How to Describe an Achievement – Pro Style

Estimated reading time: 5 mins

Whether it’s in a resume or in a job interview, knowing how to describe an achievement is a critical factor for success. Here are 7 tips to help you effectively communicate your great work!

Maybe you’re polishing your resume for that job you really really want, or even desperately need? Or perhaps you’re preparing for an interview? Updating your LinkedIn profile with recent successes? Then helping people to discover how amazing you really are will be a major advantage.

how to describe an achievement

Why Don’t Many People Know How to Describe an Achievement?

Too many people underplay their achievements! Perhaps they don’t like blowing their own trumpet. They make diluted, underwhelming claims about their career successes. So much so that their resume doesn’t stand out. They don’t know how to describe an achievement! Perhaps it’s conditioned humility (especially true in my native UK!) or a lack of confidence.

Question is, do YOU? If not then you’ve got to do something about it FAST, as opportunity could be passing you by – snatched by the people who have learned to do it better than you.

Related: Personal Work Achievements you have Strangely Withheld

Politicians are experts in knowing how to describe an achievement (even if they sometimes do dress up the success of others as their own). They have to be good at this, or they wouldn’t be elected. The very best politicians, who have acted with integrity and courage, give us (what I have identified as) seven keys to describing achievements.

Let’s have a look at what they are:

1. Clarify Your Involvement in the Achievement

how to describe an achievement

Use powerful, positive words that describe your contribution. For example, ‘created’, ‘reorganized’ or ‘initiated’. These words evoke the sense of an objective and an achievement. Passive statements like ‘did’, ‘performed’ or ‘was involved in’ don’t indicate your level of involvement or your impact – they’re worthless, so don’t use them. Words that show that you actually made a difference are what count.

2. Describe a Start, Middle and End

When learning how to describe an achievement, mention the starting conditions, such as ‘poor performance’, ‘high costs’, ‘unpalatable risk’, and follow with a statement on what you made happen to overcome it (the project, change initiative, etc), and then cap it off with the result – was the desired outcome achieved? What you’re doing is telling story. And a story creates a more powerful, memorable narrative.

3. Quantify the Achievement

how to describe an achievement

Use numbers and hard measures where you can. This is very important – the most critical element of the articulation. For example, say ‘saved $50,000’ rather than ‘saved operating costs’. The more specific you are, the greater the value of your statement of achievement. In almost all cases, a percentage value has a higher-impact than an absolute number. In some cases, what might look like a minor achievement, when quantified, it could be a major achievement as perceived by others. If you don’t have exact numbers, then give an estimate – providing that it stands the test of reason and challenge. But don’t over-exaggerate – if you get found out then it’s game over.

4. Don’t Forget Over-Achievement!

If in your achievement you set out to save $50,000, but instead saved $60,000, then make sure this is known. State the target and what you actually achieved, and how you bettered it. So many people forget to do this and it’s such a shame as this is truly gold-dust to sprinkle on your resume!

5. Be Bold with Your Accolades

Some achievements warrant special reward, so mention them. Perhaps you or your organization gained industry recognition with mention in the press? Or did you break a performance record within your organization? State this. Leverage the heck out of it. Don’t be shy and be specific.

6. Include details of challenging circumstances

how to describe an achievement

If the achievement was tough due to business events, market conditions or any other challenging situations, then make sure you say what they were. Achievement through adversity rocks. It’s important to describe any challenges you faced because it makes the achievement all that more special. Think again about your achievements and consider if there were circumstances that made it difficult – you might not have thought about this yet. For example, if there were many layoffs in your organization whilst you were tasked with improving team morale, then make these conditions clear. Again, don’t be shy; be bold.

7. State the Effect of the Achievement, 360-degree style

Describe the achievement not just from your own perspective; also describe what it meant for your colleagues, subordinates, management and customers (where appropriate.) Not only does this describe your achievements in an organisational context, it also shows that you think in this way too. Hardly anybody does this, so adding this to your claims will give you a distinct advantage. Don’t forget to quantify the impact of your achievement for each of these groups of people too.

How to Describe an Achievement Example…

I have taken the above 7 keys and used them to create an example achievement. Read it through, and try to spot them.

