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

A reader wries:

I work as a receptionist. I think I’m pretty good at it. My job is basically to answer phones, take messages and relay them promptly, open and sort mail, prepare outgoing mail, schedule courier pickups, make copies, type documents, etc, when requested. My question is, what kind of things would someone with this kind of job use as an “accomplishment” when updating their resume? I mean, it’s not exactly a job that has real accomplishments to brag about. Any thoughts?

Lots of people have jobs where their accomplishments don’t lend themselves to easy metrics and instead are more qualitative, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t come up with accomplishments to list on a resume!

The trick is to think about what the difference would be between the way you perform your job and the way someone mediocre would perform it. (Now, if you’re the mediocre person, then I can’t help you.)

For instance, maybe you — unlike your predecessor — keep a busy office running smoothly, completely revamped the client billing system to ensure bills are now sent out on schedule, resolved an inherited four-month backlog in three weeks, took over troubleshooting the phone system so that the I.T. department didn’t have to do it, and regularly garnered unsolicited praise from callers and visitors to the office for your helpfulness.

Those are all accomplishments, and they can all go on your resume.

To get at this stuff, try asking yourself: What did you accomplish in this job that someone else might not have? Did you make improvements or do something that got better results than your employer had been getting before? If you were asked what made you really great at your job, what would you say? What might your boss or coworkers have said made you really great? Somewhere in there are qualitative accomplishments — and, ideally, a track record of getting things done.

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. Andy Lester*

    It’s great if you can list accomplishments, but in the absence of that, put numbers on all your bullets to give a sense of scope of your job.

    How many people did you serve? How big was the office? “Receptionist” is not as telling as “Receptionist for 100-person office.”

    How much mail did you have to handle? How many packages went in and out? How many phone calls per day? “Handled 200+ pieces of inbound mail each day, and between 80-120 phone calls” gives an idea of how busy you were.

    It gives a sense of scale. It’s a lot more impressive to give the details that show that you had a lot of responsibility and got a lot of things done in the day-to-day.

    One more thing about numbers: Numbers attract the eye of the reader.

    1. Erin*

      I like this! It has the added benefit of making you look conscientious and competent just from tracking details like that.

      1. Threeohfive*

        Couldn’t agree more. We use this in the Hospitality industry all the time by indicating the number of rooms a property has, or the number of covers a restaurant does per night. It gives the hiring manager a sense of the scale you can handle and by extension the work load.

    2. Cassie*

      “…your awesomeness is not self-evident” (from the linked article).

      This! I have to keep reminding myself of this, especially in the workplace.

      And I love numbers and stats, so I’ve started keeping stats on my work (my office doesn’t keep metrics).

    3. tcookson*

      Your awesomeness is not self-evident.

      As someone who does not naturally do self-promotion, this is a tag-line I’ll keep in mind, even just for letting some co-workers know what I am working on. I tend to keep what I’m doing to myself, or between just me and my boss. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a boss who recognizes and appreciates what I do without me having to tell him. However, when we hired new people in positions between mine and his in rank, they didn’t get a good impression of me from how quiet I am. When my boss went to bat for me and told them what all I do, one of them came up to me and asked me how-come I don’t let people know that. It had never occurred to me, though; if my boss is happy with me, then I’m good.

  2. Lily in NYC*

    I’ve also been wondering about this, thanks for writing in so I can see the answer, OP!

    I am paid to give my boss “peace of mind” – meaning, my boss trusts me to manage his hectic calendar without his having to get invovled. I am not paid to take initiative, fix problems, or do anything like Alison listed above. As a high-level executive assistant, my day mainly consists of dealing with an incredibly difficult calendar and really not must else except when we are hiring. Seriously, I sit and schedule meetings for a bunch of CEOs all day – I just don’t see how I can list accomplishments, and to be frank, it would be frowned upon here if I started taking it upon myself to go around doing other things. I’ve never had it be an issue before in a job search, so I’ve decided I’m not going to stress about it any more.

