Tracking Accomplishments To Update Your Resume

Rachel Schneebaum

According to just about every hiring manager, recruiter, and resume advice expert out there, in today’s job market, achievements are more important to crafting a successful resume than job responsibilities or duties. A description of what you did all day at your last job(s) won’t make you stand out from anyone else who worked similar jobs, anyone who at these jobs was responsible for similar tasks—and, assuming you’re staying within the same industry, these are exactly the kinds of people you’ll be competing against for job openings.

With the state of the job market, then, how can you make your resume stand out? Again, the most important rule to keep in mind is to focus on achievements and accomplishments, not duties and responsibilities.

So, what do you do if your current resume is responsibility-based? How can you turn a mundane list of responsibilities into a standout list of achievements?

In this article, I’ll answer these and other, related questions. I’ll go through and describe several tips for creating an achievement-based resume: if you’re starting from scratch — whether this is because you’re just entering the job market or because you want to start a career in a new industry — or if you want to turn your existing resume into a more compelling one. (Note: if you are a new grad, or if you’re looking to change careers, check out the articles on this site dedicated to those topics!)

I’ll also provide some tips on tracking your achievements and accomplishments in your current job (and in any other activities you’re involved with) in order to keep your resume up-to-date and increasingly impressive.

First, let’s assume you already have a list of your past jobs and the tasks you were responsible for at each position. (If not, then this is your first step: make a list of all your past jobs as well as all your tasks and responsibilities for each job.) Once you have this list, go through each job and responsibility one by one. Think: is there a way you can re-market any of your responsibilities as achievements?

For example, let’s say you were responsible for training other employees to use a particular piece of technology. Why and how were you selected for this task? Was it because you demonstrated the most expertise with that technology than any of your coworkers? Was it because you were hired partially because of your technical knowledge, and so that you could spread your knowledge to other employees and improve the company’s overall efficiency? Was it because you helped to develop the program(s) involved? If you can re-market a responsibility like this, you’ve now got an achievement that sets you apart from other applicants who are competent with the same technology, say, or other applicants who have experience training coworkers.

Next, go through the rest of your list, approaching each listed responsibility in exactly the same way. Here are some things to think about when working to turn responsibilities into achievements:

  • Did you do anything special in your position that set you apart from your coworkers/past employees in your position? How exactly did you do your job better than anyone else?
  • Did you win any awards in your position (e.g., “Employee of the Month”)?
  • Do you have any other physical proof of your accomplishments: for example, advertisements designed, programs written, articles published, etc.?

If there’s anything about any of your responsibilities that sets you apart, anything at all that can be re-marketed as an achievement or an accomplishment, then you should include it in your resume. (If there are any responsibilities that can’t be re-marketed, they’re probably not worth mentioning—that is, unless they include important keywords for your application.)

Ok, now you should have an updated list of past positions and achievements. But there’s still more you can do to develop your resume! There are several further ways to find and market accomplishments that you might have forgotten about or dismissed as unimportant. Go through each job in turn and try to determine whether, under that job, you can list any of the following types of accomplishments:

1. Promotions.
Were you promoted at this job? If so, that’s an accomplishment, and you should list it on your resume! Further, think about the following: were you promoted particularly quickly compared to your coworkers or others in similar positions? Were you promoted multiple times? Were you one of the youngest employees in your company to be promoted? Why were you promoted—was it because of your excellent performance on a particular type of task? Because someone higher up in the company took notice of your work and recommended you for promotion? Etc. If any of these (or similar) reasons apply to you, it makes your promotion(s) an even more impressive accomplishment. And, importantly, it makes you stand out even more than your competitors who also have promotions under their belts.

2. Compliments from bosses and supervisors
Were you ever complimented for your performance at your job? If so—even if it seems trivial to you—you should note this as an achievement on your resume. Listing specific praise you received in context—for example, “Commended by my supervisor for my leadership skills and creative approach to our Thanksgiving marketing campaign”—makes your resume much more impressive than simply claiming that you have “leadership skills” or that you’re a “creative thinker.”

3. Particularly glowing performance reviews
Just like the commendations you might have received from your boss, performance reviews that are particularly complimentary provide you with a way to list your skills and achievements in context. Describing the recognition you received for your excellent work in past positions definitely makes your resume stand out: anyone can claim that they’re good at their job, but proof of this in the form of a performance review (which can be confirmed by a listed reference) makes your claims much stronger.

In addition, when listing your accomplishments, remember to use superlatives and use numbers whenever possible. Regarding superlatives, don’t be too modest! If you can (honestly) use terms such as “best,” “top 1%,” “first,” “most,” etc., you’ve got a leg up on impressing your potential employer. In addition, employers and hiring managers love quantitative information in resumes. For example, the phrase, “Increased profits by 20% over the previous year” is more informative, easier to fact-check, and therefore more impressive than the phrase, “Increased company profits.” Using numbers in your resume gives employers a better sense of exactly what you did in your past positions—and, therefore, exactly what you’ll be able to do as a new employee.

Finally, one last note about tracking your accomplishments for your resume:
Although this article is mostly intended for current job seekers, all the tips and advice presented above can be extremely helpful for anyone, regardless of employment status. Creating an achievement-based resume from scratch can be a pain, especially when you’re trying to remember specific details from specific projects or campaigns several jobs ago. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep track of any accomplishments you achieve in your current job, when they happen. You can keep a running document where you list each new achievement and each compliment or commendation you receive, and/or you can update your resume routinely.

Either way, keeping track of your accomplishments as they happen means that you’ll be prepared in case you end up in a position where you’re looking for a new job: whether you’re unemployed for any number of reasons, whether you’re looking to move up in your field, whether you want to switch careers, etc. Alternatively, knowing exactly what you’ve done to improve your company and exactly how you’re valuable to the company as an employee can be an asset if and when you want to ask for a raise or a promotion

About The Author

Rachel Schneebaum

Rachel Schneebaum is a PhD candidate in philosophy, with a graduate minor in cognitive science, at the University of Arizona. She graduated from Williams College in 2009 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in both English and Philosophy. Rachel hopes to more effectively help students decide on, prepare for, and eventually succeed at their dream jobs.

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