Struggling To Uncover Your Key Achievements? 25 Questions to Help Identify Your Strengths

Struggling To Uncover Your Key Achievements? 25 Questions to Help Identify Your Strengths

Most career advisors, HR professionals, and recruiters suggest including information about your key accomplishments and achievements in your resume or CV.

Why?  Because you may have as little as 6 seconds to impress a hiring manager or recruiter as they ‘scan’ through a pile of resumes, selecting candidates to take through to the next stage of the process.

It isn’t uncommon for recruiters and employers to receive literally hundreds of applications for a single advertised role. If your application is one of those, then you want it to be noticed, right?

Including compelling and evidence-based examples of ways that you have achieved strong results, demonstrated superior performance, and added value to an organisation will definitely help you to stand out.

So why don’t people include key achievements in their resume?

Here’s the thing.  In my experience working as a career coach and outplacement specialist, I’ve found that the majority of candidates don’t include information about their key accomplishments and achievements in their resumes, even when they KNOW that this is important.

Many people really struggle when trying to identify what they’ve achieved throughout their professional life – even those who have a highly successful ‘track record’.

Why?  Here are some reasons.

Some people forget.  Often people simply forget what they’ve achieved throughout their career.  Anyone who has ever been through a robust recruitment and selection process in the past has probably realized that keeping track of your key achievements as they occur is a really great idea.  However in reality, this rarely occurs.  Life is just too busy.

Others underestimate themselves.  Sometimes people just don’t recognise that their previous successes are significant – and worth mentioning when trying to ‘sell’ themselves to a potential employer or recruiter.  This is particularly common for those who are extremely driven and achievement-oriented, and always work hard to deliver outstanding results.  Sometimes it takes an external, ‘outsider’ perspective for these individuals to realise that the things they’ve done are actually pretty incredible.

Some are lacking self-confidence.  Others just don’t want to ‘sell’ themselves or talk about why they are better than other candidates. It makes them uncomfortable, so they avoid it.  Consequently, they find it difficult to put their achievements down on paper (and talk about them in interviews).  It is well known that women are particularly prone to this ‘confidence gap’, regularly downplaying themselves when compared to men.

Do any of these sound like you?  If so, read on.  Hopefully I can help.

25 Questions to help you ‘brainstorm’ your key achievements

Over time I’ve developed a list of questions that I regularly use during career coaching sessions when trying to uncover and explore any significant achievements, successes, or milestones that people have achieved throughout their career.

So far this list has proven really useful, so I’d like to share it with you.  Feel free to share it with others, too.

Ask yourself each of these 25 questions when developing a list of key career achievements and accomplishments.  Hopefully some ‘gems’ will emerge!

In the past, have you ever…

  1. Identified a way for a company to reduce costs or save money?
  2. Increased sales or market share through your actions?
  3. Managed a particularly large or complex work project?
  4. Improved productivity or operations within your area?
  5. Enhanced the accuracy of an existing process for analyzing data?
  6. Demonstrated exceptional leadership or people management skills?
  7. Exceeded the expectations of your customers or colleagues?
  8. Identified or implemented a more effective work procedure, process, or system?
  9. Dealt with a particularly challenging or demanding stakeholder?
  10. Taken an action which was ‘above and beyond’ in order to deliver good customer service?
  11. Generated a creative or innovative solution to a problem?
  12. Improved customer satisfaction by more effectively meeting customer needs?
  13. Successfully led a team through a particularly challenging problem or situation?
  14. Motivated someone who required some additional encouragement or support?
  15. Overcome a particularly challenging obstacle or barrier to success?
  16. Turned around a failing business unit, division, or company?
  17. Worked exceptionally hard to deliver strong results?
  18. Outperformed all others when meeting targets or quotas?
  19. Stayed under budget for several years in a row?
  20. Consistently surpassed previous performance against set targets?
  21. Received formal recognition or an award for your efforts?
  22. Been promoted very quickly due to outstanding performance?
  23. Gone out of your way to train, coach or mentor others within the workplace?
  24. Been elected the spokesperson or leader of a group you were involved in?
  25. Significantly contributed to a charity through volunteer work?

