Using experiences and accomplishments to sell yourself in interviews is the most powerful interviewing skill you can develop. Providing actual examples from your life experience convinces interviewers that you possess the necessary skills and qualities for the job. The following exercise will enable you to identify your top skills and will provide you with the evidence to support whatever claims you make about yourself. Taking time to complete this exercise will better prepare you for interviews and will set you apart from your less industrious competitors.
RECALLING YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Knowing your accomplishments—and identifying the skills used to achieve them—is one of the most important tasks of an effective job search. Recalling these key experiences will increase your self-confidence and will enable you to feel comfortable selling yourself.
Accomplishments can be big or small, very impressive or rather simple. An accomplishment is anything that includes at least one of these four items. You:
Enjoyed doing it
Did it well
Gained satisfaction from it
Are proud of it
Many accomplishments include all four aspects, while some may include just one or two. Accomplishments often involve solving problems. With some accomplishments you may receive recognition or compliments from parents, friends, coworkers, customers, or supervisors, while at other times you may be the only one who knows what you did. Some accomplishments are achieved through great effort, while others come easily. Many of your accomplishments were enjoyable and fondly recalled.
Other experiences are genuine accomplishments, but they may be “bittersweet.” It may be an accomplishment simply because you overcame many adversities. At the time you may have been extremely frustrated. Even thinking about the experience may bring back those feelings of frustration, anger, or hurt. It’s okay to remember the negative parts, but concentrate as much as you can on the positive aspects of the experience. In other words, concentrate on the result. These seemingly negative experiences often produce great personal growth.
Accomplishments are best thought of as specific experiences. Most of your accomplishments should be things that occurred during a relatively short period of time. It could be something that occurred from start to finish in fifteen minutes or several hours. More typically accomplishments are experiences which occurred over days or weeks. Although some accomplishments may take place over years, those long-term accomplishments can be broken into sub-accomplishments. For example, graduating from college is certainly an accomplishment. Although you should list an accomplishment like that, step back and consider all of the smaller accomplishments that enabled you to achieve the larger accomplishment. In the case of graduating from college that would include the key papers you wrote and the projects you worked on. Those papers and projects should be listed as well.
Now review the following list of accomplishments. These experiences have been provided by many different people. Notice how some of the accomplishments are impressive, while others seem rather common and ordinary. That’s to be expected. Note that most of the accomplishment statements also contain a result. As you list an accomplishment, the result helps you clarify what made it an accomplishment. Once you review the list you will then read three accomplishments in which 5-10 skills were identified. Then you’ll find instructions for completing this exercise. Basically you’ll be asked to identify 30 or more experiences that can be considered accomplishments, and then write about your top twelve experiences. Then you’ll identify the skills you used in each accomplishment. This is a critical exercise that can pay big dividends.
I received a $600 award from Boeing for suggesting a money-saving idea.
I became the first woman engineer in the firm.
I earned my way through college painting houses.
I figured out a faster method of estimating the cost of our printing jobs.
My advertising jingle is credited with increasing sales 15%.
My plan for flextime has really reduced absenteeism.
I made a sale to a firm that had refused to deal with us for 15 years.
I increased sales in my territory 39% in two years.
I added 24 customers to my paper route.
Wrote recommendations for a hazardous waste program that were adopted by the state.
I received three promotions in four years.
I became one of the youngest store managers ever in the chain.
I produced a videotaped training program for our tellers which cut training time of new tellers about 20% and significantly reduced the errors they made.
I developed and implemented a plan to purchase a fleet of trucks to handle our own deliveries. The plan cut our costs by 5% and provided more reliable service to our customers.
Made history and literature interesting to bored kids.
Created the first performance measurements, charts, statistics, and graphs for most functions of the department.
Developed a form and formula for calculating return on investment on large-quantity purchases.
Won the first “innovative achievement in purchasing” award from corporate.
Appeared with Mickey Rooney in four commercials.
Leveraged a $200,000 promotion budget into $1 million in on-air value.
Sold out the Spokane Opera House ten times and attracted 56,000 skiers to the Warren Miller ski film.
Convinced Roseanne to appear in a great but offbeat, low-budget ad campaign, just as she was hitting the big time.
I learned Russian so I could read War and Peace in the original language.
I got a B in chemistry after failing the midterm exam.