I was awarded Employee of the Month in July because of my leadership in helping the customer services department, who were suffering from morale issues and continuously missing targets by 40%. I reorganized them into product teams, placing mentors in each team, which resulted in a complete turnaround – the department exceeded targets by 6% and reduced complaints by 15% within 2 months by using daily stand-up meetings to rapidly assign resources. My colleagues in this department are now happier than ever and feel on top of their game, and they say that staff attrition has reduced by 18%.

You should now be able to identify the components of this statement and how I have used the 7 keys to create it.

Now do you know how to describe an achievement?

Have you an effective or unusual way of describing your achievements? Then share your thoughts by leaving a comment. Know an 8th? Then please tell us by leaving a comment below…

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47 thoughts on “How to Describe an Achievement – Pro Style”

  1. Thanks for these valuable tips Simon. Very useful for my next performance appraisal. I won’t be bragging… just stating facts with your help!

    1. Hi Asif – sure, bragging doesn’t come into it! Fact is if you don’t sell yourself by articulating your achievements well, then the achievements haven’t really achieved anything, if you get my meaning 😉

  2. I think most people completely blow it on #3. Many applicants I have interviewed over the years completely fail in quantifying the results they achieved. At the end of every project I always attempt to quantify my results. If nothing else this gives me a benchmark for my next project and annual review time.

    On a cautionary note, be sure your quantifiable results are reasonable and supportable. While working for a small company it is tough to say that you saved the company $5 million on a change in the spam filtering technology. Always make sure it passes reasonability factor.

    It is kind of funny, I challenged one applicant on a claim in an interview, and he had supporting evidence in his bag. I thought what a truly outstanding idea for supporting a truly extraordinary accomplishment.

  3. Hi Michael – that is a really great point. To be frank, the number we quantify doesn’t need to be 100% accurate in interviews – a best estimate will do – it’s tough to check. I am not suggesting a lie though – as you say it has to be supported with the ‘how’ and pass the reasonability factor.

    The supporting evidence is a real interview winner, isn’t it?

  4. moh'd hisamuddin

    Thank you so much i think this limited lines are enough to get impact on Ur achievement and thanks to all for Ur best compliments

  5. It’s Really Quite great but not enough about Achievement i can say it should have to explain deepen and further this is not enough description really…thanks all..
    By: Mohamed Ahmed Hussein (Garaadka)

  6. Thanks for these Simon. I was just about to update my resume and your tips give me some great opportunities to make it more impressive. Especially point 3!

  7. @simon.. I’m going to apply for internship first time so what do i write in achievements as i have no job experience.

    1. Hi Sonia. Great question! As long as it’s relevant – it’s usable. So what about experience as a volunteer, in a club or sports club? Did you complete relevant projects at school or college that you can write about? Then there may be assignments and dissertations/papers you might have written? Does that help you?

  8. I have done projects in team, can that be my achievement? as every student is doing projects in each semester. still I’m in process of studying so in which activity I enroll myself in, to get any achievement which can be related to internship or help me in writing my cv?

  9. Hey Sonia – yeah! That is an achievement. What were the outcomes of the projects? What did you prove?

    Projects are very relevant, because you started with a ‘case’ (why do the project), you will have had a plan (even it it wasn’t formally documented), you had resources (you time, skills, tools) and you had an measurable objective. And then you had the achievements – the impact of completing the project in terms of time, money, capability, art or science.

  10. Thank you Simon! i had no idea these intangible resources counts too and Project went good. we organized seminar in that project, i was managing catering side(ordered food). I’ll be thankful if you could make sample cv for internship (only for reference) that can help much to go through this internship process.

  11. Simon thank you for your valued tips.
    Is it ok if i write my achievement with the ratings and promotion i got, whether they will make positive or negative impact on resume selector

    1. Hi Vinod – yes definitely. If you can back up your achievements with hard results like ratings and promotions, this will add even more strength and validation to your claim. Additionally, write about what the rating and promotion then enabled you to achieve. Thanks for your comment!

  12. I find it hard to define my achievements becasue I just see it all as part of the job – something anyone can and should do.

    1. Hi John – performing a job to the minimum standard required by a ‘job description’ is the ticket to the game. Actually achieving something beyond this is a real achievement!

      1. tell me how can i describe my iniative achievement in cross category display in just 10 sec video clip any one can help me

  13. @Anmay – who has seen your personal statement so far? Is there a trusted family member who has been to a similar college that you could ask to review it?

