Not just keywords…your key accomplishments

The purpose of a resume is to get interview requests. Resumes with key accomplishments, not just keywords, get more and better interview requests.

Recently, there’s been more focus on keywords on resumes, even to the extent that some professionals change keywords on their resume on a per job basis.

Keywords are important – no doubt about that – so it does make sense to include relevant keywords to highlight your hard skills, software that you know, and your professional capabilities.

What is just as important as keywords, but often gets overlooked, are your key accomplishments – the things you have done on the job that demonstrate your ability to make success happen.  When a pile of resumes is getting screened by a hiring manager, and they all have the same keywords, it is your key accomplishments that make you stand out and attract the interview.

What are key accomplishments? Well, they’re anything you did that improved your company, or your team, or your group. As a highly-paid professional in the US or Canada, it’s expected that you will contribute to the company’s success – that your employer will be better off because you were on the job. That your being on the team led to better results.

So how do you effectively present your accomplishments? It’s fairly straightforward.

Communicate your key accomplishments on your resume using a success verb, a number, and a method.

A success verb – more than an active verb, a success verb indicates that you were successful at something: increased, decreased, grew, shrank, improved, reduced, optimized, launched, initiated, accelerated, achieved, added, awarded, delivered, eliminated, exceeded, expanded, gained, maximized, minimized, produced, saved, sold, streamlined…

Or any verb that shows you made something better.

A number – business is a quantified profession. Because everything in business is ultimately measured by profit and loss numbers, everything in business is measured by numbers. That includes you, and your output.

Numbers are effective at communicating your accomplishments because they show, specifically, the scale of your successes in the past. The more numbers you show, the more you indicate the breadth of your accomplishments. They also communicate effectively that you’re the type of person who cares about the numbers being good.

Share with your future boss the numbers behind your success. The best rule of thumb I have is to count how many numbers there are on your resume – the dollar signs, percentages, and absolute numbers you’re currently showing – and double them.  That’s right – add twice as many numbers to your resume to make it more effective. 

If you believe that your field is not quantifiable, you’re mistaken. There is no field in US business that is not quantifiable, and I’ve helped people from event planning, compliance, project management, and dozens of other professions quantify their success.  If you truly think your role at a private sector company is not quantifiable, you’re mistaken and just need to dig a little bit deeper.

By the way, it’s better and more effective if your number appears at the beginning of the bullet point rather than the end. It’s not how we tend to talk to one another, but it reads better on the page.

A method – and, finally, describe how you achieved your success – what did you do to make it happen? Was it by implementing a new software, following a new sales method, reorganizing processes, introducing a new ad campaign, refactoring the code, creating a clever new structure? Whatever it was, share it in a concise statement that makes clear it was your behavior that brought about the positive change in the results.

When it comes to accomplishments, it’s also important to pick the right ones to highlight.  The accomplishments that you choose to share, highlight, and celebrate reveal something about who you are as a professional.  You’ll be demonstrating your professional judgment by the caliber, scope and impressiveness of the accomplishments you choose to include on your resume.

For example, a Vice President level professional who highlights the overall increase in revenues on her watch, the decrease in waste, and the hiring of dozens of new employees, is sharing level-appropriate accomplishments.

On the other hand, the Director level professional who only cites his timeliness for showing up, his submission of dozens of written reports, and his effective management of petty cash, is focusing on the wrong things.

Similarly, professionals who only share their job duties and responsibilities, and not their accomplishments, are missing an opportunity. The readers of your resume already know what the typical job duties and responsibilities there are for the types of roles you’ve had in your past. After all, they’ve either done them or hired for them already!

So you’re not conveying new and valuable information about your ability to contribute to the team. And you’re not conveying information that will help you get picked out of the pile for an interview.

Instead, using your professional judgement, pick level-appropriate accomplishments that effectively highlight your current capabilities and skill level.

Good luck!

Why is all of this important? Let’s look at the picture.

Communicating your success is part of being a modern professional.  It’s not a nice-to-have, or optional, or something you can consider foregoing. You really ought to think of it as an essential part of your career.

And that’s because the modern career is built around you making your career choices for yourself. We have an employment system that is very firmly rooted in the freedom of a person to decide what they want to do. 

Further, in the past few decades, we’ve reached a social expectation that professionals will change jobs every few years. When I started in the job search industry two decades ago, staying at a job ten years was common, almost expected. Today, a ten-year tenure is something that needs special expectation – why did you stay so long at one place?

Our current system has enormous benefits – people get to do what they want, they feel in control of their choices, they can move freely between employers without social disapproval – there’s little holding people back from pursuing their own course to success.

There are alternative systems that we’ve rejected. For example, we could have the government decide what your job is, and assign you a mandatory job.  Or, we could have a system of lifetime employment where you were expected to join a big company after college, stick with them for 35 or 40 years, and retire with a gold watch and a pension, as was much more common at companies such as IBM or Procter & Gamble fifty years ago.

In those cases, the government or the company was responsible for your career development. They decided where you’d go, where you’d live, what you’d do, and how you would progress in your career. If you think you’d prefer to live in a system where you wouldn’t need to communicate your accomplishments and desires, that’s what it would look like. I think the huge downsides to those systems far outweigh these tiny benefits, but you may disagree.

So the flip side of the coin of career freedom is that when you have a choice, you also have responsibilities.

And one of those responsibilities is that it’s your burden to market yourself. Even if you don’t like marketing yourself, even if you find it awkward, uncomfortable, or unpleasant.  In our current employment system, it’s all up to you.

And that’s why understanding your key accomplishments, keeping track of them, and communicating them to employers, is part of the modern professional’s career toolkit.