How To Turn Your CV Activities Into Achievements

CVs are funny things, aren’t they? They’re so important for finding a job, but so difficult to write. There’s no formal qualification you can take to learn how – it’s more a case of picking up tips wherever you can: a book, a webinar, a chat with a friend or colleague.

It’s the last of those that prompted me to write this post, after a family member asked me for some feedback on her CV. Among the comments I gave was advice I’d picked up from Janet Moran of The CV House and it’s something lots of people fall foul of:

Don’t write what you did, write what you achieved.

My relative’s document read like a job description, not a CV, so I told her she’d benefit from changing her focus.

Here’s how

Thinking of your achievements is easier said than done, as my family member found out when I quizzed her further to discover her true value. But during a recent clear-out (my inner-Marie Kondo has been in full force in recent weeks and I’m practically on first-name terms with the people at the local tip) I rediscovered an article I’d printed from t’internet years ago.

It sets out a process for turning your activities into achievements and though I’d love to credit the source, it’s not on the printout anywhere. It’s so good though, that I thought it would be useful to share it here.

Step 1: Write a list of activities

Start by writing a list of your duties for a particular role – the sort of things you’d see on a job description.

Step 2: Choose a verb

Choose a verb that describes what you were doing in the activity. The following examples will get you started, but you could also use a Thesaurus to come up with your own.

Management & Leadership

Appraised / Chaired / Consolidated / Controlled / Defined / Evaluated / Guided / Increased / Led / Oversaw / Prioritised / Resolved / Strengthened / Spearheaded / Transformed / Undertook

Financial

Allocated / Analysed / Audited / Balanced / Calculated / Estimated / Forecast / Planned / Projected

Communication

Authored / Collaborated / Directed / Drafted / Edited / Expressed / Formulated / Inspired / Lectured / Mediated / Negotiated / Persuaded / Publicised / Reconciled / Translated / Wrote

Creative

Adapted / Conceptualised / Customised / Designed / Fashioned / Illustrated / Instituted / Introduced / Invented / Originated / Reviewed / Revitalised / Shaped / Sketched

Clerical

Approved / Catalogued / Classified / Compiled / Executed / Filed / Implemented / Inspected / Listed / Monitored / Organised / Prepared / Processed / Screened / Systemised / Tabulated

Technical

Assembled / Computed / Constructed / Cultivated / Devised / Engineered / Fabricated / Fitted / Installed / Located / Maintained / Operated / Remodelled / Repaired / Upgraded

Achievement

Accelerated / Accomplished / Attained / Completed / Conducted / Delivered / Developed / Effected / Enhanced / Enlarged / Exceeded / Expanded / Finished / Identified / Implemented / Improved / Increased / Obtained / Pioneered / Reduced / Resolved / Secured / Surpassed / Won

Helping

Advocated / Advised / Assisted / Coached / Counselled / Diagnosed / Educated / Encouraged / Facilitated / Guided / Mentored / Motivated / Referred / Represented

Initiative

Created / Designed / Devised / Extended / Formulated / Generated / Improvised / Instituted / Launched / Originated / Re-designed / Set up

Step 3: State your part

Consider how you influenced these activities. Keep asking yourself: ‘I did this…which resulted in…?’ Even if you were part of a team that achieved the result, don’t shy away from including it. Write it as: ‘Supported the team to…’ or ‘Contributed to the team that…’

Step 4: Quantify your achievement

Where possible, quantify the end result. How many customers did you serve? How many sales did you generate? How many staff did you recruit? How many hours did you save? Again, the numbers don’t have to all be down to you and you alone. Simply put what the outcome was and the part you played.

Here’s what I’m talking about…

  • Initiated a product development programme, resulting in over 80,000 additional sales.
  • Restructured my department and recruited 12 new staff.
  • Contributed to the design of a health and safety training programme, leading to a 20% drop in reported accidents.
  • Created PR campaigns gaining coverage in 20% of trade and consumer media.
  • Mentored 10 new staff as part of a 4-week onboarding programme.

So there you have it. A 4-step process to write a CV of achievements and not just activities. Now you’ve just got to put it into practice!

If you’ve any other tips for shifting the focus, it’d be great if you would share them in the comment box below please. The more help people can get writing a brilliant CV and not a boring job description, the better!

Like this? Share it or join in the discussion…

4 responses to “How To Turn Your CV Activities Into Achievements”

  1. Meg Burton says:

    Thanks for sharing Jennifer – many people struggle with this part of their CV and often just list their responsibilities. I explain that this shows me what they were ‘supposed to do’ or ‘expected to do’ but doesn’t actually tell me a) whether they did it and b) how well they did it. I explain these have to illustrate the difference they made, the value they added in their role but many get intimidated until I explain it can be anything they feel particularly proud of no matter how small. I love the verbs as I think this helps people really focus on what they have contributed to.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      I’m glad you like the verb lists too Meg – that’s the part that I think really helps people to kick start writing these statements.

  2. Tony O says:

    An excellent reminder, Jennifer. Another key section of the CV I always look at is the interests and activities outside of work, since this can also reveal a lot about what a person is capable of whilst in a job with limited headroom. The principles that you state can as easily be used for the interests outside of work section, and might make all the difference. One I read recently simply listed “food, wine and travel”. What a missed opportunity, even more so when I learnt during interview that he had spent his time whilst unemployed renovating a house by learning the techniques from internet videos. That showed a number of great qualities to do with proactivity and development of skills, but hadn’t even been mentioned on his CV. He could well have been screened out before getting to the interview stage, but that discussion turned out to be the most informative part.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Thanks Tony. You always have great real life examples to illustrate exactly what I’m talking about and I appreciate you sharing them.

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