Identify Your Achievements for CV
The most effective type of curriculum vitae is one which focuses on your achievements, i.e., not just the duties you performed in previous roles but the positive impact you made while you were there.
Unfortunately, many job seekers do not include professional accomplishments, possibly because they have based their CV on their job descriptions and not thought any further about it. While just listing your daily duties and responsibilities may have worked in the past, an unremarkable CV like this is unlikely to win any interviews in today’s job market.
Highlighting and displaying your achievements on your CV is now critical if you want to set yourself apart from others when applying for a position you want to secure. In today’s competitive job market if you fail to do this you could get left behind. You should, however, add more detail that just listing duties and competencies.
What achievements should you put on a cv?
It’s important at this stage not to ramble on and take your 2-3-page resume to 6-7 pages. Only add key job achievements that really matter to you. One way to think about which key achievements to add to your CV is to think about which ones you feel proud of as well as ones where you’ve felt challenged.
Top tip: Ask yourself, what have you done that put you outside your comfort zone? That stretched you to do something you weren’t sure you could do? This can kick start your list of achievements for a CV.
Remember - one person’s key job achievement might be someone else’s business as usual. So, it’s good to:
a) think what’s personal to you.
b) don’t think that an achievement must be wildly impressive to others.
Duties are not the same as achievements
Your achievements are the things you did in a job which made a positive impact and contribution to your employer’s business. They demonstrate to a potential employer that you can do the job well. On the other hand, the skills and knowledge you would be expected to have in order to perform your everyday work duties do not count as accomplishments, unless you can demonstrate specifically how you used them to benefit your employer.
Quantify your accomplishments
Accomplishments are not just an exaggerated way of describing your skills and experience, they’re tangible proof of your past performance. They are most powerful when you quantify them using numbers or percentages, for example the statement:
is much stronger if the reader knows by how much you increased sales:
‘increased sales by 15%’, or ‘increased sales by £10,000’.
If you don’t know the exact number it’s fine to estimate as long as you state that you are estimating and you are confident that the estimate is fairly accurate and would be confirmed if an interviewer asks a previous employer for a reference.
Everyone has achievements
A common mistake when creating your CV is assuming that the only sort of contribution that counts is increasing company sales or winning new customers. Sales are undoubtedly very important but there are many other ways to make a positive difference, so don’t be tempted to think that you didn’t make an impact just because you weren’t in a sales role. Other ways that you may have made a contribution to your employer’s business include the following:
- Increasing the loyalty or satisfaction of existing customers
- Solving a problem or challenge, e.g., decreasing customer complaints
- Saving money, e.g., negotiating a better deal from a supplier
- Saving time, e.g., suggesting a new time-saving process
- Developing an idea your employer acted on
- Launching new products, projects or initiatives
- Increasing the company press coverage or market recognition
Examples of professional achievements
- “I introduced a successful forum for the team to air challenges, grievances as well as achievements, leading to better internal communication and improved staff retention”
- “Created a more efficient back up and disaster recovery system. Produced over 150 recoveries for our clients, retrieving lost data entirely within an average of an hour and a half”
- “Won an industry award for creative execution of a campaign”
- “Received internal award for dedication to customer service two months running, beating two hundred of my fellow employees”
- “Completed new competency training for public cloud system, generating five new leads for the business”
How do you identify achievements for a CV?
- Think about all your jobs to date: including the early part time ones, and list your job achievements in all of them. Take yourself back to how you felt before you did something. All too often, once they’ve done something people forget how much of a stretch it was and then move on to the next thing without acknowledging themselves.
- Dig out past job reviews or appraisals: look at the sort of objectives you had and what your managers acknowledged you for achieving.
- Speak to ex-colleagues (if you’re in touch with them): ask them what they think your work achievements are – they’ll often remember things you’ve long since forgotten. In return, you can offer to do the same for them.
- Think about “sub-achievements”: you might have delivered a big project, which is a clear achievement, but were smaller achievements a part of this? Maybe along the way you helped a team member to improve their performance or there was a meeting where you won over that picky senior person with a fantastically well-argued case.
How to include achievements in a CV?
It’s time to start at the end. Sit down and make a list of all the achievements at work you can think of – no achievement is too small! Then go back through your list and ask yourself ‘so what’? The structure of an achievement should contain a skill that you used, an activity that you carried out and a quantifiable business result or benefit. You’re aiming to get the recruiter or HR team to look at these CV achievement examples and sit up and go ‘wow – I need this candidate in the business’.
Top tip: Don’t feel the need to write a long description of your job achievements, the colour can be added at interview stage. Such achievements are a teaser to get your foot in the door. Also, a word of caution: ensure that you can back up your list of achievements for your CV, when talking through them at interview – or that your reference, if asked, can.
Outside opinions can be helpful
Some people have difficulty identifying their achievements and find it helpful to get input from supportive colleagues and friends, or even previous employers. Asking someone else to make an objective assessment of why you were particularly good at your job is likely to reveal things which you may not have considered. They may also be able to help you quantify the difference you made.
Individual versus team achievements
If some of your best results were achieved as part of a team you can certainly still include them, for example:
‘member of a high-performing team which won the regional support award last year’
Highlighting team performance demonstrates not only that you’re a high-achiever, but also that you’re a good team player. However, it doesn’t tell a prospective employer how you contributed to the team’s success, so for maximum impact you need to make sure that you include specific details of the role you played. Don’t leave the person reading your CV to guess what your contribution was.
People with little or no previous work experience should still aim to include achievements on their CV. If you’re in this position it’s fine to include accomplishments from other parts of your life as long as they are relevant to the job you are applying for.
Areas to look for achievements include volunteering roles, sporting activities and your academic record, for example:
- Raising money for charity – quantify the money raised and what you did to raise it
- Serving on a community or student committee – what role did you play and how did you make a difference?
- Leading a student team on a project – what size was the team and what did it achieve under your leadership?
- Awards won – don’t just list the awards, elaborate on what you did to win them
Accuracy is vital
It’s important to be honest about your achievements. Don’t be tempted to exaggerate as it’s very easy for employers to check on your claims. False information on a CV is very likely to result in your elimination from the application process or even criminal charges or dismissal if you’ve already been hired. Make sure that you can back up your claims with further details and be prepared to elaborate on them in an interview.
It’s common knowledge that your resume should be packed with accomplishments and achievements, yet most of the resumes I review have few or none. Why is this so? My clients tell me that they struggle to identify their successes.
Why is it so hard to recognize my accomplishments?
There are six common reasons why people have trouble identifying their accomplishments and achievements:
1. Their accomplishments are difficult to quantify.
2. They don’t give themselves credit for what they do, or they underestimate their contributions.
3. Their parents taught them that it's inappropriate to boast.
4. Their managers didn't recognize their achievements.
5. They hesitate to take credit for their contribution to a team project.
6. They feel guilty that they didn't go "above and beyond" the job requirements.
Making sure your key achievements in your CV and at interview shine, is vital to catching the eye of a recruiter or employer. They allow you to give them a flavour of what you are all about and how you strive for success everything “dividends will pay off.