Of course, don’t limit yourself to answering only these questions – they are simply designed to get you thinking of specific situations that you may be able to write about.

Some final tips

A couple of final tips – it can be useful to employ the ‘STAR’ method when trying to recall important details of key achievements – that is, to describe the Situation or Task, the Action you took, and the Result of the actions that were taken.

And wherever possible, results should be explained in specific, concrete and quantifiable terms (e.g. numbers, percentages, ratios, financial figures, etc.).

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Do Recruiters Really Spend Only 6 Seconds Reviewing Your Resume?

Do Recruiters Really Spend Only 6 Seconds Reviewing Your Resume?

A while ago I came across a statistic claiming that recruiters spend an average of only six seconds reviewing an individual resume when screening job applicants.

6 seconds!?  Wow.  Doesn’t give you much time to impress them, huh?  Could this really be true?

Based on my personal experience in speaking with recruiters and hiring managers, I suspected that while six seconds might not be entirely accurate, there was probably an element of truth in this.  Most recruiters and employers receive literally hundreds of applications for a single advertised role.  Who has the time to carefully read through all of those?  Nobody, probably.  Even spending five minutes per resume can quickly add up to hours of work if you’ve received lots of applications.  As a quick example, 5 minutes spent reviewing 75 different job applications adds up to over 6 hours of work.

That’s six hours of work before the most time consuming activities associated with a recruitment process have even started – scheduling and conducting several rounds of interviews, negotiating salaries, arranging paperwork, contacting referees, and so on

The upshot of this?  There’s a pretty good chance that your resume really is being ‘scanned’ (rather than carefully reviewed) during the early stages of a recruitment process.

But only for six seconds?  Really?  I wondered whether this statistic was really accurate.

Being the evaluative psychologist that I am, I decided to track down the source of this six-second notion and see whether there was any truth in it.  It didn’t take me long to find the original report here.

Here’s what I discovered.  Yep, the research is definitely flawed in several ways, suggesting that some of the quoted statistics are not entirely reliable and accurate.  A little more research revealed that others have arrived at a similar conclusion.  It was also pretty obvious that the report was produced in part to market resume writing services, meaning that it definitely needed to be interpreted with a ‘grain of salt’.

But here’s the thing…

Despite all of this, the report still provided some interesting insights into the behaviour of recruiters when reviewing resumes and LinkedIn profiles. The researchers used “eye tracking” technology over a 10-week period to record and analyse the amount of time spent looking at different sections within resumes and LinkedIn profiles. They also looked at the overall time spent reviewing each source of information.

The findings?  Recruiters provided superior “usability” ratings to resumes that were evenly formatted and organised effectively, claiming that these were “clearer” and easier to read. Recruiters also spent longer reviewing certain sections of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, with other sections being largely overlooked.  Another interesting finding – eye tracking technology found that recruiters spent 19% of the total time spent on a LinkedIn profile looking at the candidate’s picture.  That statistic made me feel justified in insisting that my career coaching participants always have at least a half-decent, professional looking LinkedIn photo (probably the subject of another blog post).

So what does all of this mean for job seekers?

Well, whether it is 6 seconds or 6 minutes, chances are you will have very little time to convince busy recruiters and employers that you are a superstar candidate who will rock their world.

Having a well-written, carefully formatted, and organised resume will help. And having the most important, keyword-rich and job-relevant information upfront and on the first page – ‘above the fold’ if possible – will also help.  Taken together, these two small steps will significantly boost your chances of ensuring that anyone who is ‘scanning’ your resume sees the important stuff right away.

The key message here? Maybe it isn’t entirely accurate that recruiters spend only six seconds reviewing your resume.

But do yourself a favour and simply pretend that it’s true.  And make that 6 seconds really count.

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