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-Read the article below and summarize your thoughts, response and what you have learned into one college paragraph.
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer that many of you will recognize. It goes roughly: “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.”
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 can’t control whether a company requires a work visa, whether some executive’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. I’ll write about some of these — especially unconscious bias — 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, “The Biggest Mistakes I See on Resumes, and How to Correct Them,” I covered the all-too-common mistakes that knock applicants out of consideration at many companies. Let’s assume you’ve read that post and scrubbed your resume so it’s concise, error-free, legible, and honest. You’re already better off than at least half the applicants out there.
But how do you make your accomplishments stand out? There’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:
The addition of the “12% improvement” makes the statement more powerful. Adding “($1.2M)” anticipates the reviewer’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, that’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 in italics.
College student who is a leader in her sorority
College student participating in a leadership program
Finance or consulting professional
Sales support associate
Candidate with skill-based resume
Veteran transitioning to the civilian sector
You might feel like it’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, “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.”
Well, maybe I wouldn’t have mentioned the Hospitaliano….
And even if your accomplishments don’t seem that impressive to you, recruiters will nevertheless love the specificity. “Served 85 customers per day with 100% accuracy” sounds good, even if the customers are people you rang up at a grocery store. It’s even more impressive if you can add, “…compared to an average of 70 customers at 90% accuracy for my peers.” Providing data helps. Making it meaningful with a comparison helps even more.
Niebuhr said to change the things you can control. I agree. You can’t control the biases and attention span of whomever reviews your resume. You do control what’s on the page in front of him or her. Use the formula “accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z]” and recruiters will take notice.