Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer that many of you will recognize. It goes roughly: a�?Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.a�? What does this have to do with looking for a job?
There’s a ton of unfairness in the job search process. As a candidate, you cana��t control whether a company requires a work visa, whether some executivea��s kid has an inside track on your dream job, or whether your interviewer has some private or unconscious bias that will hurt your chances. Ia��ll write about some of these — especiallyA�unconscious biasA�– in the future.
For now, I want to focus on the most controllable element of a job search: your resume. The sole purpose of a resume is to get you past that first screen and into an interview. In my last post, a�?The Biggest Mistakes I See on Resumes, and How to Correct Them,a�? I covered the all-too-common mistakes that knock applicants out of consideration at many companies. Leta��s assume youa��ve read that post and scrubbed your resume so ita��s concise, error-free, legible, and honest. Youa��re already better off than at least half the applicants out there.
But how do you make your accomplishments stand out? Therea��s a simple formula. Every one of your accomplishments should be presented as:
Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z]
In other words, start with an active verb, numerically measure what you accomplished, provide a baseline for comparison, and detail what you did to achieve your goal. Consider the following two descriptions of the same work, and ask yourself which would look better on a resume:
- Studied financial performance of companies and made investment recommendation
- Improved portfolio performance by 12% ($1.2M) over one year by refining cost of capital calculations for information-poor markets and re-weighting portfolio based on resulting valuations
The addition of the a�?12% improvementa�? makes the statement more powerful. Adding a�?($1.2M)a�? anticipates the reviewera��s question about whether 12% is a big deal or not. If you improved investment results by 12%, but that meant going from $100 to $112, thata��s not too impressive. But adding $1.2M to the starting portfolio value of $10 million is huge. Explaining how you did it adds credibility and gives insight into your strengths.
Several examples inspired by actual resumes will show you what I mean. The first bullet is typical: not bad, but certain not to stand out. The second is a much better version of a similar accomplishment from a different resume. My own suggestions are inA�italics.
College student who is a leader in her sorority
- Managed sorority budget
- Managed $31,000 Spring 2014 budget and invested idle funds in appropriate high-yielding capital notes
- Managed $31,000 Spring 2014 budget and investedA�$10,000 inA�idle funds in appropriate high-yielding capital notesA�returning 5% over the year
College student participating in a leadership program
- Member of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT)
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- Selected as one of 230 for this 18-month professional development program for high-achieving diverse talent
- Selected as one of 230A�participants nationwideA�for this 18-month professional development program for high-achieving diverse talentA�based on leadership potential, ability to contribute to this MLT cohort, and academic success
Finance or consulting professional
- Responsible for negotiating service contracts with XYZ
- Negotiated 30% ($500k) reduction in costs with XYZ to perform post-delivery support
- Negotiated 30% ($500k) reduction in costs with XYZ to perform post-delivery supportA�by designing and using results from an online auction of multiple vendors
Sales support associate
- Achieved annual business plan commitments for volumes, model mix, wholesale revenue, selling expenses and brand
- As a team member, contributed to 21% increase in advertiser spend by achieving 158% of target number of customer contactsA�(80 contacts per week)A�and 192% of target interaction depthA�(20 minutes per customer)
Candidate with skill-based resume
- Skills: Excellent customer service skills. Friendly and positive attitude
- Skills: Excellent customer service skillsA�and positive attitude as demonstrated by receiving employee of the month in four consecutive months in 2014
- Reduce cost of goods sold strategy: Five years of line and supply chain management experience at XYZ distribution centers and managing outsourced third-party logistics providers
- Achieved 30% logistics cost savings by reducing returns, use of overtime, excess and obsolete inventory and targeted outsourcing
- Achieved 30% logistics cost savingsA�($900k) over five yearsA�by reducing returnsA�(-8%), use of overtimeA�(-7%),A�andA�excess and obsolete inventoryA�(-5%), andA�throughA�targeted outsourcingA�(-10%)
- Studied the branding and marketing strategies of XYZ. Analyzed the pricing strategies of XYZ in comparison to competitors
- Led cross-functional 10-member team to develop and implement global advertising strategy for $X million XYZ brand
- Led cross-functional 10-member team to develop and implement global advertising strategy for $X million XYZ brandA�resulting in 25-point increase in brand recall, 12% improvement in net promoter score, and contributing to 18% year-over-year sales improvement ($XM)
Veteran transitioning to the civilian sector
- Worked as a trainer with deploying units to ready their medical personnel for combat action and trauma medicine
- One of three officers selected to lead comprehensive redesign of the XYZ training program for X,000 Marines and sailors, increasing measured unit proficiency by 20%A�[This one is great — I wouldna��t change a thing!]
You might feel like ita��s hard to measure your work, but there is almost always something you can point to that differentiates you from others. Back when I was a waiting tables at the Olive Garden, I would have written, a�?Exhibited the spirit of Hospitaliano by achieving 120% of dessert sales targets (compared to an average of 98%) and averaging 26% in tips per night.a�?
Well, maybe I wouldna��t have mentioned the Hospitaliano….
And even if your accomplishments dona��t seem that impressive to you, recruiters will nevertheless love the specificity. a�?Served 85 customers per day with 100% accuracya�? sounds good, even if the customers are people you rang up at a grocery store. Ita��s even more impressive if you can add, a�?a��compared to an average of 70 customers at 90% accuracy for my peers.a�? Providing data helps. Making it meaningful with a comparison helps even more.
Niebuhr said to change the things you can control. I agree. You cana��t control the biases and attention span of whomever reviews your resume. You do control whata��s on the page in front of him or her. Use the formula a�?accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z]a�? and recruiters will take notice.