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Where's The Challenge In Your Accomplishments?

From Career Tips, 2006 Volume 3, March 2006


In an interview, it is critical to get very focused on challenges: the challenges you've dealt with in the past, the problems you've solved or will be able to solve for the organization, the challenges the organization or hiring manager faces for which you are the solution. Why is that?

Hiring managers aren't excited about bringing you on board just because there are routine tasks that should be done, and you happen to be experienced doing those tasks. They WILL get excited about hiring you if they are facing a challenge, and see you as a strong solution to that challenge. And they are ALWAYS facing some challenge, or they wouldn't be looking to hire anyone in the first place. The better you understand their challenges, the more likely you are to be able to communicate clearly how you are the solution.

This applies equally to creating visibility and influence on the job. People are most impressed not by the routine work you do, but by the challenges you overcome to get the work done. The paradox is that if you truly do an outstanding job of dealing with the challenges as they arise, make them go away and leave the impression that it was easy, will people every fully recognize the outstanding contribution you are making?

This is why it is vital that your "accomplishment stories" draw a laser beam on the challenges. I've observed that most people don't do a good job of setting the stage in their stories and miss opportunities as a result.

Let me give you an example:

"I created the platform to launch our newest application for commercial loans, including all market research, viability studies and client buy-in. This has been recognized by our CEO as our top avenue for large scale growth in the coming years, and has already produced $2 million in advance commitments."

This is a pretty impressive story, isn't it? It clearly lays out what this person did, what he accomplished, and impressive, measurable results. But it could be even more powerful if he backed up a bit and introduced the challenge that caused him to even receive this assignment in the first place:

"XYZ wanted to go public. They were a young, successful company, but with a limited revenue stream that made this difficult - they needed to diversify quickly. They brought me in to create the platform to launch their newest application for commercial loans, including all market research, viability studies and client buy-in. This has been recognized by our CEO as our top avenue for large scale growth in the coming years, and has already produced $2 million in advance commitments."

See how the addition of the challenge at the beginning improves the story and makes the results seem even that much more impressive? It increases the contrast between the situation before the project and the results achieved.

My advice is this: with every project you complete, with every accomplishment you want to highlight in a status report, cover letter, resume, marketing brochure, networking meeting, interview, etc., take some time to think about what the key challenges were that you had to overcome to make it happen. Then make sure that comes across in your story!


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