Understand the difference between “accomplishment” and “task completion” for your résumé

I offer cover letter and résumé evaluations as part of a career strategies benefit package I provide to associations, colleges and universities, business and trade schools, corporations, and branches of the military (veterans exiting the military). One of the most common misconceptions people have is failing to differentiate between an accomplishment and a task completion.

An accomplishment is some strategic contribution to the higher objectives of an organization that could take the form of revenues generated, costs avoided, revenues recovered, percent improvement in some process–something above and beyond your normal day-to-day duties and responsibilities. Now, those daily duties and responsibilities may be tactics that support the strategic contribution; however, hiring managers reviewing résumés want to see the bottom-line contribution. They want to know whether you are a problem solver, solutions provider, game changer (as evidenced by your accomplishments that are highlighted on your résumé)–or just another employee (as evidenced by bullet list after bullet list of “duties and responsibilities”).

An “achievement” is in the same category as accomplishment and is evaluated by hiring managers the same way. Hiring managers do not consider any task completion as an “achievement”–it must stand out as a strategic contribution to the higher objectives of the organization.

Here are a few examples of task completions I have seen being passed off as accomplishments:

  • Generated reports for management
  • Developed training program for new hires
  • Ensured activities were in compliance with applicable accounting laws

So what? says the hiring manager. It’s always better if you can assign some quantitative assessment ($$ or %) to an accomplishment, but if your job doesn’t allow such a measure, then after each task completion ask this question: “and this task completion (or duty, responsibility) led to what higher level result for the organization?” This will take some time and thought; however, in most cases you will be able to reshape a task completion into a strategic contribution by asking that question, which will help the hiring manager assess your potential to perform in the future in his or her organization.

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