    1. Jessa*

      Yes but scheduling meetings means A: finding times they’re all available, B: managing transportation to and from, C: managing equipment at the meeting room, D: making sure all the presentations are available for everyone, etc.

      “Managing the calendar,” is completely downplaying the importance and the amount of work required of you. One of the biggest jobs of a high end assistant is just that managing the time of important people.

    2. Jen M.*

      “Managed approximately 16 corporate calendars.”
      “Set up and managed approximately 8 complex (or large) events during the course of the year.”

      I have the same issues with my job, and I’m now starting to figure out how to quantify what I do. This post was really helpful!

    3. AB*

      In addition to what others said, perhaps you can frame your accomplishments in this form:

      “Successfully managed the calendar of 5 C-level executives, working around their busy schedules to ensure that an average of 35 meetings happened per week in a timely manner, with no schedule conflicts or location mix ups.”

  3. Jamie*

    took over troubleshooting the phone system so that the I.T. department didn’t have to do it,

    And the collateral benefit of having the undying gratitude of IT and an excellent reference when you need it.

    I really hate the phones.

    1. AP*

      Everyone hates the phone system. It is the bastard of interoffice communications systems.

      1. Anon*

        So I’m not the only one? My previous job had a horrible phone system with instructions that were pure fiction. I thought I was just incompetent because I always had issues with it.

  4. Cruciatus*

    I always think about this too. I work as an administrative assistant at a college so the duties are like clockwork–and you just…do them. There’s nothing to change, just maybe the efficiency of getting things done like knowing certain Excel or Word tricks. I did figure out how to sort copied pages faster than the last woman did by hitting a different sorting button on the copier. But I don’t think that’s really brag-worthy. I just knew I could do it so I did. Shaved 30 minutes off of that task though, which I have to do about 60 times a year. But all I can come up with is “did stuff faster.”

    1. fposte*

      “Increased operational efficiency at key regular tasks, including photocopying and spreadsheet generation.”

      As somebody who relies on other people to do the copying, I really do notice when somebody’s found a way to do it faster and better, and I’d be interested to know that you’d done that.

      1. Kou*

        Where things like this concern me is though it may be true because I as the employee know it is, what if they ask my old supervisor about it when reference-checking and my supervisor doesn’t really know what they’re talking about? I’d be afraid someone would misinterpret it as me doing some kind of procedure overhaul and then when they ask the people I worked with about it, they say “oh I don’t know about that” and it sounds like I’m BSing.

        1. Manda*

          THIS. Supervisors see the bigger picture, but they probably don’t see every little thing you do. I worked in a department store and since I’m a perfectionist I was definitely more careful than others were when it came to proper ticketing, sizing clothes, folding neatly, etc. When I was marking down items, if I found anything without a tag, I printed one off. Some people would do it the quick way and slap on a clearance sticker with only a price and no bar code. I knew it was smarter to take the extra time then, while we still had another one to scan, than to run around later when a cashier calls for a price check and it’s the only one left and the line is backing up while you’re trying to find anything else to use instead. I’ve tried to point this sort of thing out because many jobs want someone who is detail oriented, but while I know what I did, I worry that my supervisors may get asked about something like that when they might not have even noticed.

          1. Jazzy Red*

            When you improve a system to save time and/or money, it’s your responsibility to let your manager know about, and to have it listed as an accomplishment on your yearly review (if you have them).

            Keep a file folder in your desk, and write these things down and keep them handy! Yes, your manager is all “big picture”, but when you have your eval discussions, bring that folder in and let your manager know everything you’ve done to make things run better.

            We can’t just sit around an hope they notice our accomplishments. Really, put yourself forward and let them know!

            It’s not bragging if it’s true. And it gives your manager something to tell his or her director about the team’s individuals and their performances.