I got an A in chemistry from the toughest prof.
I wrote an outstanding paper on the causes of World War II.
I was elected senior class vice president.
I was committee chairperson of the junior prom decorations committee. Some teachers thought they were the best decorations in years.
I planted a garden, fought the weeds, and got 15 bushels of vegetables.
I hitchhiked alone from Paris through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
I planned and built a 400-square-foot deck.
I won honorable mention in a county bakeoff for a unique potato salad.
I wrote 25 short stories between 1985 and 1995 and got two published.
Getting paid assignments to photograph people.
Bought and redecorated (elegantly but on a small budget) a small condominium.
Designed a new dress, combining several patterns.
Took lessons and became a good dancer. Have taught others.
I learned to ski at age 44.
I got third place in a cross-country track meet.
I scored a game-winning basket.
I won first place in a kite-flying contest.
I climbed Mt. Rainier.
I competed in my first 10K race at age 36.
Although I hate swimming, I became a certified scuba diver.
Took the first group of American skiers (35 people) to Russia in 1986 for a 14-day exchange with the Russian Olympic team.
As president of the PTA I increased membership 36%.
I was elected secretary of my local accounting association.
As chairman of fund raising, I raised more money than any other Bay Area Lions Club in 1979.
My team built a very effective irrigation system during my Peace Corps tour.
I raised three mischievous boys and trained them to become well-adjusted adults.
I planned and arranged a wonderful three-week vacation in Europe with a tight budget.
I quit smoking.
I administered CPR to a man and saved his life.
After reviewing this list, read the expanded accomplishments on the following pages and notice how we identified skills. The purpose of this exercise is to identify as many stories as possible to be used in interviews, and to identify the key skills you’ll want to sell during interviews.
Able to bring consensus in areas that had been chaotic
Achieve the unachievable
Effectively get people to review a concept objectively
Get people to value consensus and to be willing to compromise
Effectively organize large educational seminars
Excellent at resolving disputes among diverse interest groups
Excellent at marketing programs and getting strong attendance
Effectively organize committees
People enjoy and value the events organized
For three years, beginning in 1997, I held a volunteer office with the Rocky Mountain Ski Instructors Association. I was elected to this position by the association’s 3,000 ski instructors to reorganize and simplify the current methodology used for teaching skiing.
This had never been accomplished because there were so many systems of teaching, and there was also a widespread misuse of terminology. Everyone was set in their ways and were unwilling to compromise. This became a critical issue because state licensing and certification was necessary for ski instructors to teach on U.S. Forest Service land at state ski areas. The Forest Service required a single system.
To accomplish this I organized several large educational seminars each year to educate both ski instructors and certification examiners on a simplified American teaching system. As many as 500 people attended these two-day events. I spent many hours in various levels of committee meetings disseminating information and resolving disputes among these diverse interest groups. As a result of these efforts, I was able to develop a unified ski teaching method and get it adopted by the Rocky Mountain Ski Instructors Association.
In this accomplishment, the first skill regarding consensus building is a powerful skill that he will probably sell frequently. The ski instructors story is a perfect vehicle for selling that skill.
In interviews don’t try to quote your skills exactly as they appear with your accomplishments. Instead, describe a skill in a way that is consistent with the way you talk. For example, you might say, “I’m the person who can achieve consensus when everyone is strongly disagreeing. Somehow I just find a way. I listen to all the sides and then help each side understand the needs of the other. Eventually we reach agreement on even the toughest issues.”
Gain the support and involvement of people who are naturally defensive and hesitant
Develop innovative methods and techniques
Effectively analyze profitability of products and services
Able to analyze a complete product line, take it apart, and put it back together with greater profitability
Develop highly effective computer generated reports
Gain the confidence and absolute trust of people
I led a research group in studying the profitability of installment lending at U.S. Bancorp. I analyzed gross yields, handling costs, and loan losses for the various types of loans. I developed a consistent and accepted method for measuring handling costs among the several loan categories. My analysis gained credibility with the senior lending managers. I worked with the installment lending department and obtained their help in the project. The analysis revealed that some types of loans had very high handling costs and were not profitable. My analysis helped initiate a move away from unprofitable loan categories. After discussions with a senior executive at the bank, I developed a computer report for easy monitoring of the rates, maturity, and size characteristics of new loans. This process helped ensure that we kept profitability high.
