Chapter 7: HOW TO CRAFT A COMPELLING ACCOMPLISHMENT
Okay, by now you should have a detailed list of your accomplishments with lots of random—or not so random—notes on how you made a difference gathered from resumes, performance reviews and all those family members, supervisors, co-workers, clients, customers, vendors and others you spoke with, right? You might think you have too much information but you don’t. For now, save everything you have collected.
So what’s next? What are you supposed to do with all that amazing information about how terrific you are?
That's what this chapter is about. With my guidance, you are going to craft each accomplishment into a single captivating statement. This assertion should be so persuasive that your employer cannot help but ask, “How did you do that?”
Let's get started.
Every good book, movie, TV show or song has a beginning, a middle and an end. So, too, does an accomplishment. The trick is to keep it simple but still tell a story so compelling it cannot be ignored, and that gives you the perfect opportunity to show off your capabilities.
Here are those three components as they relate to the accomplishment narrative you will build:
Beginning = Statement of Accomplishment (what you did)
Middle = (will always be) “that resulted in” (or something similar)
End = Value Statement or Net Result (your accomplishment)
Here is what a great accomplishments statement using that three-part formula looks like: “Created a digital filing system that resulted in 300 man hours saved per week enabling the firm to save $6,240,000 annually.”
WOW! No one, certainly no employer, hears a statement like that without asking a lot of questions and that is what creates your perfect opportunity to tastefully inform others about how good you are.
Maybe you think you haven't done anything as outstanding as that. Well, maybe, maybe not. The statement above is one person's real accomplishment but it wasn't anywhere near as obvious when I first worked with her.
My client, a highly experienced paralegal, proudly told me she had “created a filing system” to which I answered, “So what?”
Oh, my, did she get angry.
But when she calmed down, she went on to tell me that I didn’t understand. She had built an electronic filing system that had, for years, resided in boxes, metal filing cabinets, microfiche and film canisters that took up two entire floors of a downtown office building, and she had successfully converted it into a digital masterpiece (my term, not hers).
“That’s not what you said,” I told her. “You said you created a filing system and to me (or anyone listening), a filing system could be as simple as lining some folders up in a lateral file drawer. Not a big deal.”
Sometimes it's too easy for any of us, maybe because our culture conditions us to not boast, to overlook the money punchline, as happened with the paralegal's example. In this exercise, humility is your enemy and you don't have me to pressure you, so look for what you do really well and maintain that focus.
Let's analyze the paralegal's finished accomplishment statement to see exactly how it breaks down.
Beginning = Statement of Accomplishment (what you did): It opens with a simple statement of the What she did: “Created a digital filing system”.
Middle = “that resulted in”
End = Value Statement: “300 man hours saved per week enabling the firm to save $6,240,000 annually.”
Bam! Nailed it!
Inherent in that ending and a requirement for any accomplishment statement is a net result (end value statement) of some type. It can be revenue gained or saved, or a description of a process improved resulting in such as “reduced turnover” or “enhanced inventory control.”
In the paralegal's case, her digital filing system produced a huge time savings (which is money) for the law firm and although it is left unsaid, no supervisor or employer would miss what it also demonstrates: that she is capable of undertaking an enormous project and bringing it to a successful conclusion.
RULE: No statement is an Accomplishment until it has a Net Result!
Here is the formula for crafting every accomplishment statement.
I was Responsible for __________ that resulted in __________.
All you have to do is fill in the blanks. Remember, the first blank tells me what you did. The second blank tells me how what you did added value to the organization.
And don't dismiss the middle phrase—“resulting in” or “resulted in.” Those two phrases are as close to gold as there is—managers and owners and boards of directors thrive on results.
To bring home how important a well-crafted statement is, all you have to do is ask yourself which paralegal/filing clerk would you hire? The one who said, “I created a filing system” or the one who said, “I created a filing system that resulted in monumental savings?”