        2. Cassie*

          I have the same worry. I created a budget template that uses (mostly) formulas so estimating the costs of a new project can be done in about 10 minutes (as opposed to a couple of hours). Each project is different and we always have to provide more detail, but it is very helpful to have a quick estimate. Plus, it’s easily update-able which is needed since benefit costs and tuition fees go up every year.

          My boss wouldn’t have any idea that I did this. I created the template on my own beceause I was tired of having to manually change formulas in excel (plus added room for error). I did write about it in a self-evaluation, and he copied it into his evaluation, but if someone asked him? I doubt he’d remember. And he likely doesn’t know that my coworkers are still taking hours to churn out numbers.

          I know one coworker who detailed everything she did and presented it to her boss when she was asking for a raise. It looked like she accomplished a lot over the year, but if you took the time to read the items, they were very minor and/or stuff that I consider a given that I wouldn’t even bring up.

          1. Jazzy Red*

            Cassie, bring this up to your manager, and ask if he thinks it would help your co-workers if you share it. Several years ago, I impressed the hell out of my computer-phobic boss by linking cells and worksheets to save 3 days of time every month doing reports. He thought it was absolutely magic, but it was basic stuff on my former job. And he did give me a raise.

        3. fposte*

          Sure, they *could*. But if it’s true and it’s not overstated, if a reference doesn’t immediately back it up I’m going to think “manager didn’t really pay attention” rather than “applicant has fabricated copying improvement.” I’m not expecting everything candidates do to be able to be corroborated (if you say you file, copy, and answer phones and a reference says “I don’t remember the phone-answering” I’m really not going to think much of it).

          I think it’s more important to raise your chance of getting an interview in the first place than to protect yourself from discrepancies on the reference check. This is one of those areas where the risk of omission is a lot greater, IMHO, than the risk of commission–don’t let omission seduce you because it feels safer. It’s really not. If you truly did it, prospective employers will want to know.

          1. Heather*

            yeah I don’t think a reference check is going to ask “So Susan increased copy efficiency – can you back that up?” They are probably going to ask questions like “She was employed as a receptionist -correct?” “Was she on time” “What kind of worker was she?” “Was she helpful to others?” stuff like that.

      1. Heather*

        Not only that – instead of just doing it the way it’s always been done you took initiative and thought about how to streamline it. That’s not to be underestimated – BELIEVE me.

    2. Thomas*

      Reducing 30 minutes off a task is huge, especially if it’s something that needs to be done 60 times a year. That’s a massive time savings.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Absolutely. A recent training session I was in just made the point about the savings if each of our 14,000 employees could save only 1 minute off a task that’s repeated daily. . .

  5. Catbertismyhero*

    The OP is an invaluable resource. Just thinking about our own excellent receptionist, some accomplishments come to mind: numerous compliments from staff, visitors, vendors and members; little or no errors in handling in-bound and out-bound shipments; proactively maintained basic office supplies for entire office….

  6. Brett*

    There are also quantitative metrics.
    Number of type of workers in the office (e.g. six dentists or three C-level executives, etc.)
    Volume of clients/visitors. Volume of phone calls.
    Volume and type of documents produced.

    You can also measure specific skills such as typing speed, ten-key speed, or proof reading speed and type.

  7. Anon*

    Thanks, OP! I recently started my first post-grad job as an Executive Administrative Assistant and I’ve been wondering about that. Obviously it’s not a pressing concern, as I plan to stick around for a while, but it has crossed my mind more than once.

  8. College Career Counselor*

    OP, I have seen places that refer to the receptionist as “Director of First Impressions” for the work that this person does greeting and directing clients in person, by phone, or email. While I’m not advocating that you change your title on your resume, thinking of another way of describing the operations you do (or the manner in which you do them, as Alison suggests) is helpful in coming up with accomplishments. If the way you do something is “above and beyond the call of duty” (are you helpful even when it’s something not part of your “official” job? Do you assist colleagues with other work when needed? Do you bring a skill or perspective to the table that your predecessor didn’t?) even if the task itself is routine
    you’ll have something positive to say on your resume and in interviews.

