The Most Common CV and Resume Mistakes Part 4: Responsibilities Not Achievements

Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series detailing common CV and resume mistakes. In case you missed them, check out parts one, two and three.

6228420376_a422b6d591_oBy Shannon Houde

When you’re putting together your CV, do you find yourself going back over your old job descriptions, copying and pasting the functions, tasks and responsibilities you had in previous roles?

We’ve all done it, and most people still do. The truth is, these details tell a hiring manager practically nothing about you, but lots about the role as described in your contract. It leaves the reader with nada, zip, zilch about who you are, what value you added to the company, or why anyone should make the effort to pick up the phone and call you in for an interview.

If you’re female, it’s even more likely that you’re underselling yourself. Anyone who’s casually glanced at the back cover of “Lean In” is aware that women often pitch low when it comes to their career achievements. Research also shows that men tend to overestimate past performance about 15 percent more than women do. The reasons for this are complex, but the solution — you’ll be glad to hear — is simple, and it works for both sexes. The big secret? It’s all about language.

In Part 1 of this series on CV and resume mistakes, I explained why your CV should be all about the market: appealing to the market, meeting the market’s needs, using the market’s language, communicating what the market wants to hear.

In Part 2, I walked you through a deep, analytical dive into the job description to figure out what the market really wants and tailor your CV to nail it. In Part 3, I took you on a step-by-step journey to creating a personal profile that screams ‘hire me’, without making you cringe.

This month, I’ll be drilling down on the final part of the CV puzzle: accomplishment statements. What they are, why they work, and how to write them to help land your dream sustainability job.

In my various professional incarnations — hiring manager, entrepreneur, corporate social responsibility (CSR) corporate consultant, impact career coach, to name but a few — I’ve seen more CVs than you’ve seen job adverts. The candidates that stand out are the ones that use the ‘career history’ section to highlight key achievements that demonstrate tangible things they’ve actually done. The ones that really shine select statements that match up to the essential and desirable criteria in the job description.

Wondering how to get started? Look over your current CV or resume, and try summarizing it into 12 accomplishment statements using the language framework below. These statements should be framed around the impact/result of your action, indicate how you took that action – i.e. what skills you used, include context and numbers to make it come to life — and relate back to the key criteria in the job description. A good accomplishment statement has four parts:

1. The Wow: Start with a verb that shows purpose/results and that impresses (example: increased, propelled, enabled, raised, grew, won, solved).

2. The So What: Front-load the statement with the larger purpose (or result/impact) of why the company or client wanted you to achieve this for them.

3. The Where, When, How Many: Include the scope where possible (number of clients, timespan, amount of money, company names, awards, etc.).

4. The How: End with a drill-down description of three tasks you actually did, specifically what skills you used.

Here are some examples:

Before
Supported new business development activities including writing proposals and presentations to prospective clients.

After
Won £50K of new sustainability consulting contracts over six months from retail and FMCG clients through identifying Walmart and P&G’s needs, writing proposals, and delivering pitch presentations to four directors.

Before
Influenced and inspired businesses at C-suite and board levels to understand and act upon the connection between sustainability and commercial growth.

After
Led groundbreaking aviation working group for United, Delta and American to achieve joint commercial-scale uptake of low carbon renewable jet fuel through organizing inaugural meeting in San Francisco and collaborating across 10 global stakeholders for funding.

See the difference? It’s a no-brainer! By highlighting your accomplishments in specific terms rather than your generic responsibilities, you’re maximizing your experience and showing the hiring manager just what they’ll be getting on day one if they take you on.

For more advice on creating a killer CV, sign up for a 1-hour critique.

Photo by Steven Depolo, via Flickr.

Shannon Houde is founder of Walk of Life Consulting, the first international career coaching business focused solely on the environmental, sustainability and corporate responsibility fields.

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