In this example the fourth skill is likely to have the greatest impact. The person might state, “My strength is producing products with greater profit margins. I have the ability to analyze a complete product line, take it apart and put it back together with greater profitability.”
Develop effective systems that increase sales and productivity
Develop sales incentives that really work
Conduct useful meetings
Able to instill a need for planning and organization into staff
Conduct motivating sales meetings
Always create a winning team
Get people believing in themselves
Give people the tools to help them succeed
In 1998 I was promoted from agent to district manager for New York Life. For the first month I hardly knew what I was supposed to do because there were no procedures or systems in place. Then I attended a seminar on insurance management put on by the Kinder brothers. They taught that you needed a system for everything. I learned a lot.
When I returned to the office I began to write a recruiting and training system. It really helped new agents get off to a fast start, and those early successes increased their motivation and self-confidence. I developed good campaigns with wonderful awards to motivate the achievers on the staff. We had training meetings which were always great occasions. I spent a lot of time with my new people and really got them going. I made mistakes but I did enough things right that it started to show. In 1999 we finished number three in the region and number one in 2000.
All of the skills listed are valuable, but it is the first skill describing the ability to develop systems that increase sales and productivity that will have the most impact.
Now read the instructions for completing this exercise. I trust you will take the time to write about your top twelve accomplishmentsand then identify skills within them. These twelve experiences will undoubtedly be used frequently in your interviews. They are your best experiences and each contains 5-15 key skills. Any time you want to sell one of the skills identified, you’ve got at least one excellent example.
The accomplishments you did not write about will also be used in interviews. If you have 20 or 30 that you did not write about, take up to two minutes with each one to identify the 2-3 key skills that jump out at you. Rehearse these experiences as well.
Before you begin identifying your accomplishments, be sure to read all of the instructions. There are important points throughout that you need to know and understand before you begin.
WRITING ABOUT ACCOMPLISHMENTS
1. Write a list of at least 30 experiences that you would consider to be accomplishments.
a) List the experiences as they pop into your mind. Don’t filter them out, just list them. They do not need to be “knock your socks off” types of experiences. Try to list 40 or more, but list at least 30. Once you get started listing them, one accomplishment will trigger another. An accomplishment is anything you:
Gained satisfaction from
Are proud of
b) Since people often share non-job-related experiences in interviews, do not feel limited to work experiences. Those with little work experience will of course emphasize experiences from school, hobbies, sports, or volunteer activities.
c) Include at least fifteen work-related accomplishments (assuming you have job experience), with at least four coming from your current or most recent job. If you’re frustrated in your current job, it’s easy to assume there haven’t been accomplishments, but there have been. Sometimes it merely takes a little more effort to identify them.
d) You have dozens of accomplishments. Don’t screen them out because they seem insignificant. Even these so called “insignificant” experiences can be used powerfully in an interview. These seemingly small experiences are often the perfect vehicle to demonstrate a particular skill or quality.
e) Don’t try to complete your list in one sitting. Over two or three days, think of the experiences as you drive to work or take a walk. As you drive you might be able to jot thoughts down as you wait for a stop light. Or, as you arrive at your destination, take five minutes to madly list the experiences that came to mind. Then you might need two or three sessions at home where you really concentrate on recalling experiences for 15-20 minutes at each session.
2. Write about your top experiences.
a) Determine your absolute top twelve lifetime accomplishments. One way is to decide which have had the greatest impact on your life. Another way is to ask yourself which ones will reveal the most skills. Or, which ones will have the greatest impact in interviews. As you begin to write, be sure to leave a three-inch margin on the left so you’ll have room to identify skills.
b) Write 100-400 words on each experience. Begin by describing the situation. Give some background. What were the circumstances? What were the problems you faced? How did you analyze the situation? What occurred? What actions did you take? What were the results? Use the SHARE model: Situation, Hindrances, Actions, Results, Evaluation. See pages 30 to 32. Write as completely as you can and give enough details so any reader would have a good understanding of what you did. If the accomplishment is job related, avoid acronyms or any technical jargon.
c) Describe your role. Many accomplishments are achieved through a group effort. You can still claim it as a personal accomplishment; simply concentrate on what your role in it was.