  9. Anonymous*

    Keep a “kudos” file with compliments you have received, even if they are only verbal. Written compliments and compliments from clients are especially valuable.

    1. Anna*

      …Except when your office doesn’t give that sort of thing. My last employer was tiny — as in half a dozen of us, including the part-timer — so praise would come in the form of a spoken “good job!” and not the written version. And how do you keep a kudos file of that?

      1. Anonymous*

        Write it down. Even if you don’t consider it “real” kudos, it will at least serve as a tickler for you when you are rewriting your resume or filling out an app. I know it may seem silly, but you’ll thank yourself later.

        I have kept one for 35 years, and I refer to it every time I update my resume.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I started doing this at my last job–there were times when I helped customers and they would email me “Thank you so much!” It made me feel better on days when I was ready to throw the phone through the window and run screaming out the door.

          At NewJob, I have a file on my computer called Yays. I put anything in there where my boss says “Excellent” or anyone else thanks me or says “That’s awesome.” I like how you refer to it–hopefully I’ll never need to apply anywhere else again (it’s that kind of company!).

          1. jesicka309*

            Yes! I was cleaning out my ‘personal’ email folder, where I keep my online purchase receipts, networking emails etc. and I realised that up until last year, I was also keeping emails from my boss/clients that said how awesome I was. It simultaneously made me grin at their praise, and sad that I wasn’t working in that specific role anymore (I was so good at it! Damn minor job duty changes!)

    2. Anon*

      I keep my own “brag” file. I’m a lawyer, and any time I think I really did a great job on a case (but not in a way that management would necessarily notice, e.g., with a “not guilty” verdict at trial–more like I helped get a very mentally ill client social services and resolved the criminal case so they wouldn’t have to keep coming back to court and interfere with their treatment, or I made an innovative argument about standing so I could get a certain type of hearing, and the judge was so irritated at the thought of having to actually decide a legal issue that he just gave me the plea I wanted the whole time and I never actually did the hearing), I do a little write-up of the case and what I did so I can refer to it later (i.e. in future job interviews).

  10. Kou*

    I still wonder about this. Say in my current position, I’ve taken a lot of tasks and responsibilities away from the rest of the department so their loads are easier and everything runs more smoothly. That’s allowed our output to increase and everything to be more organized, less stressful, more cohesive. But that was the entire point of the position I’m in– if I hadn’t been able to do that, I’d be bad, not just average. I still feel like it’s just the minimum of what’s expected/necessary, you know? And the things that make me good at it do not really seem exceptional to me.

    1. Nikki T*

      You know, after going to two temp agencies who practically did backflips when I showed up with great typing skills and could string together paragraphs effortlessly, I realized good help really is hard to find.

      Two jobs praised me to the highest, I was FILING! FILING! Who the heck were my predecessors?! I’ve been thanked for being open to suggestions when I was new at the job (I was like…well you’re paying me to do it, so…), getting mail-merged letters back in one day instead of one week. . .You may think you’re ordinary, but you really may be extraordinary..

      1. Kou*

        I can see the filing one! I bet plenty of people would get real crabby and unproductive if they did nothing but filing all day every day. At least I felt that slide when I had a job doing all data entry– repetition with no stimuli, “easy” tasks, really does wear on you in a way normal work doesn’t. To me at least.

        The thing, though, is they always say “don’t tell me your duties, tell me how you excelled” and I excel by doing my duties well in a rather immeasurable way I guess. My work quality is high, I’m amiable, accessible, people know if they hand something to me it’s taken care of. I’m never sure how to get that on paper. “Filed AWESOMELY” ??

        1. KellyK*

          Completed tasks promptly and correctly, meeting or exceeding all deadlines.
          Maintained pleasant, upbeat attitude.
          Known as helpful, efficient, and friendly by coworkers.

          (Okay, the third sounds kind of cheesy, but it might give you something to build from.)

          1. Jamie*

            Known as helpful, efficient, and friendly by coworkers.

