Activities to Achievements

Activities to Achievements: leveling-up your resume

As graduation time approaches, I’ve been getting more and more requests for resume reviews. I start by asking people to look at the post for my 5 most common pieces of resume feedback. And frequently afterwards, I get questions on number 3: activities to achievements, so I thought I’d write a specific post to elaborate.

What are activities versus achievements?

Let’s start with the what. Most people will have activities on their resume. “What they did”. Managed a team of 10 people. Organized an event for 220 attendees. Managed accounts receivable for 10 accounts. Which is basically your job description. Your role and resposibililities. Which is fine to have on your resume, but might not be enough.

To get to the next level, you want to have some achievements “How well you did it”. Statements on how you met or exceeded expectations. Received employee engagement score from direct reports of 90% (company benchmark is 82%). Increased attendees by 20% from 200 in previous year to 220 in current year. Reduced collection time from 45 days to 30 days for accounts receivable. Achievements are more compelling for a potential employer.

Why change activities to achievements?

The why might be obvious, but let’s consider a scenario: Would you rather evaluate someone’s performance at school just by the list of courses they took, or would you also want to see the grades they earned? Sure it’s helpful to know someone took accounting 101, and wouldn’t it be more helpful to know whether they scored a 62% or an 82%?

Put another way, let’s say we take the first activity: Managed a team of 10 people. If that was accompanied by an achievement of Led direct reports to the achievement we listed of Received employee engagement score from direct reports of 90% (company benchmark is 82%), that’s awesome! But without it, a recruiter could assume that because you didn’t put it, then there was nothing noteworthy about your management of the team. Or a cynical recruiter could go the next step and say that you couldn’t find anything good to put because when you managed the team, half of them quit within the year.

Being able to put achievements on your resume also assumes that you know how to set and manage expectations, which is an important skill in any job. Achievements are thus a level-up to plain-old activities on a resume.

How to change activities to achievements?

Now the post important part, how do you change activities to achievements? First you have to be able to answer the question “how do you know you did a good job?” For some jobs, there are easy metrics. Sales people often have quotas and if you meet or exceed your targets, then you’re good. Customer service roles often have customer satisfaction scores, or the number of compliments / complaints as a good indicator.

Some jobs however, don’t have easy metrics. As a financial analyst you might create reports on a periodic basis. How could you say you did a good job in that role? well often times, a “good job” is based on time, cost or quality. Time being: Did you do it on time (or ahead of time)? Cost being: Did you not exceed the budget? Quality: Did you have any errors, rework, or complaints? So for the report generating financial analyst, you could say you did a good job by always producing reports on time or ahead of schedule. Perhaps with zero or minimal rework. Or something else important to the company.

If we wanted to get practical, a common template would be to use <verb> <what you accomplished / what were your results> <how did you do it>. Now if you want you can reverse the order and use <verb><how you did it> <what you accomplished> and I like the other order as the results are first (which are often more important than how you did it). And keep in mind that not every single activity needs to have a corresponding achievement, but the more you have, the better.

Now that you know you should write achievements on your resume, take a look at your current role and what you do and think through how you could make it an achievement. Happy achieving!


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