From Duties to Accomplishments

If you’re still sending resumes that simply re-hash your job duties, it’s going to be hard to stand out in this economy. Your resume pages (usually one or two at the most) should be considered valuable real estate. Any words or phrases that don’t pull their weight should be eliminated so you can fill the space with accomplishments. There are three things hiring managers want to know about your past experience, and with few exceptions, your job duties aren’t one of them. After all, if you are applying for a similar job, the hiring manager has a job description that will be very close to that of your previous job. She know what you’ll be asked to do; what she doesn’t know is how good you’ll be at it.

So – back to the three things the hiring manager wants to know: what volume of work you handled, how complex the work was that you performed, and how good you were at doing it. You can help by simply adding more detail. Take the job duties that you’ve listed, and start by adding quantity and quality information wherever you can.

I recently reviewed a resume that simply said: “Cold called Prospective and current customers to originate first and second mortgages.” That’s a duty that’s crying out to be turned into an accomplishment. How many calls did she (not her real name) make? How many did she close? How did she rank among her sales peers? Without any information on the resume about how she did, we have to assume it wasn’t very well.

Even some accomplishment-oriented resumes leave value on the table. Here’s a recent example: “Salvaged critical expense containment project that enabled faster and more accurate billing and improved cash flow.” Good, but not yet great. Adding details on how much faster and more accurate billing became or how much cash flow improved would make this accomplishment 47% more effective (results are approximate.)

2 thoughts on “From Duties to Accomplishments

  1. How do you put a quantity in context, particularly one that is outside the norm of work? I used to work in newspapers, editing stories, writing headlines, designing pages. If I say I designed two pages per night, how does the reader know if that is a lot or a little? The same with editing and writing headlines for 20 stories per night.

    And what about relating that quantity when you’re moving to a new field? My job search is for positions heavy on writing and editing in a variety of fields (public relations, corporate communications, development, marketing) and so my resume says “Edited material for content, Associated Press style, length and errors.” My goal was never quantity but quality.

    This is an area I’ve struggled with mightily for some time. Thank you for your guidance!


    1. Creative professionals have a more challenging task in converting what they do to accomplishments. After all, two 500-word pieces may be equal in quantity, but differ wildly in quality. You’re right that many HR professionals wouldn’t be able to judge your qualifications if they’ve never done the job; it’s why we emphasize connecting with hiring managers who will be able to understand what you did and why it matters. We creative also have an advantage that your average worker doesn’t: we can show examples of our work. If you have a good portfolio of your work and can get it in front of a prospective employer, you give your work a chance to speak for itself. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


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