Focus on Achievements (not Responsibilities)

One of the most common mistakes people make when writing CVs is to list all the various responsibilities every job has ever involved.  Apart from the fact that you should really only include responsibilities that are relevant to the specific job application (see Keep it Relevant), there’s nothing more boring to an employer than reading through bullet point after bullet point of responsibilities.  There seems to be a belief that the more responsibilities job seekers can demonstrate they have had, then somehow the more valuable they are as a candidate.

In fact, the reality about any job is that there are usually two or three critical functions that, if you get right, mean the difference between success and failure.  It’s often the people who are good at identifying and staying focused on these critical functions that rise to the top of organisations.

For example, although most Chief Executives theoretically have vast lists of responsibilities, these days, the single most important responsibility for most of them is simply maintaining or increasing the share price.

So, by all means list the two, three or four responsibilities that were the most critical to your job.  But you can leave out all the rest, unless you think they are somehow directly relevant to the job you want.

In any event, responsibilities are the most basic measure of your job.   They are what you get your salary to do.  But your worth as an employee comes down to your achievements.  Amongst all these tens of distracting responsibilities, what did you really achieve?  What value did you create for your employer? In what way did you stand out from anyone else if they had done that role instead of you?

The interesting part of CVs  are the achievements.  Once again, don’t devalue them by listing tens of achievements.  Stick to the achievements that you think are the most impressive, or that you are proudest of.  One or two per job is probably enough. Maybe three.  Make sure you quantify your achievements: how did they add value to the company?

Instead of ‘Increased sales despite difficult trading conditions’, write: ‘Increased sales 150%, from £400k to £800k, despite difficult trading conditions, contributing to a 60% increase in profits between 2008 and 2009’.  Or something like that, where the achievement has been quantified.

If you cannot think of any special achievements then either you’re not trying hard enough; or else you have genuinely plodded through your career leaving not mark behind you.  But, if you think about it, there is probably something you can point to where, without your contribution, things would have turned out less well.  If you are really struggling to identify your contribution, then you should definitely read ‘What Color is your Parachute’ and ‘Brilliant CV’ – and then have another go at it.

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