You know that lying on your resume is an absolute no-no. And while you’d (hopefully) never fake a degree, there are some times when it’s unclear what is an OK way to stand out (e.g., listing a more descriptive job title—within reason!) and what starts to cross the line. If you’ve ever perused LinkedIn profiles or reviewed a handful of resumes, chances are you’ve come across some statements that make you go: “Hmmm…really?”
One such common struggle many people wrestle with is how to best describe their personal contributions toward larger company accomplishments. Thankfully, it’s easier than it seems once you break it down.
Don’t Undersell Your Contributions
Believe it or not, the biggest resume faux pas I see when it comes to company impact is people failing to articulate how important they were! For example, say that as part of your current marketing role, you helped redesign your company’s Facebook page. You could describe the activity on your resume simply as: Designed cover photo for company’s main Facebook page.
Yawn. If you dreamed up, pitched, and fought for the look of the page to go in a specific direction, such a statement would fail to capture your role in the larger branding strategy. Underselling your achievements is as bad as overselling, and it’s a resume don’t. To fix it, don’t just list the tasks you completed, but also be sure to provide insights into the impact you had.
To write a stronger bullet, Google’s Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock suggests the following formula: Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z].
Here’s how your new bullet point would look: Assisted with 26% social media growth, as measured by Facebook page likes, by designing a more compelling customer-facing cover photo.
From the statement alone, the recruiter can now quickly infer the following:
- Assisted—You’re acknowledging your team by not taking full credit.
- Social media growth of 26%—You understand social media, and you know how to measure growth. (Bonus points for quantifying your impact!)
- Designing—You have design experience.
- Customer-facing—Your company trusts you to create materials seen by its customers.
When your work is the reason for a company win, don’t be shy about describing your involvement.
Don’t Overinflate Your Work’s Significance
Unfortunately, this coin has two sides. While some people unknowingly undersell their contributions, others have a habit of making it seem like they had the idea for a project when they were merely present at the meeting that it was pitched in.
Using a variation of our previous example, imagine if you stated: Ran comprehensive social media campaign that resulted in 26% growth of Facebook likes.
Wow, are you in charge of social media at your company? No, you just designed a great photo. Suddenly, your great achievement seems miniscule compared to what you claimed—and puts you in the uncomfortable position of trying to explain away a resume bullet that stretches the truth.
On top of that, people like co-workers who don’t take undue credit for their team’s work. Just imagine how awkward the reference call would be if a hiring manager called your former boss—the person who really spearheaded the project—and started asking about your accomplishments, or what will now be known as “accomplishments.”
Not to mention, even if your embellishment gets your foot in the door, if you’re actually hired, you may end up in a role that’s way over your head. According to a 2014 study, 79% of interviewed business owners reported “they had hired employees with mismatched skill sets or who displayed underperformance on the job, despite the claims made on their resume.” Yikes.
So, when deciding whether to list company achievements on your resume, ask yourself two questions. Would you be comfortable talking about that bullet in detail in an interview? Would your bosses vouch for what you’ve written on your resume? If you’re still unsure, ask someone! You can leverage your friends or alumni network to get valuable and honest answers.