do think he knows who Cake is, though).

      1. Adam

        I’m more surprised he didn’t know who Missy E. and Lenny were. Sure they’re not exactly relevant in today’s pop but they aren’t THAT old.

        1. Stephanie

          Hmmm, but Missy Elliot’s peak in popularity was probably before your son was born (or just after he was born) I remember her songs being huge when I was in middle school and high school (which would have been the late 90s/early 00s). Granted, you hear her stuff all the time, but he may have not connected that she was the performer.

          I wonder how much Lenny Kravitz was paid for those 12 seconds of “I Kissed a Girl.”

          1. Adam

            That was so bizarre. Lenny singing “I kissed a girl” is the most non-surprising lyric ever. He might as well have sung “I brushed my teeth this morning.”

            1. Stephanie

              HA. The Super Bowl mash ups are always kind of weird (like Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Prince was my favorite (because Prince). Occasionally, artist mashups do work (like the one at the Grammys one year with Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons), but most of the time, you end up with Katy Perry, Missy Elliot, Lenny Kravitz, and dancing sharks.

          2. AvonLady Barksdale

            Missy coming out was a very, “WTF is going on?” moment for me, but I love her and she KILLED IT, even though I felt like I was watching a Super Bowl circa 2000. This just means Missy needs to drop a new album right about now.

    4. GOG11

      I’m only 25, but I know what you’re referring to. In fact, I have the CD, so maybe there’s hope!

    5. Kas

      Well, it was used as the theme tune for “Chuck”, which first broadcast in the mid-00s, so younger people might have been turned on to it by now :)

  6. LPBB

    What weird timing! I was actually going to post a very similar question to the last Open Thread, but got caught up in life and forgot. Thank you so much for this, Alison!

  7. Canadamber

    Er… What if you *are* mediocre at your job? I work retail and honestly it’s just not my forte. I guess I’m somewhat good at it, but not really. (Which is why I’m in university for something I’m actually good at!)
    Plus when you work as a cashier there’s really no way to create new ways of doing things or whatever. What do you do then?

    1. Carrie in Scotland

      Depends on what sort of retail you work in. Is there a loyalty card or similar you promote at your place of work? High sales? I’ve mentioned that sort of thing before now e.g. one time when I worked in a clothes shop we had a competition in the store about helping/selling – at the till they asked if anyone helped them at all today? Customer said name/pointed me out and I won a voucher for the highest sales that day :)

    2. AW

      Maybe emphasize your coursework over your work experience? Also, even if you’re not particularly great at it, you’re still getting the job done. You can still put down what you’re doing even if you can’t say that you’re super great at it.

    3. Adam

      Do customers like you? Do your managers like you? While measuring performance in a cashier job is tough, I imagine you must be getting some form of feedback at least from your supervisor.

      I had a part-time seasonal cashier retail job over the holidays. Took it for the money and no other reason so you wouldn’t think there wouldd be anything to talk about. Yet I made a customer so happy she gave me a high five just a few days before Christmas. If I get the chance you’d better believe I’m dropping that story in the next interview I go on!

    4. Felicia

      At your stage, particularly if applying for other retail work the fact that you can pleasantly and competently interact with customers (even difficult ones) , know how to work a cash register, show up when you’re supposed to and do what you say you’ll do , then that’s generally enough. And the dealing with difficult people thing can be transferable to all sorts of jobs.

    5. Stephanie

      Having done retail and warehouse work before, just showing up and doing your job reliably and drama free is kind of huge. And retail depends a lot on that, since there’s not always a lot of extra people working a shift. If your supervisor says anything like “Canadamber, you’re so reliable and responsible!”, take note of that.

      Since you’re in school, it probably matters less that it’s not a super “career relevant” job. Of course, I learned plenty from retail work for office jobs (primarily, dealing with customers and competing priorities).

      1. Adam

        Haha. Yes, it can be funny to discover how mundane some industry’s expectations are, kind of like how Alison says that targeted resumes and engaging cover letters stand out by virtue of the fact that so few people submit them. In industries like retail and restaurants just showing up on time consistently can sometimes be enough to make your manager adore you.

        1. Stephanie

          Yeah, seriously. I’m underemployed at one of the shipping companies (i.e., UPS/FedEx/DHL) and my supervisor adores me because I show up slightly early and haven’t shown up for work drunk (like one predecessor) or no call, no showed (like another predecessor). He’s like “We never want you to quit!” Meanwhile, I’m thinking “Heh, heh. NO. I need to get out of here.” (Although, for underemployment, it really isn’t too bad. I read a lot.)

