by Rick Gillis

You Can’t Tell Your Boss What You’ve Done If You Don’t Know What You’ve Done

Feb 20, 20158 mins
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

The first step in developing your personal Accomplishments Inventory and Statement is to compile an exploratory list of those things you are proud to have achieved. (Serialized from the soon-to-be published, "PROMOTE!")

Testing skill, talent, or luck, fishing for money with success or failure.
Credit: Thinkstock


Sourcing your accomplishments — a no brainer, right? Well, not necessarily. It depends on how much of your personal history you have available to you, how good your memory is and where you are on your 40-year trek.

If you are just out of college and trying to make the right impression to land that first job, accomplishments dating back to high school are acceptable. If you are heading toward the last five or 10 years of your career, you need highly visible, make-or-save-money accomplishments that express value beyond question.

In either case, however, the first stage of developing your Accomplishments Worksheet and Statement is to compile an exploratory list — just notes at this point about those things you have done that you are proud of. Don’t worry about any kind of order or even details yet. Make an initial back-of-the-envelope-style list by using just a few words to remind you to flesh it out later or, if it all comes back to you now, then take the time and write it down.

As you begin to think about your accomplishments, it will help you to keep a pad and pen on your night stand. I guarantee that during this early process of creating your list, you will be drifting off to sleep and something will pop into your head. (Especially now that I have planted this seed in your brain.)

Do not believe you will remember it in the morning! Make a note of it right on the spot even if it is just a couple of words. You will wake up in the morning, take a glance at your pad and go, “Oh, yeah! That!”

One more thing. During this exploratory phase, everything is significant. If you think it might have value for your list, it does. You can always throw it out later.

There are two ways to track down past accomplishments: your memory and other people’s memories. Begin with your own by reviewing old performance reports. They are gold! (I hope you saved every one of them from everywhere you have ever worked. If you were—or are—in the military, you should have copies of every report ever produced on you.)

Next, look at previous resumes or curriculum vitae (CV) and any biographies you might have. Resumes generally don’t have specifics but are good for reminding you of that time you did something spectacular.

Are you of the age that you might still have old business planners about? Flick through them. I have found them to be an incredible source of former contacts and projects and events I was involved with.

Also, and this can be fun: Google yourself.

DETAIL As your list grows, start adding detail behind each bullet. Tell a story. Nothing is more important at the time of an interview or a performance review than somebody asking you to tell them how you accomplished something and you being able to go into the specifics without breaking eye contact.

Never forget (this is important):

When someone asks you, “How did you do that?” what they are really asking is, “Can you do that for me?”

As you work through this process, it is not enough to just state an accomplishment as fact. You must also be persuasive in stating your achievement. Keep your audience in mind. First and foremost is your immediate supervisor but always be thinking at least one step beyond your boss. At any time and for any number of reasons, your boss could leave the company at which time you may want to position yourself for the promotion.

To this end, structure your notes using language that implies how any accomplishment previously achieved can be repeated to the benefit of the company. Do this on paper now and you will naturally find yourself communicating the explanation in a similar manner when the opportunity presents itself. Think of it as preparing to persuade without sounding like you’re boasting.

There is an art to explaining how you accomplished something without appearing to hold anything back while, in fact, doing so—especially with your immediate supervisor and management who have-been-there and done that. If you are able, holding back the final 3 to 5 percent (or more) of how you accomplished an achievement will prove to all parties involved that they need and recognize your value. And don’t fool yourself: This is a management strategy that goes back as far as managers have existed. Depending on your age or position, you might not be comfortable with this view. I understand that. But no matter your rank or position, you would be wise to at least give this point some thought. Whether or not you decide to execute is up to you.

Regardless, strive to make yourself irreplaceable—at least in management’s view. I can’t really advise much more on this except to return to the concept that you must know and be aware of the chemistry between you, your boss and your boss’s boss, the culture of the business and how deep each member of the team might be involved in any project or process as to how much or how little information you can retain for your own benefit.

When adding details to an accomplishment, write down every aspect you can think of: The good, the bad and the ugly.

  • Start with the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of the project.
  • Think in terms of the result. As you write, think of each achievement on your list as a short article. A resulting net conclusion is required. More on this in the next chapter.
  • As previously stated but worth repeating, keep your audience in mind at all times. This list is ABOUT you but it is not FOR you. It is for your supervisors.
  • Think the details through on each point as your employer would. How will a senior member accept this statement from their point of view? Did this achievement hit goals or show consistency of performance? Would that person view your statement as producing value for the money you are being paid?
  • What sorts of problems did you encounter and how did you deal with them? This is a core principle of presenting valued accomplishments. Problems create opportunities. Think hard and deep on those problems that someone without your specific skills and expertise may not have been able to overcome as efficiently or effectively.
  • Was the project completed on-time and on-budget? If so, be prepared to speak to the details. If not, be prepared to explain why it did not. Some of your greatest accomplishments could be based on an event such as the need for you to take over the reins of an existing project from someone to salvage and re-stage.
  • Was there a team member or members who did not perform as expected? How did you handle the situation? You don’t have to name names but this sort of issue is an ideal place for you to point out your people and management skills.

It is okay to address the difficulties and drawbacks that came up during any previous job, project or task. We are, after all, living in the real world and problems happen. How you overcame them is a crucial aspect of these stories.

As you make notes and flesh out your accomplishments, go for the WOW factor whenever possible and appropriate. Show how you stand head and shoulders above the crowd. How you, and only you, are capable of doing the job really well and, by extension, are the person who should be considered for promotion over any other similarly qualified person. 

Your goal stating each accomplishment is to make yourself more compelling and more memorable than any of your coworkers.

Never hold back from boasting about yourself appropriately.

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL There are two types of accomplishments—professional and personal. For the purpose of business, the focus must be professional. However, if you are just starting out in your career, personal accomplishments related to those things you might have done in college or even in high school can have value.

If you are, in fact, just getting started in your career, exploit this moment in time for all you can. You are a first-time job seeker only once in your life and as such you will granted a wee bit of leeway. After you land your first position, you are from that moment forward, playing in the big leagues. Never again will you be able to sell yourself based on all those wonderful things you did in high school or college.

Never leave a job until you have been promoted at least once. That promotion gives you something to talk about and a hiring manager reason to listen at your next interview.

Next week’s installment: Chapter 6, “Who Are You Gonna Call?” from PROMOTE!