How to write an achievement on your CV

Do you want to impress a potential client with your CV and get yourself hired? Then putting achievements on the front page of your CV will make a huge difference. But how do you write them? And how should they be structured. We will explain to you here, and then your CV will be miles ahead of your competition.

In our previous guide writing the killer CV we discussed the structure and content of a high impact targeted CV. We have also discussed the common mistakes when writing a cv including the reason why a generalised CV does not work, and shown how to target your CV for a particular position.

This guide will tell you exactly how to write an achievement by focusing on the benefits your skills have made to your client.

What is a relevant achievement?

Let's consider Jack: One of the things Jack is most proud of is that years ago he built his own garden pond. He became an expert on pond siting, depth, liners, pumps, filtration, waterfalls, rocks, tubing and electrics and could talk for hours about the subject when breaking the ice at parties!

Whilst from his viewpoint this is an impressive achievement it does not impress a potential employer if they are looking for a developer, engineer, or helpdesk operator. The only person it might impress is an employer looking for a pond guru!

Now let's consider Kim. Kim worked hard whilst at her last client and studied a great in her own time to learn some amazing new technical skills, including the passing of exams. It's a great achievement, and one that she is proud of. But, frankly who cares? This is something she has achieved for herself, not for one of her clients.

The key messages:

  • You may be great at something, but if the client doesn't care and the skill is not transferable, don't bother focusing on it.
  • Focus on things you have achieved for your client - not yourself.

Only blow your trumpet and play tunes that the employer is interested in

What goes into an achievement

So, how do we go about developing an achievement that will impress our next employer? Let’s look at what companies are in business for and find some clues.

Companies often want to do some of the following:

  • Make more profits
  • Sell more widgets
  • Become more efficient
  • Get more customers
  • Beat competition
  • Improve customer satisfaction
  • Enter new markets
  • Drive higher quality

We need to develop an achievement which generally supports the above objectives.

Let’s look at this further by focusing specifically on IT. Some typical objectives within an IT department might be:

  • Solve business problems. Meet goals.
  • Save the business money.
  • Make business processes more efficient.
  • Complete projects faster and cheaper
  • Implement changes faster
  • Reduce maintenance costs
  • Use less staff
  • Improve software quality
  • Improve capability

Assuming that the above are the results required, we need to build an achievement that supports them. Let’s look at the structure of writing an achievement.

How an achievement is written

An achievement consists of the sum of two or three components:

  1. Using a particular technical skill or personal attribute.
  2. Carrying out a particular activity.
  3. Getting a measurable / quantifiable result / benefit.

An example:

Used pond building experience to remove leakages and enhance water filtration. This increased the average lifespan of the fish and reduced the yearly fish expenditure by 3000%.

The ‘So what?’ test

To gauge if we are getting this right we can apply the ‘so what’ test as follows:

  1. Read the achievement in the context of the job.
  2. Are you a) Impressed, b) Mildly impressed, c) So What!!

Example 1 – So What!

Achievement: “Mentored other team members”
Response: So what!

You trained some staff, and then what?! The client spent money for you to train staff and what benefit did it achieve for them? So what!

Example 2 – So What!

Achievement: “Made document retrieval faster”
Response: So what!

How much faster? How much did you spend, and how much did you save? What was the measurable benefit to the business?

Example 3 – Slightly better

Achievement: “Mentored team members which improved skills”
Response: Better than so what, but this does not rip me up the seams!

So, you used your training skills to train some people, which resulted in them getting improved skills, and then what? How did they apply those new skills and what was the result?

Example 4 – On The Nose

Achievement: “Used expert knowledge of project management to deliver application ahead of schedule and under budget. This resulted in obtaining a first mover advantage over competitors and subsequent capture of 70% of market share”.

Response: Very impressed. Can you come and do this for me!

Writing achievements is a sales exercise

Successfully writing the achievements section of your CV is perhaps the most challenging part of the CV exercise. It is necessary to put on your sales hat and think like a professional sales person. For highly skilled knowledge based workers this is far removed from what they normally do.

But, we can assure you, that if on the first page you can create the impression of "this person has the skills and has done it before very well", then you have every chance of being asked to interview and then get yourself hired. Take comfort in the fact that the majority of contractors have below average CVs that are simply a list of things they know something about, and who they have worked for. Putting achievements on your cv will mean yours stays on the top of the pile.

Updated: Thursday, September 1, 2016

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