How to explain your achievements to a potential employer?

Posted on Thursday, June 23, 2022 by Rob MooreNo comments

Introducing our guest blogger Rob Moore, an experienced Career Coach. Today, he'll tell us 'How to explain your achievements to a potential employer?'. Now, kick back and enjoy! :)

Most people veer towards modesty when asked about their key skills and achievements; it tends to be a very British thing. But more often than not, the person who asks you about your achievements is genuinely interested in you, and the sort of person you are.

We need to know our achievements and experience and how they might appeal directly to others. And to do so in a way that they can immediately understand and appreciate.

  • Make a list of your achievements
  • Realise that achievements are not always about the job
  • Think about what you might have achieved for others
  • Ensure that your specific achievements will be of interest to your audience
  • Present them via interesting stories, rather than a succession of facts.

explaining your key achievements in arrows and target signs printed on wooden cubes going diagonally


Turn Your Achievements into a Story

Another classic interview question: “OK James, what would you say has been your best achievement in the past three years?” “Well, gosh, I don’t know. Where do I start?” Mm. Perhaps not the best answer, Jim...  But what might the interviewer be trying to establish by asking this question?  Essentially, they want to see what you’re actually made of, and what you might see as an ‘achievement’.

If you want to impress someone with your achievements and experience, you have to be able to describe them fully. However, do in a way that’s both interesting and appealing.  It’s quite a good idea to first make a list of your achievements; this can often be longer than you imagined. But whereas many people will focus on the ‘numbers’ (“delivered 20% increase in production”; or “15% up on net profits”), success can be measured just as much by other things. Moreover, you shouldn’t forget those that are often more important. For example, “as a midwife, having helped with the successful delivery of hundreds of healthy babies”; or “dealing effectively with a particularly unhappy customer – who had a genuine grievance - and ultimately receiving their thanks.” (i.e. delivering the best customer service) can be a much more ‘attractive’ achievement.

woman standing with hands on hips, her shadow wearing a cape in the background, your achievement


When Storytelling Meets Achievements

Suppose you have experience within a charity or the voluntary sector, particularly working on the relief of suffering of any kind. In that case, it can present a very powerful case and seem much more worthwhile than your other duties. For example, running a highly efficient department.

One of the most applauded moments on the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year is the award for the ‘Coach’ category. Invariably the award goes to someone who gives their time voluntarily to a group of youngsters, who otherwise didn’t have the opportunity, and teaches, motivates and encourages them in a new sport. What an achievement. But then anything you do that improves the lives of others is commendable, interesting and worthy of note.

Wherever possible, the best way to relate these experiences and achievements to others is to turn them into a story. Draw from the fund of episodes in your career*, where you have been the hero and turned a potential disaster into victory (for example the midwife could think of a few…) and offer a memorable account of the whole thing.

Finally, if you are trying to impress a potential employer, make sure what you tell them is relevant to them. Particularly, if it’s specific to their organisation (or your possible role within it).

If you were telling a story to a group of friends, you’d make sure that it was interesting to them, and possibly a little amusing.  Just like children, people tend to prefer, and will remember, a story.

Just as important, they’re more likely to remember you.

*they don’t have to be career-related (see ‘Coach’ above)

In Conclusion

Why are you so shy when it comes to talking about your achievements? An in-built sense of modesty is one reason, but then you often don’t quite know how to do it with modesty, but still effective.

There are many things we do in life that are achievements, and not all work-related:

  • bringing up a young family;
  • achieving success in sport;
  • climbing Everest;
  • giving up smoking;

…the list goes on. What we have to do is recognise these feats for the achievements they are: success against the odds, and possibly even in the face of huge scepticism from others.

Knowing what your achievements are is the first step to describing them – with all modesty – to others, but then being able to do so will mark you out as the achiever you are.

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