          1. Joey

            Don’t totally write it off as mind numbing work. There’s is a whole lot to be gained from understanding how and why shipping companies are machine like in their processes. it’s something you’ll be able to apply to a ton of careers.

          2. Felicia

            I am in an office job that pays decently, requires a degree, and requires some specific skiill to do, and because of a predecessor who was horrible, my expectations are still super low. Like because I show up every day, on time, and do what I say I will do by the day/time that I say I will do it, apparently this is amazing and wonderful and means i’m great. The low expectations are actually making me more nervous about how i’m performing…i think i’m doing ok but they haven’t really said. I just keep wondering how i’ll measure up when doing what is required isn’t so amazing.

      2. Trixie

        +1 Drama free. The person I report to for my part-time job is so appreciative that I don’t create drama and can simply do my job. If I do disagree with something, I can share that but then move on and act professional, as a team member.

    6. Not So NewReader

      Well, you have not been fired, so you are doing something right. Retailers fire at the slightest provocation. So, is your cash drawer usually correct? That could show an affinity for numbers-or at least you can do it, even if you don’t like it.
      Cash registers are so computerized now, can you think of anything you learned about the systems?
      Have you had a time where you calmed a bad situation? Maybe you just get along with everyone- don’t take that for granted.
      Does your boss have a particular thing he looks to you for?

      All you need is about 2-3 good stories. You don’t need 20 stories. People just want to get a feel for where you are at and the things you think are important.

    7. Shell

      There’s still a lot of metrics for cashiers.

      When I cashed (years ago, at a grocery store)…well, I wasn’t the best at dealing with difficult customers. They didn’t scare me or anything, but we were instructed to point the difficult customers towards the customer service desk; the ones that manned the desk were the senior employees who actually had the authority to do whatever to appease grumpy customers about something. Pointing the customer at someone else who’d solve their problem (or tell them off) didn’t give me any glowing stories about my unmatched abilities in customer service.

      What I could do, though, was cash. Fast. I was there for seven months and I had the fastest transaction time on the floor (or at least top three) because I can type like a demon and I remembered the grocery codes really easily. I was always on time. I could bag groceries like tetris (I remember once a customer only brought one reusable bag, looked at his purchases and said “I guess I’ll need another one of these bags”…and I tetris’d all his cans and vegetables so it fit in his bag perfectly and he was all “…this is the best bagging job I’ve ever seen”). I knew how to make any scanner cooperate with the ridiculously hard-to-scan gift cards we sold that no one else could scan properly (the secret was wiping down my scanner just before scanning the card).

      But I could not do the customer-service thing and I was totally clueless about what products were in what aisle (because I didn’t stock the shelves). So, you win some, you lose some.

      You can win a lot of points with your management by showing up on time, being reliable, being pleasant, and not doing last minute callouts; retail has a very high turnover. But I’m sure there’s something you can think of that you’re good at. Retail really has a lot of metrics you can use, whether that’s transaction time or customer service or upselling or promoting loyalty cards or having the most organized clothing display or whatever. I’m sure there’s something you’re really great at even if you’re not as good at other things.

      1. JayDee

        Never, NEVER underestimate the ability to pack a bag. Yesterday I went shopping and ended up with half a dozen eggs in their own little bag then bagged with a jar of peanut butter and a jar of queso dip. The bread and other lightweight things were in a different bag. It’s like she was just wrapping the eggs to prepare them for getting crushed.

        If you can Tetris a bag, you have a fine skill.

    8. Vanessa

      I worked in retail for about 6 months after getting my master’s degree in library science, and I was totally not impressive at it in terms of sales and would have had little luck impressing retail managers, I’m afraid. However, it was SO spin-able in resumes and particularly job interviews for my actual field – I talked about quickly becoming the go-to person for help with the point of sale system, how much I enjoyed the customer service aspect of the job and how it helped me hone those skills, how much I enjoyed being part of a team, and how even though it wasn’t my ideal job I was so glad to have the experience it had provided me. Retail work is really a great example to use for things that employers in many other fields find important – customer service, teamwork, troubleshooting technology or other situations on the fly. And you don’t have to talk about the parts of the job you don’t like/don’t do well (even if they are the main parts of your job) – instead, think about things you are good at or want to do in other jobs, and then figure out what part of your retail job can serve as an illustration of those skills. Make your job work for you. :)

    9. I'm a Little Teapot

      I was just about to say the same thing. I feel I’ve been mediocre (at best) at most of the jobs I’ve had; my actual skills are things there’s not much market for, and my learning disability, anxiety, and depression make it hard for me to succeed in most jobs and probably always will.