d) Describe the result. Every experience, every project, has a result. To describe the result, think about what your goal was. Did you achieve it? One of the best ways to think about results is to consider what you did, and then add the words, “which resulted in.” An example would be: “I trained all year for cross-country, which resulted in my placing sixth in the state—the highest finish ever for someone from my high school.”
e) Quantify your accomplishments whenever possible. It may mean estimating, but that’s fine. Did your accomplishment increase productivity at the office? If so, how much—10%, 40%, 65%? As a manager, did you decrease turnover? If so, how much? As a committee leader for a volunteer organization you may have increased membership, attendance at monthly meetings, or revenue on fund raisers. For more on results, read pages 32-40.
f) Write as fast as you can—after all, this is an experience you lived through. Memories will jump into your consciousness. One memory will lead to another as you recall what occurred in the accomplishment. Try to make your pen keep up with your brain or make your fingers race along the keyboard without worrying about typos. You can correct those later. Do not be concerned about spelling, grammar, sentence structure, or polished writing, just get your thoughts on paper. This is not a philosophy paper where every word must be perfect.
3. Identify skills.
a) Study the sample accomplishments on pages 46-48 to see how skills and qualities are identified. Skills are important, but personal qualities and characteristics are just as important. As a skill you might say, “produce highly effective marketing plans.” As a quality you might say, “extremely reliable,” “work well with people,” “hard worker,” or “able and willing to take on greater responsibility.” In actuality, these characteristics are skills.
b) Identify skills and qualities using phrases. Again, study the examples. In almost all cases a phrase has more impact than a single word. “Persistent” is a good word, but it doesn’t have the same impact as, “I never give up until the job is done right.” “Organizing” doesn’t have the same impact as “Effectively plan and organize projects and obtain high quality results.” Use words like excellent, effective, effectively. Words like those remind you that you didn’t just do it, but that you did it well.
c) Identify as many skills as you can, even if you feel the same skills were identified in other accomplishments. If a particular skill has been used in several accomplishments, that tells you a lot about yourself. Probably it is a skill that you are very good at and enjoy using. Having used the skill in several accomplishments also allows you to select the very best experience when you are about to mention that skill in an interview.
d) One way to identify skills is to pull them right out of your descriptions. Often you can take a phrase almost word for word out of your accomplishment.
e) Don’t skip the obvious skills. Sometimes a skill is so obvious to a person that it doesn’t seem valuable or important. Go ahead and quickly write it in.
f) Don’t skip a skill just because you think everyone can do it. Even if it is a common skill, it should still be listed. Often, however, a person only believes everyone can do it. This happens because the person has been skilled at it for a long time, and cannot remember a time when he or she could not do it. Because of that, it’s easy to assume that anyone can do it. Don’t get caught in that trap.
g) With your remaining accomplishments devote up to two minutes for each and identify the two or three most obvious skills.
Study the previous examples of accomplishments to get ideas on how to write about accomplishments and how to identify skills.
Involve someone in the process of identifying skills. It could be a friend, relative, or spouse. It’s good if you can find a person who is in the same situation, so you can go through this process together. Each of you will be able to give considerable insight to the other.
Have this person read one of your accomplishments. Then the two of you would discuss it as you provide more details. Have the person ask you questions to clarify anything which is unclear. This will help you tell more concise and clear stories during interviews. Telling the story out loud will help you recall the experience even better and will give you good practice for interviews. By discussing the experience with you, your helper will identify skills that would have been missed if that person had merely read what you wrote. People find it enjoyable to talk about their accomplishments and to receive positive feedback. from someone they respect. As you speak, the person should write down any skills which come to mind. Then the person will give you feedback when you’re through describing the experience. Rather than simply reading back what was written, the person should expand on it and describe what convinced him or her that you have that skill. It might go like this:
I wrote “You stand up for what you believe and provide leadership for others.” I think it took a lot of guts to stand up to management and request, or almost demand, that safety out in the plant get more attention. Once you took the stand others were willing to back you up. I think that’s what leadership is all about.
Writing about your accomplishments will prove enjoyable and enriching. Invariably people report their self-confidence increases as they become more aware of the positive things they’ve done.
Take the time to recall your accomplishments and identify your skills. Follow the instructions carefully. They are based on feedback from hundreds of people and will make the task much easier. Don’t try to do it in one sitting. Spread it out over several days. Have fun with this exercise.