Most of the resumes I receive from prospective clients simply describe the tasks they performed, or were expected to perform, at each job. A more powerful way to describe your work is to focus on what you accomplished at each job because employers know our job description.
There are 3 elements to each accomplishment. The elements are the problem you solved, the action you took to solve it, and the results you attained for the organization.
Should You Copy Your Job Description into a Resume?
Many of us have written resumes using the job descriptions for positions that we held. We pulled the job description we got when we were hired from our file and copied it into our resume. In other words, if our job as an office assistant was to answer the phone, type letters, and file documents, that is what we wrote.
Some people still write their resumes in a similar way. They go to their company Web site, copy their job description, and then paste it into their resume.
Anyone with Internet access can look up your job description. A resume with job descriptions tells the recruiter or potential hiring manager nothing they need to know about you. The job description may include functions you did not perform so you will be unprepared to defend it at interviews.
Our solution is to describe your unique contribution to the job. First, state the scope of your assignment. Then discuss your accomplishments on the job.
Explain the Scope of Your Job.
Describe the purpose, or scope, of your work assignment in a few sentences under your job title. For example, a former school principal I worked with described the scope of one of her jobs as follows:
“Organized and directed operations at this K-5 school, including 60 staff members, 425 children and a building budget of $350,000, excluding salaries. Initially assigned by the School District to “turn around” the North Woods program because it was not delivering mandated services or meeting parent expectations.”
We might have written that she was “responsible for organizing and directing all operations at this K-5 school.” She could have had this responsibility without doing it. So, it is stronger to write that she “organized and directed…”
The scope statement, then, tells the reader what our boss, corporate leadership, board, or agency leadership mandated us to do. The next step is to describe what we accomplished.
Accomplishment Statements are the Heart of Your Presentation.
The rest of the content under each job title consists of bullet points, often referred to as accomplishment statements. An accomplishment statement starts with a strong action verb. Then, it includes the following 3 elements:
- What business problem or opportunity you were asked to address,
- The action you took,
- Your (quantifiable) results.
We call this the Problem, Action, Result, or PAR, model. Another very similar approach is the STAR, or Situation, Task, Action Result model.
The best way to develop PAR statements for your resume is to set up a table with Problem, Action, and Result columns. Write as many problem, action, result examples as you can think of in each row of the table.
Problem: The business problem or opportunity is a situation you were expected to address at your job. For example, at a large welfare-to-work program, I was expected to create resumes for every work readiness client. Welfare-to-work program regulations in New York required that each work readiness client had a resume. Our job developers also needed the resumes to market each job candidate to industry.
Action: I critiqued, edited, or wrote more than 2400 resumes for job candidates to address this problem over an eight-year period. Also, I led resume classes and computer lab sessions to help our job candidates develop resumes.
Result: The quantifiable result was that I received credit for about 200 competitive job placements.
The bullet points I wrote based on this analysis were as follows:
- Worked one-on-one with more than 2400 participants to develop resumes that addressed their individual situations.
- Credited with more than 200 competitive job placements among individuals that attended my resume workshops, one-on-one resume coaching sessions, and job search computer labs.
I could have condensed this into one bullet point, but decided to write two bullet points for clarity.
The bullet-points will also serve as your talking points at job interviews. You should be prepared to elaborate on each point. In fact, you may have additional accomplishments that you did not have room to discuss on your resume. Use these points at interviews, too.
Everyone Has Accomplishments!
Job candidates often tell me that they do not have any accomplishments—they just did what their boss told them to do every day. I’ve found that just about everyone does have accomplishments, though. For example, a custodial maintenance worker may be tasked with cleaning a 23,000 foot warehouse each morning. He or she uses certain tools, such as mechanical buffers and solvents, to solve the problem. The result is that the warehouse is clean and safe at the start of business each day.
Use Strong Action Verbs.
The most important thing to do is use strong action verbs at the start of each bullet point. Often job candidates tell me they “participated” in meetings. This could mean they sat in certain meetings and took notes, or it could mean they made major presentations. “Took notes to provide accurate minutes for the CEO and leadership team” is a lot stronger than “participated.” Google “resume action verbs” for many excellent lists if you get stuck.
Conclusions and Next Steps
It would be very easy to create an “old school” resume employment history section today using MS-Word. You could list your employers and job titles, and then paste in your job description. The resume will not offer information that differentiates you from your competition.
Accomplishment-based resumes generate better results because they communicate your unique value proposition. Hiring managers will be prompted by resume content to ask about accomplishments you are prepared to discuss. I’d love to read your experiences and answer your questions. You are invited to post your comments below.