How To Tell Accomplishment Stories Effectively

You’ve organized the information you want to use for your resume. You’ve followed some good advice you’ve seen on identifying “accomplishments,” not just what tasks you performed or the skills you have. But now come the most important next steps: translating these accomplishments into effective “stories” for both your resume and your interviews. Stories? Absolutely! Related: Can Listing 'Awards' On Your Resume Portray Arrogance? Stories have three compelling components that make them a powerful part of your career search strategy:


  1. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  2. Stories include emotion: excitement, suspense, humor, or strategy.
  3. Stories spark interest in the reader to know more.
Now comes the toughest part – both your resume and interview need to contain short stories – only short stories. And this is where lack of preparation – and perhaps a natural tendency – creates the biggest mistake. Many job seekers are OK with the idea of telling stories, but they start the stories with the equivalent of “Once upon a time…” and drag on until the reader or interviewer figuratively (if not literally) falls asleep. On resumes, this is represented by a “just the facts” boring description of job duties. At the same time, other job seekers are uncomfortable trying to tell stories, so the answers to interview questions are too short and they struggle making even known accomplishments interesting on their resumes. A big factor I’ve noticed is simply stated, if not simply solved. High school or college graduates frequently tell me that they “haven’t accomplished anything yet.” Individuals with years of work history tell me that they “just did their jobs.” We’re easily misled by novels, television shows, and movies – where it takes 100’s of pages, multiple episodes, or two hours to get to the solution or the end of the story. For your resume and interview preparation, you’re better off looking at some examples from news media, either print or online. There you’ll find the importance of headlines. You’ll also find that almost all news articles are written in an “inverted pyramid” style – where the most important information comes first and all the details trail off to the end of the article. Your accomplishments in a resume should be no more than the first paragraph of a well-written news story – and the first 2-3 paragraphs are your answer for an interview.

Resume Stories

You should create 3-4 stories for your current and most recent positions. Each story should be no more than 3-4 lines – that’s about a 20-30 second story. There are some different formats suggested by experienced recruiters. I find the “Challenge-Action-Result” format to be one of the best. What was the “challenge” you faced? What did you “do” to meet the challenge? And what was the result? Here’s an example from a “Construction Manager:”
Organized and executed out of state deployments with only 2-3 days to prepare, successfully overcoming obstacles and issues to ensure crews arrived punctually and ready to complete the task at hand.
“Executed, overcoming obstacles, ensure” are strong words. “2-3 days, arrived punctually” are specific results. What’s important about this statement is that, as a hiring manager, this statement sparks my desire to know more about how the candidate “overcame obstacles.” I want to know more about the story. The same is true for this example:
Designed and presented an employee “onboarding” program at the request of department managers. Involved representatives from each department in presenting department visits as part of the program. Produced video on company history for program. Presented program bi-weekly for one year while training department managers to take over presentation.

Interview Stories

Much is the same for your interview preparation – but there’s one big difference. Your interview stories cannot be 20-30 second responses. That’s too short. So for interviews, you need the “Goldilocks” solution. Stories that are too short will lead the interviewer to believe there’s not much substance to your responses – or at least you’re not prepared. But if you give a wandering five minute response, your answers are too long. So your need to prepare – and practice – interview stories that are “just right.” Hiring expert Lou Adler has an outstanding format for preparing a “universal answer” to interview questions: the Say-A-Few-Words 2-Minute response. The SAFW 2-Minute response should:
  • Have an opening statement
  • Amplify the opening statement
  • Add some examples
  • Wrap it up
Let’s look at the last example in the context of an interview – “tell me about your experience at…”
  • Open: I directed the training for all managers and employees…
  • Amplify: One of my most important responsibilities was developing new, highly experiential training programs.
  • Example: I developed a completely new employee orientation program… (details)
  • Example: I responded to a request from the owner to improve the effectiveness of managers meetings…(details)
  • Wrap: The programs I developed were all reviewed positively with excellent participant attendance.
With the details added as indicated, it should be easy to see how this answer could be a SAFW 2-Minute response. You should prepare 3-4 of these responses for each of your positions, and if recent, for your education. Prepare and practice! If you develop true stories, you’ll spark interest in companies and interviewers – they’re your stories. Tell me more!

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About the author

Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at www.farcliffs.com.     Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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