Note that I struck “I was” from the formula sentence above. Never begin a professional statement with that personal pronoun in the first sentence. If an accomplishment must run on to a second sentence, you might use “I” in that sentence. (I suggest you try always to keep accomplishments to a single sentence.) Here is an example of a two-sentence statement.
“Responsible for 49% of all sales resulting in $7,231,955 to the bottom line. I was able to achieve this level of revenue as a result of relentless pursuit of large scale, repeat users of the ABC product line.”
ACCOMPLISHMENTS & TEAM
Yes, I know: There is no “I” in team. But what if one of your more significant accomplishments was a team effort; what if it took eight of you to __________? How should you express team in your accomplishment statement?
Every recruiter will tell you that although you worked with a team, you must point out your contributions to the success of the overall project as if you had done the deal by yourself.
This can be hard sometimes and you may not be comfortable doing so but a raise or a promotion is not going to a team—it is going to you. Or, rather, it will when you know how to express your contribution in a singular manner.
Of course, credit should always be given where credit is due. Except for now. Seriously. Never feel bad about promoting only yourself. Here is an example of team member's contribution written in that one person's voice:
Responsible for 97% occupancy of the Acme Building due to diligent and consistent pursuit of a competing office complex’s primary tenants. Able to relocate 3 tenants for a cumulative total of 320,000 net rentable square feet at an average rate of $23 per square foot.
Having been in the commercial real estate business for several years, I can tell you categorically that no real estate deal is a solo achievement. It takes a lot of people moving in the same direction at the same time to accomplish the renovation and relocation of 300,000+ square feet.
Nevertheless, nowhere in my description of this achievement did I say or even imply that a team of professionals was involved. To a professional in the industry, there would be an unwritten understanding that you did not, in fact, accomplish this on your own and to state an accomplishment this way and in this manner is usual and acceptable. If you have won the gold in an Olympic team sport, you may not be able to deny the team component. In the end it is up to you to decide how best to state any team-based accomplishments.
THE REST OF THE STORY
Earlier I asked you to do a detailed workup for each accomplishment, gathering information from old resumes, performance reports and all those telephone conversations from family to colleagues and former bosses. I also told you to include in your notes not only the good but the bad and ugly as well. There is a crucial reason.
After your employer or interviewer is stunned by your amazing three-part accomplishment sentence, he or she will have a lot of questions, some of them quite detailed. Here is how my paralegal would have explained and expanded on her digital filing accomplishment:
“This project took one year and a team of six, temporary, full-time employees to complete. I was responsible for the digital transference of all paper and microfiche files accumulated by the law firm over a period of decades.
Based on an average rate of $400 per man hour (rate provided by CFO), I saved the firm $120,000 per week (based on an average of 300 man hours of weekly access to the historical files by staff x $400) or $6,240,000 ($120,000 x 52 weeks) annually. This project came in on time and on budget.”
Undoubtedly, she would then be closely questioned on such matters as the amount of the budget allotted, how much was spent on temps, equipment, software, implementation, etc. She would be asked about what difficulties or snags she encountered and how she resolved those problems, turning the bad and the ugly into gold.
And that's how all the hard work you do with old resumes, performance reviews and telephone conversations pay off. You will already have reviewed your past successes, their details, obstacles and solutions so that when asked, you will have all the details on the tip of your tongue.
When you are as thoroughly prepared as this to recall every aspect of the project you are asked about you will, like my paralegal, be first in line for the promotion or job.
The Accomplishment Statement system works at every level of an organization. It makes no difference if your audience is your manager, the owner or the board of directors.
The power of an accomplishment is in its net-present value to your employer.
Read that statement again. Make this one line your accomplishment mantra. The power of an accomplishment is, in the eyes of your manager or employer, in the value you bring to your business unit or organization today!
Next week's installment: Chapter 8, "Accomplishments Trump Discrimination on the Job" from PROMOTE!
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