There are many people, sometimes 1,000 or more, applying for the same job. As an applicant, it is critical that you know how to differentiate yourself from others. There are lots of ways you can demonstrate your value—in a cover letter, in your resume, in your interview, and through your thank you note. No matter which way or ways you choose to show your value-add, the “how” is pretty consistent.
Follow these steps:
Track your achievements. Get in the habit of writing down (or using an electronic format) for your accomplishments throughout the year. Spend 5 minutes a week to make some notes. Not only will those notes be useful when you prepare your resume, they will be useful in writing your annual accomplishment report for your performance evaluation, preparing for interviews, etc. In that file, keep a copy of “kudos” received from customers, team members, and your boss, as well as awards and other recognition you have received.
Keep your numbers. In addition to tracking achievements, be sure to quantify those achievements. It’s one thing to say you saved money or increased productivity, using a number to describe the savings or productivity takes that achievements to a whole new level. When think about numbers, think: how many, how much, and how often.
Use strong language to describe your success.
There are lots of powerful verbs out there; use them! Some of the words you might use include:
Think CCAR. CCAR (context, challenge, action, result) is a powerful way to frame your achievements and tell your story. CCAR can be used for resume accomplishments, as well as in your performance self-assessment and in interviews. Here is what it means:
Context. Describe the individuals and groups you worked with, and/or the environment in which you worked, to address a particular challenge (e.g., complexity, co-workers, members of Congress, shrinking budget, low morale, impossibly short deadlines). Make sure this is at the executive level. Think about examples where you were the initiator of an idea that had enterprise-wide impact.
Challenge. Describe a specific problem that needed to be solved. Remember to think as holistically as possible. Think about the large-scale project/problem, if you have suitable examples.
Action. Discuss the specific actions YOU took to address a challenge. Use “I” not “we” even if you were part of a team.
Result. Give specific examples of measures/outcomes that had some impact on the organization. These accomplishments demonstrate the quality and effectiveness of your work toward organizational goals. Metrics always help support your results. If your result was qualitative, how can you show it was substantial? Perhaps a quotation from an award recommendation or performance evaluation, or a comparison to a prior situation.
Here’s what it looks like in response to an interview question:
Context: “I work as an IT specialist at a small local government agency. About a year after I started, the Director decided to update the agency’s website, my job was to test and launch the new website after it had been designed and developed.”
Challenge: “This was challenging because the website was 5 years old, used old technology, and no updates had been made since the original launch. In addition, I was given only 2 weeks for testing and launching—there was a lot of pressure.”
Action: “I created a comprehensive testing strategy and schedule for reviewing all of the new website’s content and graphics. I established daily check-ins with testers to ensure all timelines were met and all issues were identified and addressed.”
Result: “As a result of these efforts, I launched a new website within the timeframe allotted to update it. Hits to the site have increased by 25% and our agency receives a lot of positive feedback on the new website. I have received requests from other local government agencies for advice on how they could update their sites.”
In an interview, using “I” is critical; if you were writing the above achievement for inclusion in your resume, it might look something like this:
In just 2 weeks [challenge], updated, tested, and launched a new website, overhauling a site [actions] that had not been updated in 5 years [challenge]. Hits to the site increased 25% within 90 days of launch [result].