reCareered: Experience vs Accomplishments

Many candidates think that employers just look for experience. Most times candidates overlook that most employers may give even more weight to accomplishments. Understanding how an employer views each will shed some light on the importance of both experience and accomplishments in your resume.

Hiring managers view experience as possessing the minimum skill level to accomplish a task. Demonstrating that you have 25 years of experience in a certain function says nothing about how well you've performed. You may have been performing at a minimal skill level for 25 years, or you may have been a guru for 25 years - a hiring manager can't determine how talented you are at a skill merely by the number of years you've been practicing it.

From most candidate's point of view however, unless you expect ageism, number of years of experience signifies greater skill. Candidates regularly assume that listing 25 years of experience performing a job function means that you're really good at that job.

Most hiring mangers and candidates don't interpret experience in the same way. In a sense, they aren't speaking the same language.

Hiring managers use experience as a proxy for minimum qualifications, but rarely hire a candidate who just meets the minimum (unless there's a talent shortage). Today, a hospital might hire a nurse with minimum qualifications, and in 1999 developers could find work if they could even spell Java. For most job openings in today's market, hiring managers can afford to be choosy - there's an oversupply of labor today.

Since hiring managers have their choice of a wide pool of applicants (many times there are thousands of applicants for a job opening today), hiring mangers can seek an employee who will solve their current problems most effectively and who also meets their minimum qualifications.

To simplify things, most hiring managers have problems requiring them to either earn revenue or reduce costs (there are some exceptions). Even if a hiring manager's goal is to increase customer satisfaction, the end result will either increase revenues (customers repeat purchase), or decrease costs (lower returns, rework, warranty claims, customer service costs). The hiring manager has the luxury to choose who will best help them achieve their goals - to increase revenues or reduce costs. How can a hiring manager determine who's the most likely to help? Accomplishments.

Hiring managers use accomplishments as a predictor of future performance. While experience/skills tells a hiring manager what you've done, accomplishments tell a hiring manager what you are capable of doing in the future. However, not all accomplishments matter to a hiring manager. The accomplishments that a candidate is most proud of may not matter to a hiring manager if it doesn't demonstrate solutions to the employer's current problems.

Accomplishments that demonstrate that you've already solved similar problems are relevant to your hiring manager. Use language to describe the problem in a similar way to how the hiring manager describes their own problems. Accomplishments that are measurable with bottom line results allow a hiring manager to compare your results to those of other candidates. If you can demonstrate that you've solved similar relevant problems and that the results you achieved are more impressive than your competitors, a smart hiring manager should want you on their team - because you've shown you can help them reach their goals better than your competition. This can give you a huge advantage.

So let's think about this from the employer's point of view. Most hiring decision processes evaluate experience and accomplishments like this:

  1. HR looks at experience first, pre-screening candidates who meet the minimum capabilities of the job, with the minimum skill level or experience. Unless there's a candidate shortage, the hiring manager probably won't need to consider candidates who don't meet all the requirements. The employer wants to screen candidates out who don't meet minimum requirements, and uses Applicant Tracking Systems or other automated processes pre-screen efficiently.

  2. If a company receives hundreds or thousands of applicants, there are probably more applicants who meet the minimum criteria than the company can interview. There are probably even more than the company has even time to look at - after all, the HR department is responsible for sourcing candidates for many many positions. It's likely that the HR department had staff reductions and are short handed. Most HR staff are manged by speed measurements rather than effectiveness - they are rewarded to forward a list of minimum qualified candidates quickly, but not rewarded for forwarding the best candidates. HR is likely to forward a list of about a dozen or so candidates - based on the top of a keyword search list from the company ATS, similar to the first dozen results from a Google search.

  3. The hiring manager interviews pre-screened candidates and usually chooses the candidate based on accomplishments. The winning candidate typically demonstrates the best ability to help solve the hiring manager's problems because the candidate has solved similar relevant problems, with the most noticeable results.
I'm not forgetting final criteria like fit and budget. Both fit and budget are important constraints that are included in most hiring decisions - but that's not today's topic. I'll examine those issues in future articles. OK, so you realize that both experience and accomplishments are evaluated in your resume. How do you balance between the two? How can you load your resume with both, and keep it under 10 pages? How to use experience and accomplishments in your resume for the best results:
How can you transform your own resume to make experience and accomplishments work for you?

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