After countless seasons and episodes, Bart Simpson remains the infamous underachiever (and proud of it, man!). Cartoon world aside, achievements tend to be viewed as output indicators on an individual level. Beyond that, what a person chooses to take up as achievements, says something about what they value, or what they themselves at least considered important at the time.
Responsibilities, as an example, should not be confused with, or considered as replacements of, achievements. It can be useful information to know what you are paid to do – but generally it is more interesting and valuable to learn what you have accomplished. For this point alone, achievements should have a home in every CV.
Teamwork often makes it tricky to identify achievements in individual level. How much of a joint effort can you take credit for in your CV? I would refer to two follow-up questions as indicators to help clarify that one. If you had not been part of that team, what would have been missing from the outcome? And if someone asked the other team members about your contribution to the overall result, what would they say?
Modesty and certain personality traits can make a person uncomfortable in stating own achievements. Some of us are really hard-working and dependable, but do not want to bang our own drum about it. “Why should I brag about it, it was my job” or “there were many others involved in it too, I did not do it alone” are of course respectable perspectives. If you recognize yourself being in this category, I would suggest finding a sparring partner for going through key phases in your career and finding ways to describe your key contributions in each phase. At least a professional career coach will be able to help you with this.
So what is a good or impressive achievement? Everyone you ask would probably give you a different answer. It depends on your field of expertise – and I would claim it also depends on your seniority. As a starting point, list the outcomes you felt really happy with at the time, and the ones you were recognized for. Measurable attributes help to make your achievements easy to understand and concrete. So it is worth recalling how much you were able to grow sales in that role, reduce cycle time in this one, or increase customer loyalty over the years. Duration of activities can be significant also in implying their magnitude. Concepts created should not be overlooked, although changes implemented with verified results tend to be easier to address. Also, progressing really well in some free-time interest, such as a sport, can be a worthy achievement with regards to discipline, competitiveness, etc.
Eventually you may well end up with a longer list of achievements than you actually want to list in any one document. That I would call a positive challenge – just pick the ones that somehow hold relevance with regards to the employer or role you are aiming for. Timing is also a consideration point here. Just like with your work experience, also with your achievements the most recent ones tend to carry additional meaning over the older ones.
There you go. May the force be with you and take you towards new achievements!