Category Archives: Task Completion vs. Accomplishment

Align Your Expertise with What Hiring Managers are Looking For

As I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, hiring managers are more interested in what you accomplished than what your duties and responsibilities were in your career. Too many folks still confuse task completion with accomplishments; a task completion is part of your duties and responsibilities. An accomplishment yields results that impact the higher strategic vision or objective of the organization beyond the normal day-to-day duties and responsibilities.

The graphic below summarizes how hiring managers view expertise in a job candidate, and how candidates can express that expertise to better align with what hiring managers are looking for. Such methods help promote your professional brand in the job marketplace.

Common ground graphic

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Keep a Log of Project Successes

This sounds like obvious advice, but far too many people think of their project accomplishments only when it’s time to update their résumé, often years later. By then, important details may have escaped their memory. Keeping a weekly log of project accomplishments and challenges helps keep you on course throughout the journey through minor adjustments, rather than having to make a major “dead reckoning” midcourse correction or as the project comes to a conclusion.

Here are just a few reasons why you should maintain a detailed project log regardless of the size of the project.

  • A log of past project accomplishments not only helps with crafting an attention-getting résumé, but serves as a project history and reference guide for when you encounter the same or similar projects later.
  • A detailed project log helps capture your thought processes and how you assimilate, formulate, and execute your ideas throughout the project history.
  • When you need talking points for an annual review, promotion opportunity, or job interview, you have the details handy.
  • A detailed project log shows you the dead ends you may have been down once, and can avoid them in the future for similar projects.
  • It helps you frame your participation as a contribution to the higher strategic objectives of the organization rather than as a “task completion” if you update your résumé further down the road.
  • A detailed project log helps you calculate reliable quantitative data (dollars earned, costs avoided, percent improvements, etc.) that further demonstrates your value as a solutions provider to the organization.

Participating in internal process improvement initiatives can pepper your résumé with notable accomplishments.

My friend Stan Smith was part of a division publishing initiative at a former employer where seven people were charged with designing a new plan for creating, managing, and disseminating technical information to address emerging changes in the publications world. While the cost to implement the 18-month plan was between $1.5 and $2 million dollars (in 1998), the initiative was projected to save $2.3 million dollars in publishing costs and overhead each year after implementation.

Even though Stan wasn’t responsible for the entire initiative, his contribution is mentioned on his résumé. In fact, his detailed weekly log entries were a significant component of the final published study that was presented to upper management.

My wife  kept a project log of how she prepared for taking the exam for the “Certified Fraud Examiner” designation. During the lengthy practice test and study sections, she noted which sections were harder than others, and mnemonics she created to help her memorize key information, terminology, and formulas. Her notes were later published through the certified fraud examiner association website as a study tool for others to use as they prepared for the hugely comprehensive exam.

If you are in the habit of keeping a project log, keep doing it; if not, today’s a good day to start.

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How to Convert a Task/Duty into a Strategic Contribution

Current employment lifecycleTime and again I receive résumés from individuals who confuse task completion with accomplishment. The task completion is an expectation of your job; an accomplishment is most often above and beyond the expectation of your normal role and responsibilities. For people who load up résumés with one bullet list after another of “duties and responsibilities,” the only way to really get noticed above other candidates is to convert that task or duty into a strategic contribution that has higher value to your employer or organization. It’s a way of thinking beyond the day-to-day trench duties you are involved with; it’s assigning purpose to your efforts.

I came across a great example of this shift in thinking in a book by financial guru, Dave Ramsey, and it involved three different bricklayers:

Once a journalist happened upon a construction site where he noticed a group of bricklayers going about their jobs. As the journalist observed, he became intrigued by the various manners in which the workers performed their duties. For instance, one fellow moved as slowly as possible and looked extremely bored with his work.

“What is it that you are doing here?” the journalist asked.

The bricklayer glared back at the journalist, looking disgusted that anyone would ask a question with such an obvious answer. “What do you think I’m doing?” he bristled. “I’m laying bricks.”

The journalist noticed another worker who seemed to be enjoying his job more than the first man. He had more enthusiasm and seemed to work with more skill. When the journalist asked this man what he was doing, the worker squared his shoulders and replied, “I’m building a wall.”

A third man caught the journalist’s attention. This worker was a joy to watch. One could almost imagine a symphony playing in the background as the craftsman fluidly picked up each brick, prepared it with mortar, and swung it into position. With tremendous pride, he smoothed the extraneous mortar around the edges of each brick, careful to make sure that each brick was placed with precision. It looked as though he thought the entire building would stand or fall according to the way he did his work.

When the journalist asked the third man what he was doing, he stood up with pride and smiled broadly, “I am building a magnificent cathedral to the glory of the Lord,” he replied.

Same building, same job description, what the men were doing was the same thing, but the men had different “whys” and that changed the way they approached their daily work.

(Dave Ramsey, How to Have More Than Enough, p. 83)

So, in your day-to-day work are you laying bricks, building a wall, or doing something more magnificent? As a hiring manager, which attitude do you want to bring onboard?

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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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