The No. 1 Question Your Resume Should Answer

One crucial characteristic of job applications that stand out.

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The vast majority of resumes I see read like a series of job descriptions, listing duties and responsibilities at each position the job applicant has held. But resumes that stand out do something very different. For each position, they answer the question: What did you accomplish in this job that someone else wouldn't have?

So sure, it's great that you were hired for a job with, you know, a job description. But what I want to know is what you did with that job. Did you just go through the motions and turn in an acceptable, but not particularly star-quality, performance? Or did you do an unusually good job, one that impressed your boss and coworkers and made them devastated to lose you?

The typical advice about resumes suggests showing what you accomplished by using numbers -- "increased sales by 40 percent," "instituted cost efficiencies that reduced overhead by 20 percent," or whatever. But what if you have a job where what made you great isn't numerically quantifiable?

You can still achieve the same result by asking yourself the key question I posed earlier: What did you accomplish in this job that someone else wouldn't have?

Maybe you introduced a new initiative that led to increased visibility for the company or higher retention. Maybe you did the work of two people after someone left and wasn't replaced. Maybe you were the only person in your department's history to meet all deadlines for three years in a row.

People really struggle over this part of writing a resume. Yet at the same time, most people have a reasonably high opinion of their own work. So, assuming you think you're good and that a hiring manager should be glad to have you--ask yourself: what makes that so? What made you great at each job, and how did you do better than someone else would have?

If you can't answer that yourself, and you're the one who was right there doing the work every day, how do you expect a hiring manager who doesn't know you to figure it out?

Alison Green is the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results. She is chief of staff for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit lobbying organization, where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.

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