Am I ethically able to take credit for that?

Reader Toni Rosati had this question for me:

“Hi Marc! I’ve been learning from you for years now. This is a wonderful formula for creating resume bullets, thank you!

Question:

– How should mid-level employees describe successes and accomplishments made through TEAM work?
– Also, if accomplishments are only measured as a number that is somewhat removed from my direct efforts, am I ethically able to take credit for that accomplishment in a bullet point? If so, how?

Thank you for your insight!

Toni”

Great questions, Toni!

For accomplishments based on teamwork, you should highlight the accomplishment, then accurately explain how you contributed to that goal. Using a group or collective verb is typically the best way to indicate that the actions resulted from a team, rather than an individual, effort.

Now remember, a resume is a marketing document. It is not legal testimony, a verbatim transcription of your tenure, or an exhaustive catalog of everything you’ve ever done. That means that while ethically, it is NOT OK to lie, materially misrepresent, or fabricate achievements, it is OK to hype your achievements, promote your role in working on them, and present a positive picture of your involvement.

Let’s dig into what that means.

First, a great bullet point on a resume is composed of success verb, plus a number, plus a method. The success verb highlights the accomplishment: you grew, shrank, increased, reduced, launched, or optimized an important part of the business. 

The number quantifies it and is important for a few reasons.  It shows the degree and scale with which you improved something.  It also shows that you’re the type of professional who cares about numbers, and cares about improving them.  Bosses love that. And it shows that the effort you were involved in was successful, which is helpful.

In the method part of the bullet point, you’ll describe how you accomplished something.  It’s also where you can indicate whether the accomplishment was a team or personal endeavor.

In short, use the method in your bullet point to indicate how you did it, and who you did it with. 

So for example, an individual contributor might say:

Negotiated 23% reduction in expenses on major project via vendor selection and part optimization. 

While someone working in a team setting might say:

Reduced costs 23% working on task force assigned to find cost reductions through vendor selection and part optimization.

or,

Grew sales 12% on my small group team through collective work to find new clients and develop pitches. 

or,

Shrank required FTEs 5% while maintaining productivity through team effort to optimize schedules, better match workers to required output, and proactively initiate client conversations.

or,

Improved efficiency of module 54% by contributing to team brainstorming, prioritization and coding of optimizations for virtualized servers.

It’s OK for you to be accurate about which were individual contributions, and which were team achievements. Both are attractive to employers. 

Looking at the examples, above, you’ll see that there are many ways to indicate that you were a part of the solution, without implying that you were solely responsible for it. 

Verbs that indicate you were not acting alone in achieving your results include contributed, helped, collaborated, cooperated, participated, worked together, teamed up, partnered with, contributed, furthered, advanced, partnered, joined in, lent a hand, pulled together, shared in, took part, and pitched in.  Using these verbs will help you indicate that the achievements were a group effort.

When to use each? 

In an individual contributor role, it will be important to showcase the “I did this” rather than the “we accomplished that.” The best example of this is an individual sales role.  A future boss is not going to want to hear about the team’s success in cold calling, quota achievement, or surpassing annual goals. He’ll want to know how you achieved these goals, personally.

By contrast, in roles where the work and accomplishments are more group-oriented – compliance, tax, R&D – you’ll want to focus on your contributions to team achievements.