Artwork by: Pablo Cammello
If you feel qualified but your resume isn’t doing you justice, you might be listing your key achievements in a way that doesn’t benefit you. This guide will show you the right way to do it!
Resumes are dynamic tools and should be utilized as such. Depending on who you are and what you’re wanting to display on your resume, there are a number of different formats to use for highlighting your achievements. From a skills-based approach to an academic style, the options are varied. We’ll talk about the most common ways to list your key achievements to make your resume stand out.
In this article, you’ll find:
Examples of how to write achievements on your resume
How to quantify your achievements
Which resume format to choose based on your achievements
Let’s start at the beginning–what even are work-related achievements? Here is a quick breakdown of what we mean by achievements.
Gone are the days of listing your job duties or responsibilities on a resume. Recruiters don’t care that you know how to use a scanner, are a good communicator, or are experienced in team management. Instead, what recruiters want to know about is what you accomplished.
Turning your duties into accomplishments is the new standard for resume writing.
Here’s why–it changes the tone from, “I have done this” and makes it become, “I am so good at this, it benefits the company”. Simply put, skills represent knowledge. Achievements act as performance indicators.
One way to think of it is as listing your duties, but with a number attached.
Consider the following example:
“Team lead” → “Oversight of 12 direct reports, 45 indirect reports, and 220 participants”
By quantifying your responsibilities, you speak to the extent of your capacity in that position. While the role of a team lead or manager comes with many diverse responsibilities, people who haven’t held those roles don’t know everything it encompasses.
Overseeing staff and participants is a massive undertaking and is only a small part of being a manager. By quantifying that one duty, as in the example above, you’re elaborating on it to embody the whole breadth of the skill. Even if someone has been a manager, the job and its duties change with every single industry and employer. Quantifying it gives an exact image of what you achieved.
This concept can be applied to just about every responsibility that you might have in your job. Break it up into pieces, and contemplate everything that actually goes into the task.
You probably have more achievements than you realize. Check out these examples of how to turn common workplace duties into resume-worthy achievements.
Task, Skill, or Responsibility
Reliable verbal, digital, and in-person communication in order to support a client-first approach, ensuring 100% client retention and driving referrals by 15% for 4 months.
Deployed in-office analysis of pain points and developed systems for solutions, increasing department efficiency by 20% annually.
Attention to detail
Caught an inaccuracy in the company database, recovering over $5K in overpayment.
Worked as part of a team
Utilized innovative leadership training to successfully collaborate among multi-tier sales teams, achieving diverse objectives while expanding company offerings by 3 new products monthly, a 300% increase.
Consistently met and exceeded quarterly production goals set forth by executives for 5 consecutive quarters.
Expanded marketing strategies and promotional incentives to increase fundraising, reaching 1,500 new participants at 10 different high-visibility events.
Analyzed metrics of existing product effectiveness to drive revenue and market shares, broadening sustainable profit margins by 16%.
In the list above are examples of common skills or responsibilities that many people face in a plethora of jobs and industries. If you didn’t find one that reflects you well, not to worry! There is a simple equation to follow so that you can turn any responsibility into an achievement:
Task or responsibility + timeframe + quantification + result/effects
Let’s use an example of a carpenter/labor worker and follow the equation above.
Task: giving clients an expense quote
Timeframe: 10 months
Scale/quantification: estimated quotes within 95% accuracy of final cost
Result: satisfied customers, meaning client retention and increase in client referrals
When the elements are added together:
Estimated expenses, quoting clients with 95% accuracy over a 10-month project, aiding in securing client retention and driving client referrals by an increased 15% for 3 months.
Most of us have a general understanding of what a resume looks like. But for being a fairly straightforward document, there’s a surprising amount of versatility involved.
As you are preparing your resume, take some time to consider where you’re coming from. Are you updating your resume after 13 years in the same position? Are you a recent grad? Are you a researcher or author? Do you have more than 30 years of work experience? All of these people would have resumes that look different from each other.
The common theme: they are all making their achievements work for them.
How? By using the format that best highlights them.
Close your eyes and picture a standard resume. It probably has the person’s name and contact info at the top. The main body of text is a list of positions held over the years, with 5-10 bullets under each one. And there’s a section for education, possibly even references.
While most of the elements of the traditional resume remain, modern resumes utilize a slightly different structure. With modern resumes, it’s clear that the intention is to keep the most relevant information at the top, so recruiters read it first. To gain a better idea of what resumes look like today, simply search ‘modern resume’ online. You’ll find maxed-out margins, varying font sizes, decorative line spacers, and many different sections for achievements.
Those sections will look different depending on your background and current employment status. Let’s explore some of the common formats for listing your key achievements on your resume.
After reading the following list, if you resonate with one of the categories, do a Google search of that format style. Go to the image results on Google to see full examples of each format.
Best for: Career changers, people with diverse work experience, people with significant gaps in their work history, and people with limited or no prior work experience.
Skills-based formats are an excellent option for anyone who feels like their work experience just doesn’t quite reflect their value. At the top of your resume, just below your contact info, create a section called ‘Areas of Expertise’, ‘Skills Summary’, or ‘Professional Highlights”.
Below it, choose 4-6 skills that you’d like to elaborate on. These skills should be transferable, as in they are relevant to the position you are applying for even if the skill was learned in a different trade.
These skills can be listed in a bolded way, similar to how you’d list jobs in a traditional resume. The bullets that follow should be in the form of deliverables. Use the equation above to figure out how to quantify the benefit or effect of your skill.