      I’ve pretty much resigned myself to this and given up on ambition or advancement within the regular working world. I’ve gotten some fiction published, and my new goal is to find a job that gives me enough time to both write and keep myself sane/have some spare time.

  8. Stephanie

    Oh, this is timely. I struggle with this myself (and find it reassuring that others do as well). I like Alison’s reframing of it, because I always found the “You need to sell yourself as the next teapot marketing savant” approach is tough. I think, too, being in a more technical area myself, I also have a very good idea of what I can and cannot do, which can conflict with that approach.

    1. Adam

      I’ve tried thinking of it this way: they read your resume so they know if you have the basic skills to do the job or not. Even if you’re just listing basic job duties they can tell if your experience matches reasonably with what they’re looking for. So your challenge is to show them all you things you do that help the work that other people may not necessarily do. What is the individual touch you bring to the job? It helps take you from resume robot to real-life valued employee.

  9. Mike C.

    I really like this approach. To be perfectly honest, the idea of “selling myself” always felt disingenuous and it isn’t useful advice to lots of folks outside of very specific professions – sales and politics come to mind here.

  10. mel

    I appreciate this post, especially because someone brought up retail. A lot of advice here tends to lean toward professional work and a lot of the time it’s like standing outside a window and looking in. Sure, just showing up to a retail job is “impressive” to retail managers, but what if you don’t want to impress retail managers anymore?

    1. Stephanie

      Yeah, I get where you’re coming from. I bet a lot of it is that white-collar workers tend to be the ones who have the time and ability to read a blog midday, so that skews the comments.

      I don’t have a definitive answer, but you could you look on the corporate side of your retail store? There is something to be said about knowing how Target (or wherever) actually works at the store level. Have you been promoted in your retail work at all?

    2. Ilf

      Dealing with customers is something that translates in many jobs. Retail is also very fast paced, if you are any good it means you’re managing your time well, and that’s another skill that translates well in many other jobs. Look at any skill you learned in your retail job, and think how it translates in other jobs, professional or not.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale

      Customers are clients, so being good with customers goes very, very far in the corporate world. Organization is good too, as is being able to complete many tasks in a short time period. Let’s say you work in a clothing store; you have to re-stock, re-fold, re-hang, run to get things for customers and co-workers, all while running through a store and making sure you’re nice to all the people who come in, many of whom will stop you while you’re running and carrying and a huge pile of clothes that have to be sorted. Doing all of that without getting flustered is a great skill to have.

      I used to work in books, and I succeeded because I learned different sections quickly, I was good at customer service, and I knew how to mentally keep track of inventory. I also learned how to make excellent recommendations. I dealt with all different kinds of people in all walks of life. Then I started a corporate job and I learned how to talk to people in different departments, how to mentally keep track of files I needed, and how to present to clients. Don’t dismiss those retail skills!

      1. voluptuousfire

        One could even say that your colleagues/bosses are also customers as well. I’ve used the “servicing both internal and external customers” line on my resume and people seem to like that.

  11. Jstarr

    Keep a work diary! I have a little notepad on my desk where I write down nearly everything I’ve done during the day. This has helped me SO much in realizing, oh hey, I get stuff done! It’s an instant list of your accomplishments, your daily tasks, special projects…

    My job is often hard to describe to people so it helps to have a list. I used to take five minutes at the end of the day to write down all that I did but I have short term memory issues so I write everything as I do it. “Emailed so and so” “Replaced x-number chocolate teapots” “strung up Hannukah balls for office party”

    1. YourCdnFriend

      This is an excellent idea. Even if you don’t record everything, taking time to review and write down what you have done in the past year is very helpful. It’s easy to forget that you’re a super star at x when x happens so automatically or when x happened 6 months ago. Reviewing you’re year helps you remember what you’ve accomplished and can help you identify commonalities.

      1. GOG11

        This is a very good point – if it comes easily to you, it may not even come across your radar (while the things you struggle with might be glaringly obvious). I write everything down (I tend to forget otherwise) and I am trying to redo my resume. I’m going to try reviewing my notebooks to help me!

      1. JStarr

        YUP! That’s why I started it. I had a super hard to measure job and basically had to create my own metrics for the yearly performance review.

