06/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Don't Give Me That "I've Got No Accomplishments" Baloney

Dear Liz,

I have seven years of work experience but no accomplishments. I did my job every day and that was it. I didn't make any huge deals for the company or win any awards or anything like that. What do I put down for my resume bullets?



Liz Replies:

Dear Malina,

You're not used to thinking about your background through an 'accomplishments' lens.
If you're like most of us, you're used to thinking about your past jobs like this:

"I created the X-10 report every Friday for our CFO, and I reconciled return authorizations and processed credits for our clients. I took care of calls from Sales and answered questions for product managers."

That's the way most of us are used to thinking about our backgrounds. If we step back and think about it, that's a very strange way to talk about a job history. It's like you're standing outside the room watching yourself work, watching the action through a glass window. You're telling us what was happening, without telling us why you did any of these things or why they mattered. We describe our work backgrounds the way a primate specialist describes the behavior of great apes in the wild:

"Male grooms female, female pushes him away to nurse infant. Juvenile reaches for a branch and swats a fly."

What's missing from these sterile descriptions is the blood and guts of the story. We need the punchline: why you built that report every Friday, what the CFO did with it once she got it, and why either of you bothered to look at the dang thing in the first place. We need to know why salespeople were calling you, and what you said to them, and what happened as a result. What did you do exactly for those Product Managers, as you answered their questions? What did the information you provided for them enable them to do?

We want the story, Malina.

Mini dramas play out in every department of every company every day, but those human stories seldom make it onto a resume. If they did, prospective employers would get a better sense of our power!

We're not going to say in a resume:

"This wench Tamrin had always hated me, and one Friday she got her revenge when she saw a chance to shank me in the staff meeting." That's a good opener, but it has nothing to do with your qualifications for your next Accounting job. (Too bad.)

However, we might say:

"We were under the gun to create sales forecasts for our JV partner and a major investor, so I merged three existing spreadsheets to create a simple forecasting model over a weekend."

You've got accomplishments Malina, but you may have to work a bit, first to recall them and then to frame them into bullets for your resume.

Here's an accomplishment-jogging cheat sheet to get you started on digging those accomplishments out of your memory banks and claiming them:

  • Think of a time when you changed a process that wasn't working very well, to make it smoother, faster or more logical.

  • Think of a time when you got two groups (or two people) that weren't working well together, to sit down and hash things out.
  • Think of a time when you got a customer or a decision-maker inside the company over a philosophical hurdle, by arguing your case and marshalling evidence.
  • Think of a time when you calmed a crisis situation.
  • Think of a time when you started a new system, a meeting, or a report that made a positive difference.
  • Think of a time when you came up with a new communication vehicle - perhaps a memo or an event or a podcast or a presentation - that made a complicated issue clearer.
  • Think of a time when you trained or mentored someone, even if it wasn't in your job description.
  • Think of a time when you took care of an important customer or partner.
  • Think of a time when you purchased something in a smarter way or for less money, or you negotiated an important matter on the company's behalf.
  • Think of a time when you sold one of your big ideas to the leaders in your company.
  • Think of a time when you convinced a customer to buy, or a job applicant to join the company, or someone to partner with your firm.
  • Think of a time when you wrote a white paper or report or flowchart or built a spreadsheet that helped someone make an important decision more thoughtfully.
  • Cheers --