The Right Way to Highlight Accomplishments in Your Resume

The author reminds job seekers that when describing their accomplishments, it is important to describe how they have made those accomplishments as well as how the results were achieved. He offers some guidelines for how to best do this.

Filling out a federal job application or developing a résumé for a non-federal job might sound like an easy task.  You just list all the jobs you’ve had – right?  Well, it’s not so easy.  It’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it.  The way you describe what you have done can make a difference between getting a job and being an also-ran in the promotion process.  In describing what we have done, it is very important to describe how we have done it and the results we have achieved.  Career counselors and résumé writers use the word “accomplishment” to describe statements that tell the document’s reader exactly what we have done and why we are a good candidate for promotion. The following information on accomplishments has been adapted from my 2012 book, Career Transition: A Guide for Federal Employees.

A list of accomplishments is a necessity for creating a top-flight résumé or application.  Therefore before you begin to put your résumé or application together, you should take some time to thoroughly review your work history and come up with a list of your accomplishments.

Some find it hard to come up with a list of things they’ve accomplished over their career and you might be one of them.  If you have retained copies of prior job descriptions, performance appraisals and other work related documentation over your federal career, you should have a ready source of detailed information that will jog your memory as to things you have accomplished yourself.  If you have not retained copies of performance appraisals, ask your supervisor.  He or she might have copies going back a few years.

When identifying accomplishments, don’t restrict them to work-related ones.  Think back on things you have accomplished outside of work, such as volunteer work.  As you think back on what you have done, the following questions can jog your memory.

  • Did you improve a work process?  (How?) (What were the results?)
  • Were any recommendations you made adopted by your agency?  (Why?) (What were the results?)
  • Were you promoted to a job with more responsibility?  (Why?)
  • Have you solved difficult problems?  (How?) (What were the results?)
  • Have you increased productivity (Your own or that of your agency)?  (How?) (What were the results?)
  • Have you saved your agency time or money? (How much?) (How did you do it?)
  • If your job output was measured, how did you compare with your peers?
  • Have you served on or led any special project teams?
  • Have you taken on additional responsibility?  (What was the result?)
  • Have you served as a manager?
  • Have you been asked to train others?  (Why?)
  • Have you managed a budget?  (How big?)

Think of other questions that can help you remember your accomplishments and use them as memory-joggers as well.  Think of every job you have had and every volunteer assignment in which you have participated.  Don’t worry as to whether it is related to the type of position you are seeking at this time.  This exercise has as its purpose amassing information that can be used (or not) in preparing a résumé or application.

Think of yourself as a salesperson selling a product.  The product is you.  The more you can articulate about yourself, your skills and what you have accomplished; the better prepared you will be to sell yourself to a prospective employer.

You can use the first column of the following table to list your accomplishments.  Make extra copies of the table if you need to.  We will discuss the second column after you have identified and listed your accomplishments.

It will help if you use action words when listing your accomplishments.  Sample accomplishments are listed in the first two rows of the table below.  You may wish to do this before you read on.

My Accomplishments So What?
Reduced processing time for job application packages Agency was able to reduce the time from initial application to entrance on duty by 25%
Managed a staff of ten Successfully prepared more employees for promotion than other managers in my division

Now let’s go back and look at the accomplishments you listed with a careful eye, much like a prospective employer might.  So what if you managed a staff of ten?  You certainly aren’t the first one to manage others.  Think of what you would say about your accomplishments if someone asked “so what?” or “what’s so big about that?”.  Perhaps you prepared more of your staff for promotions than any other manager.  Perhaps you dealt successfully with a problem employee, turning them into a productive staff member.

Employers are interested in what you have accomplished, but they are even more interested in the results you achieved.  For example:

  • How did your actions impact the effectiveness and efficiency of your agency?
  • Did your actions save money?
  • Did your actions save time?
  • Did you receive any special recognition for your actions?
  • What obstacles did you overcome in this accomplishment?

These are typical of “so what?” questions.  By answering them and others like them, you flesh out your accomplishments and tell prospective employers how you added value to previous employers.  That will pique their interest and make them interested in you as an employee.

Take some time to list your “so what?” answers in the second column.  Look for ways to quantify your answers as was done in the two samples.

Once you have answered all the “so what” questions for all of your accomplishments, you will have the meat of your résumé or application.  When you have put all of your accomplishments together, you should share them with people who know both you and your work.  Give copies of them to co-workers, bosses, customers, friends, family members and others.  They’ll help you fine-tune your accomplishments, or recall accomplishments you may have overlooked.

When you have finished you will have completed the hardest part of the job application process.  Replace statements that simply state what you were responsible for, with statements that quantify what you have accomplished – your résumé or application will be better for it and you will have a better chance at being selected.

Agencies can request to have John Grobe, or another of Federal Career Experts' qualified instructors, deliver a retirement or transition seminar to their employees. FCE instructors are not financial advisers and will not sell or recommend financial products to class participants. Agency Benefits Officers can contact John Grobe at to discuss schedules and costs.

About the Author

John Grobe is President of Federal Career Experts, a firm that provides pre-retirement training and seminars to a wide variety of federal agencies. FCE’s instructors are all retired federal retirement specialists who educate class participants on the ins and outs of federal retirement and benefits; there is never an attempt to influence participants to invest a certain way, or to purchase any financial products. John and FCE specialize in retirement for special category employees, such as law enforcement officers.