I frequently help clients prepare for interviews. Almost everyone begins with a worry about gaps in work history, lack of experience, or weak computer skills. What’s wrong with this kind of thinking? It ignores a very important fact: The employer likes something about the client that she will invest time on an interview. That means they see strengths that should be emphasized during the interview.
I’m not saying that we should not worry about preparing for any possible obstacle before an interview. Be ready to speak to any possible weaknesses. However, you should spend twice as much time thinking about your strengths and how to present them. Start with the job post. What do you have that the employer is looking for? Then go to the website and other sources to learn about the company. Again, think about how you can make a contribution. Practice telling stories about your achievements. The employer needs to see why you’re the best candidate for the job. You won’t be at your best if you’re only working about weak points. Play your strongest hand. Show why you’re the best.
In writing a resume, it is important to show how you are qualified. In recent posts, I’ve talked about reviewing job postings and speaking to the employers’ needs. At the same time, a good resume will show what makes you better than other qualified candidates. To do that, you need to include relevant achievements and success stories. How do you define these elements? My simple method is to think about what you’ve done that goes beyond the normal job duties and has a positive impact on the company.
Here are some verbs that might help you identify achievements and tell your success stories:
A good resume will blend your experience and skills with a relevant list of achievements. Use achievements to show your next employer how you can do more than just “do the job.”
Here are some questions that can guide you in identifying achievements. Do they have to be quantifiable? No. If you have numbers, great. If not, tell your success story in the best way that shows your value to you next employer.
What have I done to help my employer make money?
What have I done to help my employer save money?
What have I done to make the company more efficient?
How have I exceeded performance goals?
What has happened because I took the initiative to do something?
Has an employer said something about me in a review that speaks to my character?
Have I trained or mentored an employee who took on a position of greater responsibility?
Have I been selected for special projects or assignments?
ave I won any awards?
A client sent me a job posting for a technical position. It posed this excellent question: “How do you stay one step ahead of others in your field?”
The answer to this question will help you set yourself apart from your competition both in your resume and during interviews. Review what you have done professionally over the last year. Make a list of the things you have done to improve you skills and performance. This list could include:
1. Education or training
2. Publication in a professional journal
3. Professional conferences
4. Being selected for a special project that extended your responsibilities
5. Being recognized with an award or commendation
6. Self-taught skills that you have used on the job
7. Learning from a mentor or expert in your field
This list does not contain all the possible ways you could have improved your skills. Keep asking yourself this question: What sets me apart from my competition? Don’t focus on what makes other people good. That’s too easy, and it doesn’t help you. Similarly, don’t dwell on what you haven’t accomplished. That’s self-defeating. Be positive. What have you done over the last year that makes you very good at what you do? Use the answer to that question to improve your professional reputation, update your resume, and enhance your interviewing skills.
You know that the job market is very competitive. Companies want the best talent. Show them why you are a leader, someone they have to hire.
School starts next week, and a logical assumption would be that most jobs for teachers are filled. Once upon a time that would have been true. Now teachers (at least in Chicago) will be hired and laid off based on the number of students attending school in the first weeks. Teachers who might be laid off or looking for work should prepare a good resume.
For a public school teacher in grades K-12 every resume needs to list qualifications (education, certification, and relevant endorsements). It should also describe what classes you have taught and how you have participated in any activities that have improved the school. For example, some teachers work in before/after school tutoring programs. Others coach or run music/art programs.
As school districts have focused more on tests, teacher also need to be able to show success stories. Improving test scores is a good way to catch a Principal’s attention. Similarly, any teacher who has had success in fund raising or grant writing needs to tell those stories.
Any teacher who loses a job at the beginning of the year has a tough task ahead. That job will be made easier by writing a resume that tells potential employers why they need you on their faculty. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Take credit for how you have helped your students.