    2. Chloe Silverado

      I love the idea of a work diary! My method has been an inbox folder where I file any positive feedback I receive. It’s nice that I can look back on my accomplishments when I’m having a crappy day and it helps jog my memory for resume writing purposes. Sometimes I’ll even file an email that just says “Thanks!” in there, if it was the result of me stepping outside my normal job duties, dealing with a hard to please client or working on something particularly high profile – I can go back through the email thread and remind myself of what I worked on and that the end result was acceptable in a challenging situation.

    3. Trixie

      A former coworker kept a work diary but in her hands it was simply a to-do list, ongoing tracking. As a a writer, I imagine she just found it helpful to handwrite a new list each week and carrying over items that didn’t get done. I don’t think she used it for reviews/resume updates, but it would have been perfect use for it. As well as keeping track of everything you do over time. I do this time for personal items in a small notebook, but will absolutely continue for work.

    4. Lils

      Great advice. I’ve kept a work diary for 5+ years and it’s been *immensely* helpful for noting achievements, documenting problems, and even working through frustrations.

    5. themmases

      Yes! All the great stuff you do can really fade into the background if you don’t find some way to capture it. People here have also suggested keeping a compliments file in your email where you save people’s thank yous and acknowledgment when you’ve gone above and beyond.

      I think this can be especially important to do when you’re starting to think of leaving a job. Anything you think you might want to brag about in the future, make sure you have a personal record now so you can always look it up. Personally when I was getting ready to leave my last job I made a spreadsheet. I worked on a ton of different projects in different capacities, so I recorded each one’s name and owner on its own row. Columns are binary variables for what became of the project (poster? presentation? book?) and whether I did each of my sometime job duties for it (setup? recruitment? writing?). Then I can count all those things forever. I use it to write cover letters and say stuff like “I contributed to 8 projects that led to peer-reviewed publications” or “9 different investigators trusted me to successfully set up their study.” I had forgotten some of that stuff before I even left that job and would never have been able to tell people about it if I hadn’t looked it up and recorded it somewhere.

    6. OP

      Thankfully, I’ve been doing this the last couple of years to make reviews easier – maybe not quite as detailed as what you describe, but I do list tasks I’ve worked on. I didn’t think to look at those beyond the necessary end-of-year stuff.

  12. Lizzie

    This is timely! I am just starting to work on updating my resume and writing a new cover letter in preparation to start job hunting in March or April, and I’m definitely feeling challenged by imposter syndrome. I do know that I have accomplishments to be proud of in my current position, but I’ve also worn a lot of hats in the position and haven’t received a great deal of feedback about my performance.

  13. C Average

    I haven’t actually tried this yet, so I’m just thinking out loud here, but what about getting together with someone you like and trust who doesn’t know a lot about your work, describing what you do to that person, and recording the conversation? Then go through and listen to the conversation and see where the energy in your voice rises, where you’re particularly engaged, where you say something that just sounds really smart. Try to capture THOSE bits in your resume.

    I’ve been thinking about doing this. As part of a project I’ve been doing recently, I’ve been interviewing various people at my company and then sending the recording for transcription. I’ve listened to many of the interviews in the course of completing the project, and I’ve learned not just about my interviewees but about myself. It’s made me realize I have certain strengths and weaknesses as an employee that really haven’t been on my own radar until now.

    I’ve long recorded brainstorming meetings and then listened to the audio while walking or running to see which information stands out. It really helps me. I know it’s an incredibly odd way to process information, but it really does work for me!

  14. Ilf

    Maybe part of the problem is trying to do this when you’re down on yourself. Try to make this something you do every time you have an accomplishment?
    Someone upstream said ‘keep a work diary’. Manager Tools guys call this a career document, that one should always keep up to date.
    (Not that I follow my own advice. I know exactly what you’re talking about, I felt the same myself.)

  15. Noelle

    I have this problem! I rewrote my resume this fall and in the last two months I have gotten more interviews than in my entire seven year career. Here’s what I did:

    1) Think about the times you accomplished something really exciting. Then think about who you told and what you said. I talk to my mom all the time, so I thought about how I would describe something I did to my mom or a friend. So instead of being like, “I contributed to an initiative that was eventually passed into law,” I’d say something like, “I led passage into law of a major legislative initiative within one year of being assigned to it.” Changes like that make a big difference!

    2) If you have friends who are familiar with your work, have them review your resume! If they have a bit of an arrogance problem, that’s all the better. I have a friend who is very assertive and definitely does not suffer from imposter syndrome or self doubt. So I had him review my resume. Some of the edits were so over the top that it just was not me, but it’s valuable to have prospective from someone who knows your work and thinks it’s awesome.

