A major achievement, in the context of your curriculum vitae, is a measurable improvement to the profitability of a company, brought solely about by your activities on its behalf. Profitability may be delivered directly (through cost cutting initiatives or the securing of new business) or indirectly (through efficient utilisation of internal resources or the streamlining of operational procedures). Major achievements should not be confused with the general duties and responsibilities associated with a position, which remain precisely the same no matter who is tasked with them.
For best effect, include 3-5 bullet point achievements just after your career objective.
Achievement Statements Should Match the Employer's Objectives
Most firms pursue the same set of driving objectives: make money, save money, outperform competitors, devise new services and products, increase market share, and constantly expand the business. Added to these generic goals are a host of objectives specific to particular roles within the company, such as the roll-out of cutting-edge technology in the case of an IT Manager, or the enforcement of data protection standards in the case of a Data Controller. Major achievements that are pertinent to the employer's needs (i.e. ones that indicate your ability to support both these generic and job-specific business aims) stand the greatest chance of generating interest.
Writing an Achievement Statement: the 'What?/So What?' Formula
A major achievement statement should offer clear, concrete evidence of your intangible skills and competencies, demonstrating their translation into practical, real-world benefits that ultimately enhanced the company's bottom line. For example, it is not enough to simply declare yourself a great team leader—you must go the extra mile by qualifying the results that your facility for leadership produced. The simplest means of doing this is to employ the 'What?/So What?' formula, a two-step process that asks:
What did I do?
So what? What was the quantifiable result?
The 'What?/So What?' Formula in Action
Let's develop a powerful major achievement statement using the 'What?/So What?' formula. We'll start by asking the first question, 'What did I do?', to which the answer might be:
Made a complicated inventory program for my company.
Despite the difficulty involved, this is not really an achievement unless it produced some kind of positive outcome that increased the firm's profitability. This brings us to the second query, 'So what?', to which we might respond:
I saved the company time and money.
Now we have a unique action/result pairing, outside the spectrum of day-to-day duties and responsibilities, that clearly warrants consideration as an achievement. Let's reword it a little and see what we come up with:
Wrote a complex inventory application, saving time and money.
Although this sentence seems to be adequate on the surface, it neglects to address an important element of the 'What?/So What?' formula: explicitly quantifying the outcome. Another reworking is required:
Built a bespoke
inventory application, reducing stock taking time from 2 hours to 10 minutes.
This version adheres to all aspects of the formula: it is a unique achievement, without which the company's stock taking bottleneck was unlikely to have improved. Note how the phrase 'saving time and money' has been excised from the statement, since one is generally synonymous with the other. If, however, precise financial information on these savings were available, it could be incorporated into the achievement statement for added impact:
Built bespoke inventory application, reducing stock taking time from 2 hours to 8 minutes, saving €229K P.A.
Skills and Responsibilities Versus Accomplishments: Three Examples
Skills and abilities comprise the areas in which you excel; responsibilities and duties define the remits of your past employment. Neither group constitutes the basis for an effective achievement statement, because both
lack the quantifiable results that make an accomplishment what it is. That said, almost all skills and responsibilities may be transformed into achievement statements with thoughtful application of the 'What?/So What?' formula:
Skill: Can type 95 words per minute.
Achievement: Typed 70-page executive document to meet 2-hour deadline, winning company contract.
Skill: Am an excellent IT manager.
company-wide deployment of Windows Vista across 78 departments in 14 branches.
Responsibility: Teach negotiation strategy.
Achievement: Taught negotiation strategy to senior corporate figures, including Dionicor CEO.
The Importance of Numerical Data in Major Achievement Statements
When putting together a list of achievements for possible inclusion in your CV, begin with those accomplishments that contain a numerical component. As we have seen, the most persuasive achievements—the ones which truly merit the term 'major', frequently rely on hard numbers to make them shine. The inclusion of financial figures can do much to assure potential employers of your concern for their profit margin or, within public sector institutions, your commitment to increasing efficiency and minimising expenditure. Productivity enhancements expressed as a percentage, as well as accurate definitions of people and resources (e.g. 'team of 12', '86 kilos of grain') will also serve to bolster the perceived weight of your achievement statements.
The Effectiveness of Non-Numerical Career History Accomplishments
If none of your past accomplishments can be described in numerical/financial terms, don't worry; there are many other areas from which compelling achievement statements can be drawn. For instance, if you have received an award for your work, or been singled out by your employer for special commendation, then you should capitalise on this honour, as it is a strong indicator of your ability to succeed in fulfilling the company's objectives. Similarly, writing an exhaustive report or delivering a major presentation to senior management is an accomplishment fully deserving of attention. A first-rate training or educational result would also be ideal material for an achievement statement, so long as it is within a field that is conspicuously relevant to the job for which you are applying.
Six Simple Steps to Creating a First-Rate List of Major Achievements
Now that you understand the definition, purpose and structure of a major achievement statement, the time has come to craft your own. Follow the six steps described below, and you will add dramatic impact to the content of your curriculum vitae. A word to the wise, however: steer clear of exaggeration and claims that will not stand up to scrutiny during an interview. Your major achievements should seem impressive, not impossible!
1. Designate a separate piece of paper for each of your positions. Place one job title at the top of every sheet.
2. Beginning with your most recent job, jot down your past successes in the following areas:
3. You should now have a long list of accomplishments for each role. Remove the weaker options; edit the rest.
4. Take your pared-down achievements on the road. Show them to friends and family for constructive criticism.
5. Reorganise your list by functional area e.g. finance, management, public relations etc. Doing this will place a targeted collection of achievements at your disposal for each kind of vacancy you wish to target.
6. Rank each group of achievements in order of merit, beginning with the most impressive, then working down.
The Benefits That Accrue from the Inclusion of Major Achievements
Compiling an authoritative and genuinely engaging Major Achievements section is no easy matter—it sometimes takes longer to complete than the summation of your entire work history. The benefits, however, are invariably worth the effort: a competitive edge that puts other similarly qualified candidates to shame, an increased strike rate for interview invitations, and an array of impressive talking points that help guide the interviewer toward a discussion of your biggest strengths, as opposed to your glaring weaknesses. Good luck, and happy list-making!
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