Top Resume Mistake Women Make: Accomplishment Downplaying

“That accomplishment was really a team effort, I can’t take full credit.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in that area.”

“I don’t want to be boastful – that’s not my style.”

Oh, the objections I hear from women when I develop strong, accomplishment-based resumes.

As a professional resume writer, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some extraordinary women. From, entry-level to executives, these women have produced outstanding results for their organizations. But, unlike many of their male counterparts – and male competitors in the job market – they don’t want to frame their results as accomplishments.

There are probably many feminist, patriarchy-based theories to explain why women are scared to promote themselves in a confident and assertive way, but I don’t want to get into that.

I want to help women write better resumes. I want to help women position themselves better in the job market.

Here are some tips to help you identify “accomplishment downplaying” and how to correct it.

Don’t Bury the Lead

While both men and women are guilty of this, it’s much more prevalent among women – they detail their actions, but the result or impact of those actions is treated like an afterthought. It often seems like women do this on purpose to avoid appearing arrogant. But, demonstrating your value as a candidate by highlighting achievements is what a resume is designed to do.

It’s like Marie Curie saying, “Following other great researchers, I made significant advancements with my uranium experiments. Oh, yeah and I’m credited with first using the term “radioactivity”. Did you also want to know about my two Nobel prizes? I think I was the first woman to win one of those…is that important?”

Before:

Implemented a comprehensive sales training program for customer service representatives, which was rolled-out across the organization. Annual sales increased from $1M to $5M between 2014 and 2015.

After:

Catalyzed 400% sales growth (from $1M to $5M) in just one year; deployed a re-vamped enterprise-wide sales training program for customer service representatives.

If you have numbers that quantify an accomplishment, structure your sentence to get those metrics as close to the beginning as possible. Always lead with the result or impact on the organization, then explain the “how” behind it.

Prioritize Your Contributions

On a resume, potential employers don’t care if you had an amazing mentor or supportive superior who guided you through a tough business decision or negotiation process. They care that you succeeded. Don’t use your resume to give credit to other people. While it is important that you were able to forge advantageous relationships, you still need to own your results.

Before:

Alongside senior manager, assisted with negotiation process that reduced technology procurement spend by 15%.

After:

Instrumental contributor to a 15% reduction in annual technology procurement spend; partnered with senior management to secure preferred pricing from vendors.

The “after” version is much stronger and probably more accurate. It doesn’t discount senior management’s role, but it does put their role in better perspective, while highlighting your relationship building skills and commitment to delivering results to your organization.

Lackluster Adjectives

Another common problem among many women’s resumes, is that they tend to be boring. It’s tough for a hiring manager to get excited about your “competent time management” skills or your “ability to collaborate with cross-functional teams”, when you’re obviously not proud of these characteristics yourself. Dare to be more than hum drum.

Wouldn’t it be better to market yourself as a “gifted time manager with expertise in managing competing priorities and multiple deadlines” or a “persuasive communicator with a proven record of garnering consensus and buy-in among cross-functional business owners”? You’re not just “capable”, you’re “masterful”, “influential”, and “talented”.

Who cares if you merely “deliver sales increases” when you could “propel”, “generate”, “drive”, “spur”, “maximize”, or “boost” sales? You don’t just “manage” teams and projects, you “lead”, “govern”, “direct” and “spearhead”.

Always remember that your job application documents are marketing materials. It’s a sales pitch - and the product you’re selling is you.

Don’t be afraid of a little sizzle.

While you may view being humble about your career as simply being polite, it’s not the strongest way to market your value to a potential employer.

Struggling with the wording or phrasing of your accomplishments? Tell me about it in the comments or email me (tammybanfield@gmail.com) and I'll give you my take.

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Tammy Banfield is a professional resume writer and certified career coach who specializes in helping talented and ambitious women advance their careers and find rewarding, fulfilling jobs.

Tammy has helped over 600 career seekers from around the world secure coveted positions. Connect with Tammy on LinkedIn or at her Website. Want to know how to get headhunted? Download my free guide here: tammybanfield.com/freelinkedinguide

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