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The Bright Side: Highlight your talent

By Jim Bright

Underplaying achievements is the blight of job hunters, writes Jim Bright.

This week, I want to address what I reckon is the No.1 mistake job hunters make in written applications. It is prompted by the huge number of readers who have sent me their resumes for comment over the years and also by a recent job-hunting workshop I ran for an organisation.

About 20 people were at that workshop and they all showed me their written applications. Everyone made the same mistake. Not one of those job hunters had described their work achievements.

Apparently, job hunters do not understand the difference between job duties and job achievements.

They make the mistake of thinking that their duties are what employers want to read, rather than achievements. Some do not have sufficient insight into what their achievements are, some lack confidence in promoting their achievements and some, frankly, are too lazy to go to the trouble of including them.

Let's get the lazy issue out of the way. It is a simple task to cut and paste from a duty description into one's resume. It requires no thought and fills up a bit of the page to give the resume some padding. It is even easier not to bother applying at all — though not applying is probably just as effective a strategy as failing to include your job achievements in your resume.

For others, the lack of insight or confidence often stems from overgeneralising our cultural norms around self-promotion.

Generally in society we discourage such behaviour but applicants need to appreciate that job applications are one of the exceptions. Self-promotion is not only acceptable, it is expected.

For those who think employers want to see duty lists instead of achievements, consider the following prime ministers: Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard, Rudd and Gillard. Do you think some of these people did a better job than some of the others?

Well, if they all simply listed their duties on their resumes, they would be identical. The most incompetent, unemployable, work-shy, nincompoop colleague who does the same job as you could look identical on a resume if all you do is list your duties.

In our research we sent employers resumes that contained duties and others that were otherwise identical except they included achievement statements. The employers were much more likely to shortlist the achievement-based resumes.

To write one, it is useful if you can quantify what you achieved. So you can transform a duty statement such as "responsible for applying departmental policy" into "generated licence-fee income in excess of $350,000 annually through the timely and accurate application of department compliance measures, representing a 30 per cent annual increase in revenue".

The key is to get into a mindset that makes a virtue of what you might otherwise consider just to be "part of my job".

So, if a colleague thanks or praises you for some action, keep a record of it in a job journal with the names and dates, along with a short description.

If you are having trouble quantifying an achievement, for instance, "I type the reports sent to me by the chicken inspectors", ask yourself, "Do I type more than one report a year and less than eleventy billion?" Now, increase the lower number and decrease the higher number until you get to one that you know to be on the low side slightly and add the term "in excess of". So we end up with "type in excess of 80 reports a month, with fewer than 2 per cent returned because of typing errors".

If you want one tip to revolutionise your applications, include job achievements.

Jim Bright is professor of career education and development at ACU and a partner at Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy. Email marked clearly "FOR PUBLICATION" to

Published: 25 June 2011

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