On a Résumé, Tell What You Accomplished

Don't bore people with a tedious recital of your duties, your reports, and your projects

Reading résumés is a love/hate thing for me. As an HR person, I look at so many that sometimes I feel I can't bear to see another. On the other hand, from time to time I come across a résumé so terrific that it restores my faith in humanity (or, at least, my faith in the résumé-writing population). These rare, special, and really good résumés have one thing in common: They devote more ink to a job-seeker's accomplishments than to a set of tedious lists of his or her past duties. And that is a critical distinction.

Most résumés spend a lot of time and space—way, way too much space—talking about what a job-holder did every day at Jobs A, B, and C. People go into excruciating detail about the reports they compiled, the meetings they attended, and the projects they worked on—back in 1987. The fact is, no one in a decision-making capacity cares about those things.

My rule of thumb for résumé writers is this: Don't tell us what you did at 9 o'clock and 10 o'clock in the morning back at XYZ Co. We can guess. If your title says you were a director of business development for a dot-com startup, we won't be shocked to see that you led a team that made deals that were about generating revenue and page views for an Internet company. We are all familiar with the lists of tasks that most working people are assigned. Listing those tasks on your résumé is a waste of space.

Leaving Things in Better Shape Than Before

Résumé readers like me want to know something else altogether. We want to know what you made happen on the job, what you accomplished. As you left each position, we want to know what processes, programs, and situations were in better shape than they were when you arrived. Recruiters and hiring managers are dying to know, What's in your wake?

For instance, let's say you were a developer at your last job. You were responsible for writing code. Great. What did your code allow your department and company to do better, faster, cheaper—or that they weren't able to do at all before? Maybe you were part of a task force that allowed IT to work with department heads in a proactive way, rather than just responding to needs, cutting down on waiting time to get issues resolved.

If you were a marketer, we are less interested in the whiz-bang marketing campaigns you designed than in their effect. It's far more helpful to your job search for your résumé to say "Launched marketing campaign for our 2007 product release that created $500K in advance orders and first-year sales of $100 million" than to say "Responsible for online and print collateral creation." What good are the marketing materials, after all, if they don't find their mark?

A Confidence Boost

We don't care so much about the tasks that you looked after. We want to know how they helped your employer's business grow, or retain clients, or reduce costs. If you browse through your list of accomplishments and can't see that link between your work and the company's fortunes, you'll need to do some thinking. And chances are, you will come up with things. If your work wasn't useful to the company in some concrete way, it's unlikely it would have assigned the work to you. Make sure you can see that connection and then articulate it before you send out one more résumé.

Hiring managers don't want to know how you whiled away your time at your past jobs. They can guess most of that. They want to know how your time on the job affected the business in a positive way. Here's the great part.

As you begin to list your accomplishments from each job you've held, pinpointing what's in your wake from each assignment, your résumé is not the only thing that will get stronger. Your confidence should improve, as well. And that can be a game-changer when you're looking.