            This is so huge. I worked with an admin once who, when people would ask her to assist in areas which were absolutely in her area of responsibility would often sigh and say, “sure, why not, I’m just everyone’s admin bitch.”

            Uhm no – she was the admin per the job description but the only one using the word bitch was her. And it was often easier to do something yourself than to ask her.

            It was honestly one of those cases where she felt her job was beneath her and that’s very hard to deal with.

  11. Anon*

    Thank you for answering this! I was previously a secretary at a doctor’s office and late last year I was desperately trying to figure out how to list accomplishments for my role. Luckily I was able to land a new position in a different field by just winging it(in terms of my resume) but I’m glad that I now have this post as a reference.

  12. nyxalinth*

    This was super helpful! In call centers, you don’t get much opportunity for big, fancy accomplishments: everyone on the phones takes calls, you don’t get other stuff to do, etc. But then I figured out that Quality Assurance scores and other call center metrics can be worded in ways non-call center employers can understand and see the value in for the position they’re hiring for. One thing too that I mention in interviews is “Working in call centers definitely gives you a thick skin for criticism and a ‘behind stays in your seat’ mentality, which means it’s very easy for me to take constructive feedback and stay focused on my work all day long”. No offers yet, but people often like hearing this.

  13. Anon*

    Thank you OP for sending in this question as it is the same dilemma I am in. I went so far as getting a resume service but even that didn’t help in getting those elusive quantitative metrics!

    Also, @nyxalinth, I worked in a call center environment as well but it was for a small non-profit so they didn’t pull any metrics for us. I requested them several times and was always told “The cost is too high for those additional features…Maybe in the future…” so I finally gave up. Now the call backs I’ve received they always ask about metrics (esp. being that it was a Customer Service/call center role) and I feel like a fool saying that I have nothing concrete after 5 years with the company. Yes, I received many compliments and kudos (even emails sent in from customers) but I made the mistake of not printing them when I received them (it seemed silly) and then wasn’t allowed to print anything from my email account when I was leaving. So now I’ve got no proof of any of those and no numbers to list as accomplishments.

    1. jesicka309*

      The only person I trusted to go through my resume is here. :) Keep an eye out for when Alison does her resume service (from memory is was $100, and they come around really rarely when she’s got time).
      Alison gave me some great advice on making my achievements more prominent, as I’m in a data entry role where a) You either do the work, or you’re fired and b) If you’re too good at your job and get too far ahead, you’re stuffed. It’s really hard to frame “entered my data as per my duties without being too far behind or too far in front”.
      What Alison says in this post is what she helped me with. It’s definitely helpful – even if what made you better at your job was an upbeat attitude or a willingness to pitch in and help others.

  14. Manda*

    This is something that has driven me nuts. I have mostly worked in retail and I’ve really struggled to find ways to list accomplishments. I’m trying to get of retail and it’s hard to stand out. I was a better-than-average employee, but it’s not like I was amazing at everything either. I know my supervisors and colleagues liked and appreciated me. Less senior staff looked up to me. But I still brain fart when I’m trying to figure out exactly what to say and how to word things.

  15. mortorph*

    One thing I have been thinking about during my recent job search is the essence of a resume ‘standing out’ from a crowd. I am intrigued by this particular statement in Alison’s response: “The trick is to think about what the difference would be between the way you perform your job and the way someone mediocre would perform it. (Now, if you’re the mediocre person, then I can’t help you.)”

    If all of us job searchers are presenting ourselves as ‘above average’ workers/employees – does that have the paradoxical effect of making our achievements seem mediocre over the long run, because the bar has been shifted? Any thoughts?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Believe me, most people aren’t writing their resumes this way. In fact, you really can’t if you were mediocre — you wouldn’t have the fodder to do it! At least not in a substantive, credible sounding way.

