Updated 12 June 2020
The most effective type of CV or resume is one which focuses on an individual’s achievements.
The simple fact of being responsible for something impressive in a past job doesn’t necessarily mean you excelled at it. An achievement-focused CV hones in on the results you got – rather than the duties you performed – to help a future employer see your potential.
Many job-seekers do not include professional accomplishments, often because they base their CV purely on the job description. In this article, we'll show you how to do it effectively.
Imagine for a moment that you are responsible for interviewing candidates for a position in your own firm. In front of you sit 20 CVs; each is well presented and features similar qualifications, a number of relevant past jobs and appropriate work experience placements.
How do you choose who to interview?
Creating a CV focused on tangible strengths, as opposed to simply listing responsibilities, will help to get your CV noticed and increase your chances of securing an interview.
Consider these two examples:
Which would you be more attracted to? An achievement-focused CV proves your past performance and gives an interviewer confidence that you will work hard to get results.
Your achievements are the things you did which made a positive impact and contribution to your employer’s business. The skills and knowledge you'd need to perform your everyday work duties do not count.
The most powerful achievements are those which are quantifiable, so include numbers or percentages where possible.
The statement, ‘Increased sales revenue’, for example, is stronger if the reader knows by how much you increased sales revenue. You could try: ‘Increased sales by 15%’ or ‘Increased sales by £10,000’.
It’s fine to estimate if you don’t know the exact number, as long as you state that you are estimating. It’s important to be confident that what you are saying is fairly accurate, and can be confirmed if an interviewer asks a previous employer for a reference.
If some of your best results were achieved as part of a team, you can still include them. For example, ‘Member of a high-performing team that won the regional support award last year.’
Highlighting team performance demonstrates that you’re a good team player – but it doesn’t always tell a prospective employer how you contributed to the team’s success.
For maximum impact, you need to make sure that you include specific details of the role you played. Don’t leave the person reading your CV to guess what your contribution was.
It takes thought to establish what your best achievements are. If you’ve not had a sales or marketing role, it can feel difficult to quantify your achievements in past jobs.
Other ways that you may have contributed to a business could include:
One of the best ways to identify your career accomplishments is to look at your skills and previous job duties one-by-one. As you go through them, ask yourself what positive difference you made to your employer while you were doing that particular activity.
You can also review work-related feedback you’ve been given; for example, the results of performance reviews.
People with little or no work experience should still aim to include achievements on their CV. If you’re in this position, it’s fine to include accomplishments from other parts of your life, as long as they are relevant to the job applied for.
Consider the following areas when thinking about which achievements you could include:
With all of the above, try to make the detail around the achievement as relevant to the job you are applying for as possible.
Imagine that you won the ‘Student Ambassador of the Year’ award and are applying for an office manager role.
Instead of saying: ‘I was awarded this accolade because I helped others find their classrooms and gave out leaflets.’
Say something like: ‘I was awarded this accolade for my work ensuring that students felt looked after at all times. I responded quickly and efficiently to issues students were having and worked hard to resolve them.’
By doing this you are painting a picture of how successful you would be as an office manager – looking after staff and dealing with problems as they arise.
Debate exists as to whether personal achievements should be included in a CV.
Some say they should, because it demonstrates what kind of person you are.
Others feel that the employer just wants to see that you will get results, and will worry about whether you are a good fit personality-wise once they meet you at interview.
The best approach is to go with what you have; if you’re a student fresh out of university then it’s likely you will need to include some personal achievements. However, if you have had a few previous roles and some great achievements relevant to the role you are applying for, don’t waste space talking about what you achieved outside of work.
Like any detail in your CV, it’s important to make sure your achievements are relevant. Don’t be afraid to omit those that aren't – have a list of your achievements saved in a document and pick from that for each position you are applying for.
Tweak the order of your achievements according to the job you are applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a sales position, don’t start your achievements section with, ‘Cut office recycling down by 10%’ when further down the bullet points you have, ‘Increased sales by 30%’.
Remember not to confuse duties or responsibilities with achievements. Your key skills have enabled you to secure a previous role at a certain level of responsibility, but you need to talk about the impact you made in that role.
Here are some examples of how duties might be written in a CV:
Here are examples of how you might write achievements based around those duties:
Don’t feel you have to add too much detail to your list of achievements – excite the reader with some impressive figures and then save the rest for interview.
A popular choice for the placement of accomplishments in a CV is a dedicated achievements section. It can be a great way to sell yourself to the employer and get them to read on; use simple bullet points (three maximum) to capture the reader’s attention.
Alternatively, you can split up your achievements and put them in the appropriate sections (personal, professional, education, etc.)
If you’ve got several relevant previous positions, you might want to feature an achievements section for each of them. So, a job entry might look something like this:
'Jan 2016–Nov 2018
'I led a team of five in planning and executing media-focused conferences around the world.
- Putting together an appealing agenda
- Sourcing speakers
- Promoting the event
- Devising sponsorship packages
- Managing the budget
- Liaising with suppliers
- Increased sales for annual conference by 70% over two years.
- Achieved a 30% saving on outgoings by reworking the budget template.
- Sold all sponsorship packages for the 2018 Media Expo.'
A CV which simply lists the responsibilities you had in a job does not provide any evidence to suggest your employer was pleased with what you did. By including achievements in your CV, you are giving the reader reasons to invite you to interview.
When it comes to achievements in your CV, don’t stretch the truth. Make sure that everything you say you did could be backed up by your referees should they be asked. If you were involved in a team achievement but you can’t talk about the details with authority – don’t include it.
Your accomplishments in past jobs give the prospective employer a good indication of how you are likely to perform in the job they are advertising. Remember, powerful stats and impressive statements are difficult to ignore.
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