  14. Hi Simon nice article. i can finally answer this question “Describe your most significant professional achievement to date and why?” I have a techinical interview this cominh Friday and they need an essay about that. Wish me luck!

    1. @keisy – can you use the highest impact statements to get it to five sentences? Perhaps if you posted what you’re writing here then you might get some help!

  15. abt gretest achivanemnt in my opnion …in my past orgazation i have compelted my sales target .even achivd over..can be this point noted over.

    1. Most certainly Aditya! This is the best kind of achievement! Express the over-achievement as a percentage as this can look more impressive. Can you say how you over-achieved it? What was the most significant thing you did that led to this result? Thanks for commenting

  16. hi simon, i apply to do and as part of the requirement, i have this question to answer. indicate your most significant professional achievement and give your reasons viewing it as such. how do i start.

    1. Hi Nat. Thanks for your question. What I would do first is to really understand what your greatest personal achievement in your career or education. Look at this post first. It’s vital you choose something that you can passionately talk about without ‘rehearsing’ an answer. This will come through when you have an interview or phone call with Admissions Officers. Then, use my post about how to describe your achievements to articulate it in the best way. Hope that helps. Simon

  17. All of these What Is Your Greatest Accomplishment? answers are always in sales! Wish i could find some good answers for, lets say ! Chemical Plant Operator? I’ve been working for the past 5 years as a Batch Process Operator, I was promoted to Shift Lead Operator 6 months into the job! I oversee the entire production process at “My Plant “. I supervise the workers and maintain the equipment within our plant. My goal is to ensure that the production process runs safely and smoothly and that the plant produces quality results. I coordinate with Plant Manager on special projects and to get all plant workers on the same page. Well unfortunately No room for advancement so I am currently looking. Any help on this behavioral questions would be greatly appreciated !

    1. Hi David – a Chemical Plant Operator has amazing opportunities to describe their achievements. What about ‘number of accidents avoided/reduced this year’ due to your effort and skill? What about increase in output? What about number of workers trained in health and safety? How about volume of equipment that is maintained on schedule? And mean time between failures of the equipment, and how you’re increasing it? It feels like there are lots of tangible measures, that you can put numbers to, that will showcase your impact, skills and commitment. Hope those help! Simon

  18. Hi, Simon. Great to see your effective responses up till now. Please, I have an essay for a Msc scholarship application to write about my achievement. However, I am confused as to the one to pick. Can I use a volunteer work I was involved in 3yrs ago to mentor school children (is that not too far into the past?) OR setting up a student society which was far back in 2008 or helping a client do something which to me was minute but the client was totally thrilled over and got me an award as the staff of the month ???. I graduated 2yrs ago from the university, so I really do not have a lot of great career achievements YET. Please what do you suggest ?

    1. Hi Kemi – hope I am not too late to help you on your essay. Sounds like you’re a very active, progressive person who enjoys helping others. Which one to pick? Kemi I suggest you pick the achievement that you’re most proud of and passionate about, as it is this one that will shine when you write it. I don’t think it matters if it was a little while back, as long as it is relevant. It may be that your volunteer work is the right option, because it is something you can get your teeth into. The ‘thrilled client’ might not be the right choice because (in your words) it wasn’t significant and you might then feel that you’re being a fraud in ‘bigging it up’ – even though your client loved you to bits. It’s what you think is the real achievement – not necessarily what praise you received. Hope that helps. Simon

      1. Awesome Simon.!!! I chose the volunteer work, and I was able to write passionately about it…. I have no feedback regarding the application yet…Wish me all the best please. Thank you for your response. MUITO OBRIGADA…

        1. Really pleased to hear that Kemi. There’s one thing I have learned about these situations: whether you achieve success or not from your actions, making the right choice based on personal integrity and authenticity means you won’t have regrets. We are defined by our actions and choices, so your choice to go with the option that enables you to represent Kemi and Kemi’s passion has got to be best one.

  19. Midnight Runner

    I am terrible at this! Always feel as if I am overselling myself when I try to describe my achievements. But the article does make it seem less like bragging, so I might just give it a go.

    1. There’s a difference between bragging and selling yourself at the right moment! Interviewers, managers and customers will expect you to establish your credentials.

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