    2. Manda*

      The reality is that we can’t all be the best of the best, and yet we’re all told to try to appear that way. Some people are mediocre and some are below average. Different people are good at different things and bad at different things. It’s incredibly discouraging to feel like you have to be amazing or you’ll never get a job, but that’s honestly the impression I get sometimes. You can do a satisfactory job, but when you’re expected to be a superstar, satisfactory just looks like you didn’t try at all. I have a hard time believing I’ll ever be the best person for a job. I may be perfectly capable of doing a job, but that means nothing when someone else can do it ten times better than I could. But, mediocre people manage to find jobs. People do their jobs poorly and get fired but they find new jobs. Maybe the mediocre people end up working at mediocre jobs for mediocre companies.

        1. Manda*

          Well, of course. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to knowingly hire the average person over the great one. I’m just saying, if we were all above average, there would be no average, or average would would be defined much differently. If only above average people ever got jobs, there would be far more unemployed people, but that is not the case. So when people get hired and then turn out to be average or worse, is it because the managers suck at picking the best employees? Is it because these are companies better candidates don’t want to work for, or jobs they don’t want to do, and therefore the applicant pool is mediocre from the start? Or were they just great at BSing? Who knows? It would be great if everyone took their jobs seriously and made the effort to do things well, but unfortunately that’s not the way things are. It’s also possible to put in a sincere effort and still suck or be mediocre at your job.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think it’s a combination of bad hiring (most interviewers are pretty bad at it), a lack of understanding of what it takes to excel in the position (which is a subset of bad hiring), and the fact that even great interviewers will sometimes make the wrong hire.

      1. KarenT*

        It’s also relative to specific skills. I am an awesome editor. I was a mediocre contract administrator. I have strong project management skills, but am terrible with numbers.

        It’s not about snowing someone into thinking you’re great when you’re not, but about highlighting what YOU are awesome at.

        1. Manda*

          That’s pretty much what I was getting at when I said that different people are good at different things. I’m the other way around. I’m great with numbers, but I’m not much of a writer.

      2. Anon*

        I was excellent at some jobs and mediocre (at best) at others. I’ve resisted rewriting my resume this way because I know I’ll have trouble coming up with accomplishment for that one job I really wasn’t great at, and it will contrast with the other ones. (Not to mention, the things I DID do well at that job were the sort of thing that it’s completely unseemly and inappropriate to discuss, and would reflect badly on my judgment if I did–I basically did all the work for a prominent public figure and signed his name to it, and kept him happy by listening to his stories and chitchatting with him on topics he liked to talk about.)

      3. anonymous*

        I know exactly how you feel and exactly where you’re coming from. It’s very frustrating, ESPECIALLY if you are coming from a mediocre COMPANY where you are not ALLOWED/given the opportunity to grow!

        1. Senior localization tester*

          I have a similar problem: I have been working for a rather disfunctional company for close to 3 years, and eventually had to come to the conclusion that not only was great performance never really recognized in this organisation (promotions are markedly political in nature, with even basic competence or understanding of the nature of our work being secondary at best), I have been repeatedly berated for actually trying to make the organisation better. In other words, I have no achievements to list on my resumé because achievements are actively discouraged/punished in my organisation, just about every initiative I took to increase productivity or reduce errors were met with negative reviews because they didn’t match “how things are usually done”. The only “achievement” the organisation would accept for my position would equate to “followed instructions to the letter, ignoring all regards to the client’s order, the quality of the product or basic logic”. How is one to list achievements in such a situation?

  16. OP*

    Thanks for all the feedback! In my particular position, I think ‘Resident Door Dragon’ might be a better alternate title than ‘Director of First Impressions’ – one of the things I do most often is keep salespeople out. :) I appreciate everyone’s two cents here!

  17. Jen*

    Very useful comments as I’m facing the same situation! If I cannot turn all of my duties into accomplishments (or results-oriented phrasing), and am quantifying as much as possible for the rest… will it make my resume seem inconsistent?

  18. Nilesh*

    i am working as an support executive from last 1 year.but i am unable to update accomplishments which i want to add in my update it in my resume kindly assist me

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