Resume Accomplishments vs. Responsibilities
Once an employer sees your job title, they already have a pretty good idea what you did from day to day – and if they don’t, they can google up a job description! The same goes for interviews. By that point they know what your jobs have been about.
What they don’t know is: How well did you do it? How did you do it better than someone else would? And what difference did it make for your organization?
The answers to those decisive questions are your accomplishments, the “success stories” or “wins” that propel your job search communications.
Resume Accomplishment Examples
Let’s say you’re a sales or marketing executive, and one of your responsibilities was to sell services to large corporations. Your accomplishments might include:
- Grew the business by 20% in 2011. (Or express this in $$ if the amount is likely to impress your target employers.)
- Ensured a high level of client satisfaction resulting in 98% renewal rate.
Both of these bullet items are extremely concise summaries of a success story, boiled down to one sentence for a resume. In an interview, you could tell it more fully. (See the “success stories” link above.)
Sometimes, the hard part is telling an accomplishment from a job duty or responsibility. Let me clarify that.
Resume Accomplishments vs. Responsibilities or Duties
Responsibilities and duties are important, and often they should be listed on your resume. They represent what you did, but not necessarily the impact it had. So accomplishments represent impact.
Also, your duties or responsibilities at a job are ongoing, while accomplishments tend to be finite and completed.
- Monitoring a process is a responsibility. If your monitoring of the process led to an improvement of the process, or uncovered an opportunity successfully captured, that’s an accomplishment.
- Managing projects in general is a responsibility. Successfully managing a specific project to completion is an accomplishment.
- Training new employees is a responsibility, but training a large number of new employees in a relatively short time is an accomplishment. And being asked to train someone while you’re still new to the job would also be an accomplishment.
Is there an absolute dividing line between accomplishments and duties? Not always; there are gray areas. For example, a responsibility such as meeting deadlines can be seen as an accomplishment if you did so 100% of the time, and/or under very challenging circumstances. So use your judgement.
Let’s get systematic about what makes up an accomplishment.
Anatomy of a Resume Accomplishment:
Let’s look at the elements of an accomplishment statement like those bulleted above.
- Solutions and Impact: In a resume accomplishment, you tell what you improved – e.g., you streamlined a complicated procedure, invented a new system, etc. – and the results or benefits that led to for your employer or clients.
- Specifics: It’s not enough to state that an effort was “successful.” In what ways was it successful?
- Evidence: “Prove” how well you did the work by describing positive responses from customers – e.g., your work enabled the retention of a major client who was on the verge of walking away. Or mention some recognition you received, such as a promotion, an award or strong praise in your annual review (perhaps with a brief quote).
- Quantities: Specify or estimate the revenue generated or costs reduced (using dollar figures or percentages, whichever will look best to your target employers), time saved, percentage of improvements, ratings, etc. Some occupations, such as management and sales, lend themselves to this. Others, such as accounting or nursing, are harder to quantify. Look for processes you streamlined (by 20%? 80%?), or an exceptionally large volume of work you completed (how large? how quickly?).
Key Tip: Be sure to express your successes without making your past employers look bad.
Before you write accomplishments for your resume, you need to figure out what they are. Read my post, How to Identify Your Accomplishments. (This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for the 2020s.)