Best for: Recent grads or technical industries (healthcare, education, sciences, etc).
An academic focus is appropriate on resumes for certain industries, but not all. It is recommended that if your academics don’t directly relate to the position you’re applying for, it's best to leave them off. If you’re not sure, re-read the job description. If it’s appropriate, you most likely will see it written somewhere in the posting that relevant coursework can be substituted for experience.
It’s worth noting that an academics-based resume is not the same as listing your personal education stats. This resume format is for people whose main career achievements were accomplished during their coursework.
An academic approach is great for people who have gained significant and valuable skills as a research assistant, in a practicum, or in an internship. It can also be useful for niche jobs. For example, if you are applying for an HR role and you studied the psychology of the workplace in college, this could be a useful addition to your resume.
To create a resume that highlights your academics, you’ll list the coursework in a similar format as the traditional resume. You can list your items either in chronological order starting with the most recent, or you can list them based on the relevance to the position you’re applying for. Like the other formats, under each item, list 3-5 bullets of deliverables or achievements relating to that coursework.
Best for: Event planners, fundraisers, labor workers, computer tech, freelancers, consultants, gig workers, or contract workers.
Some people have too much experience to have on a single resume, especially when the experience is all very similar or even identical work that’s being done over and over again. Think of people who do the same job for many different clients, venues, or projects. This applies to contract and gig workers, who offer a service to a client. It applies to labor workers, who have repeatedly done the same breadth of work but in a variety of environments. And it can also apply to problem solvers like tech workers and consultants.
The best way to format this is actually a blend of a skills-based and a project-based approach. Similar to a skills-based format, choose 4-6 skills that stand out as qualifications, and come up with 3-5 deliverables for each skill. Now they are written as achievements.
Following this section, create a section called ‘Affiliated Projects’ or ‘Completed Projects’. Under this title, list the site or project names, and which years you worked on them.
The point of this format is to showcase that your skills aren’t one-off. That you actually have a lengthy work history but instead of repeating the same list of achievements over and over, you just highlight the achievements and list the applications for them. It creates an easily-digestible document for the recruiter, while also making your strengths the focal point of your resume.
Best for: Research fields, writers/authors, healthcare, and sciences.
If most of your work experience is in the form of published work, let that make up the body of your resume. Same as above, list your published works in the same formatting style as you would a traditional resume. You can title the section “Published Works” or “Research and Publications”. For your deliverables, describe your research process, the publishing process, and the responses or awards you’ve received.
If the categories above don’t quite fit your needs, there are more options still. Some achievements aren’t given the credit they deserve. For those situations, try adding one of the following sections (or both!) to your resume.
Having a section on your resume for tech proficiencies is one of the easiest ways to get noticed. Many people don’t include this section because they think it means advanced tech programming. In reality, this is the place to list all the computer functions and programs that you are familiar with, even if it's so basic that you think it should go without saying.
Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Excel, Google Meets, Zoom, Gmail.
Most of us don’t necessarily consider familiarity with these programs to be an achievement. But because so many people don’t include it on their resumes, it really helps you stand out to do so. Furthermore, it allows you to save the body of your resume for the important parts–like quantified deliverables. Do yourself a favor, and list out these programs in a section near the bottom of your resume.
Having this section at the bottom of your resume can be utilized in a number of ways.
Resume guidelines indicate that you should only include work experience from the last 10-15 years for the sake of relevance. But what if you have an achievement from your past that you’re really proud of? List it in the additional experience section.
Another way to use this section is to add some flair. Standing out from the crowd is the key to landing a job. One way to achieve that is to be memorable. Did you ever have a unique work experience or opportunity for professional growth? Describe it here.
One last example of ways to use this space is for volunteering or community service experience. Many workplaces hire an individual for their qualifications just as much as their personality. If you have participated in some form of volunteering or community service, it probably won’t hurt you to add it to your resume. Still keep it relevant to the job, but in this category, you have a bit more wiggle room.
If you feel unqualified to even have a resume, don’t give up on yourself! Ask any recruiter and they’ll agree–people are typically more qualified than they realize.
If you don’t know the hard numbers or aren’t privy to company details, don’t let that stop you. Keep an internal gauge of the impact that you have, and describe it fairly.
If that makes you nervous, you can always reach out to your employer and ask for feedback on what you’ve accomplished. Keep in mind though that doing this has the potential to raise eyebrows from your management team wondering why you want to know.
To make it easy, consider all achievements important. Half the battle is getting it down on paper, which really just shows the recruiter that you are creative, good with words, professional, and detail-oriented. Even if you haven’t achieved greatness (yet!), you’re doing great just by having your small wins written out in an appropriate way.
As you move through life, your resume will change greatly. If you are new to the workforce or new to your career route, go ahead and list out everything as an accomplishment, even if it doesn’t feel like a big deal. As you develop professionally, you will be a part of bigger achievements. When that happens, give your resume a little update to reflect it. Slowly you’ll find that the small things naturally go by the wayside.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, how far into your professional life you are, or whether or not you know the details of your impact. You are capable of turning anything into an achievement, and you might even be better for it.
You have more achievements than you realize!
Make your achievements work for you–use the best format for your situation.
Resumes are nuanced, they’re not one-size-fits-all.
Emma is a certified employment specialist with over six years of experience in career mentorship and employment training. Emma is passionate about nurturing professional growth and helping people gain momentum in their field. She uses her writing and strategic career planning skills to help her clients fulfill their aspirations and reach new chapters in their professions. In 2020, she helped design Colorado’s first state-certified training program for people with disabilities entering the workforce.