    3) Think about how your current employer views your skills. I may think I’m not much of an expert, but when the leader of my organization has a question on my issues, I am the one who gets asked. Clearly if someone like that trusts my judgement and expertise, it must be worthwhile.

    None of these are silver bullets, but doing this changed my thinking patterns so I was focusing more on my skills and achievements instead of all the areas I thought I should be doing better on. Good luck!

  16. Lils

    To combat my imposter fears and hatred of selling myself, I have had great success with keeping a “skills” list. It’s become quite long over the years, and includes skills I’ve accumulated from a variety of jobs over my adulthood, from child care to hospitality to admin assistant to academic. I add a nice, solid paragraph whenever I develop a new skill and I add examples to each. I also add metrics or numbers whenever available/appropriate. I try to think of soft skills as well as hard achievements, so “contentiousness” or “good coworker” would go along with “budget management”.

    I think most important is the way I write and use my skills list. I pick a time when I feel calm, unrushed, and *before* I have looked at any job ads (because they trigger panic!). I pour some tea, put on soft music, and take a deep breath. I re-read the older entries to remind myself that I am a valuable employee with lots of great skills and attractive qualities. Then I go through my work diary and my job description and write down things I think are valuable. It is half memory aid and half pep-talk. When I apply for a job, I tailor my cover letter to the job ad and use language and examples from my skills list.

    I have recommended this method to others, and they say it works well for them too. You might give it a try.

    1. CrazyCatLady

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who gets panicked at reading job ads! They always make me feel so inadequate, even when they’re jobs for which I’m well-qualified.

      1. Lils

        I know, even when I know I’m qualified, I start imagining all the “perfect” people I am supposedly competing with. It’s good to give yourself some affirmations before looking at ads.

  17. themmases

    I would add that like a lot of people, I once thought that there was nothing really countable about my job. I was wrong, and I think it can pay off to be more creative about how you count your work. A few numbers interspersed with text can draw the eye. Besides, the hiring manager probably knows roughly what a person with your job title does so specifics about your role are more likely to make you special and convey what challenges you’ve navigated. Here are some things I’ve counted:

    – Number of volunteers I’ve met with and recruited into my projects.
    – Size of my department or organization. I was once one of two research coordinators who supported an entire department of 15+ researchers and at least 4 trainees at any time who had 1 year to launch and finish a project. It’s not a deliverable, but people who understand what my job was (i.e. anyone who would be reading my resume) understand that that is nuts and requires you to be bristling with positive traits in order to be successful.
    – Number of projects I worked on or did X for. People who would be reading my resume understand that I was both important to the project and not the sole owner, so no need to waste space clarifying that.
    – Number of projects I helped with that had outcome A, B, or C; see above.

    Other stuff you could count: size of your team (small but mighty? large and complex but navigated successfully by you?), number of clients or seats your team supports (definitely relevant to IT I would think), records summarized by a report you put out, number of departments or individuals who receive or depend on a service you perform for your group. Probably many others!

  18. K.

    This is timely for me too, as I am getting ready to kick my job search into high gear. My confidence is shattered by a previous boss who hated everything: the company, our department, our work. (She left after a year. We were miserable the entire time.) I keep hearing her voice in my head telling me this or that is “awful” or “do you think this actually looks good?” I’ve never had bad feedback before but of course, that’s all I can think about now.

  19. matcha123

    I really identify with the OP’s problem. I don’t know what to “sell” about myself and looking at the jobs I’ve done, I can’t really see myself smoothly talking about how the skills transfer. This post along with the one about salary negotiation have given me a lot to think about.

  20. KH

    I suffered from imposter syndrome too and am in IT as well. I did my job well according to the expectations, but I had no quantifiable metrics, and the expectations were quite basic – keep the network running and no surprises!
    Well, there are always surprises but apparently I did good enough job that they let me keep my job.
    I got laid off recently and boy was it an eye opener. I was in a position of high responsibility but in a very unstructured department.
    My advice is to start working now on defining and articulating your skills and accomplishments. If you don’t have metrics-based accomplishments, start going the extra mile and track your work in a way that it can be numbers-based, even if your bosses don’t go for that sort of thing.
    It makes a difference when you are writing your resume – recruiting departments and hiring managers want to see this stuff. Decisions are driven by data and they want people that are comfortable around data!

    PS: I was lucky enough to land a new job, although I’m making a lot less than I used to and it took 5 onsite interviews, and even then it’s just a contractor role. I finally got an offer, based more on the high level of responsibility I had in my old job than anything else. Oh, and I spent the first three weeks crunching data in Excel!

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