Good resumes tell an employer more than why you are qualified for a job. They also demonstrate what sets you apart from other prospective employees. One way to identify your strengths is to ask yourself: What do I like to do? In most cases, we are strongest when performing tasks we enjoy. Another way to highlight what makes you a cut above the competition is to play up you achievements and success stories. Be sure that you are showing how your action benefitted the company. In a competitive job market, it’s not enough to say, “I can do the job.” Employers want workers who bring something extra. Show how you can do that. Start by selling your strengths.
One of the resu-myths that are repeated again and again on the web is a resume must have numbers to support achievement. Is it good to have quantified achievements? Of course. However, some success stories don’t involve numbers. Employers will still want to know this information, and it will help you land interviews.
Here are some examples of achievements that don’t involve numbers. The occupation related to the achievement follows the achievement in brackets. This information would not be included in your resume:
• Created spreadsheets to track office expenses, income from each unit (church), and outstanding accounts. [bookkeeper]
• Developed literature circles to improve skills in reading, writing, and presentation through drama and art. [teacher]
• Played a key role on teams that adjusted work force levels after acquisitions and downsizing. [HR management]
• Won several awards for exceeding sales goals. [sales]
• Opened new markets in Chicago andMiami, including high end accounts with boutique retailers (2011). [business development/sales]
• Collaborated with a Product Manager to launch a new product that required input from several departments. [tech project manager]
• Created a database with contact information for health educators throughout the state. [administrative assistant]
You can tell a success story without using numbers. The key is to start by identifying the result and then determine what you did to make it happen. That’s the formula for writing success stories, whether or not they have numbers.
While it’s important to let an employer know that you have the experience, knowledge, and skill to do a job, it’s equally important to highlight achievements. By telling success stories, you let an employer see how you will bring value, how you will do more than the day-to-day duties.
Here are some examples of success stories:
• Developed literature circles to improve skills in reading, writing, and presentation through drama and art. (Teacher)
• Increased weekly sales for the clients key brands (Sears, Wal-Mart) by developing strong, research-based advertising plans. (Marketing)
• Led an internal training on employee benefits plans. (Human Resources & Benefits)
• Created a database with contact information for health educators. (Administrative Assistant)
• Increased collections for overdue accounts by 45%. (Collections, Customer Service)
• Led an in-service training on crisis intervention. (Nursing)
Except for one of the examples above, these achievements do not quantify achievements. Don’t put numbers in your resume just to have numbers. Let your success stories work their magic, and employers will want to meet you.
Employers want workers who have the skills needed to fill an open position. At the same time, they want someone who will work hard and bring extra value to the company. One way to show yourself as this kind of ideal employee is to list an example or two in your resume of ways you have shown initiative.
For example, you could write:
• Took initiative to launch a new tutoring program that improved reading test scores.
• Demonstrated initiative by training employees before/after business hours.
• Completed projects on time by working with focus and self-motivation.
• Solved problems for clients by being resourceful and working extra hours to provide same-day results.
• Exceeded goals for performance by taking the initiative to pursue a new client base (students).
When writing or updating your resume, try to find a way to present yourself as the kind of employee every boss would want: someone who works hard and looks for new ways to improve performance.
Some clients will come to me with drafts of resumes that they think are very good. Their confidence is based on the source of their resume – their current/former employer’s job descriptions.
There are three problems with this approach. First, companies write job descriptions to fit their needs, not to sell you to your next employer. Often they emphasize skills that are not what a job seeker wants to emphasize. A second problem is that most job descriptions contain the phrase: “other duties as needed.” For many workers, those “other duties” are some of their most important job functions. However, they leave them off the resume because they were not listed in the job description. Finally, no job description will list your achievements, which many employers want to see. They are not only looking for people who have experience. They want candidates who have success stories.
Don’t trap yourself by relying on a job posting when writing your resume. Think about the employers you want to work for. What skills and experience are they looking for? That should be the foundation for your resume. Focus on the job you want, not the one you want to leave.
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