April 17, 2015

Talking About Accomplishments to Americans


Some may call it "sharing my accomplishments," while others may call it boasting. In his book 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions, Ron Fry states that one must confidently state accomplishments while not seeming boastful. One must be able to balance a sense of ‘boasting’ with ‘humbleness.’

This is not easy. This is not easy for newcomers to the US, especially from Asian countries, and it’s not even that easy for Americans. This is one reason why many newcomers, foreigners, expats and local Americans get stressed out about interviews.

Portraying our accomplishments in an interview, on a resume or LinkedIn profile or in everyday conversation is a challenge for many reasons. One of the biggest is that we may have never really been taught how to identify our accomplishments. We also do not understand how the companies want us to communicate our accomplishments to them.

While “being #1 in a bike race” is an accomplishment, most of us know it’s not one that should be discussed while asking what are our greatest career achievements (unless we are aspiring to be the next Lance Armstrong!). So, how can we identify and state our accomplishments to our interviewer for the best impression? This will take some work on your part. Take out a paper and pen (or open your word processor and start typing) and complete this small exercise.

How to Identify Accomplishments (tailoring it to the specific job you are interviewing for):              
Step 1: List all the skills needed for this position.
Step 2: Highlight all the skills in that list you have. (Be honest!)
Step 3: Rank those skills from best to worst.
Step 4: Next to each skill, list an accomplishment from your past or present job(s).
Step 5: Choose the top 3 or the best 3 accomplishments for elaboration.

Identify in those accomplishments how you saved your team/company time, money or resources. Highlight this using NUMBERS as outcomes. Whole numbers, percentages, dollars and other formats are real measurements and are specific.

Doing this will take insight and honesty with yourself. It also takes creative thinking. It’s true that probably no one has told you these things before now. So, creating the final statement is like putting together a puzzle. You must find your own pieces, piece it together and see the finished puzzle in the completed statement.

Have these statements ready to discuss in your interview. When asked, mention the statement, and be ready to elaborate only if they ask you for more details.

Here is an abbreviated example from my personal experience:
Skills needed for Job X:
Organization, Project Management, Time Management, Budgeting of Funds, Networking.

My personal ranking:
Organization, Project Management, Networking, Time Management, Budgeting of Funds

Achievements:
Re-organized an online financial tracking system.

Updating this with specifics:
Streamlined the computerized billing system for 15 project accountants with annual budgets of US$50,000 each. Networking with the accountants, IT professionals, and the human resources department, to create new billing system, it saved THREE working days (24 hours) per month, freeing up time for other pressing projects.

How to elaborate on this:
Identify why this was needed in the first place and who initiated the process. How was the project proposed? What was the outcome of the new system after a few months of it coming into use?

A plausible answer:
As the monthly billing cycle took roughly 10 working days out of each month, there was little time to complete other pressing tasks. After using the system for several months, and getting feedback from others who interacted with it, I realized the process did not need to take 10 days. The same job could be completed in only 7 days, if we could implement everyone’s solutions to streamline the system. I created a small proposal for the streamlining of this process. As I was not an IT person, and this was a computerized system, I had to employ the help of IT. I also engaged my contacts in IT asking them the plausibility of this project before presenting the proposal to my boss. I had included the accountant’s as well as the IT staff’s recommendations into the proposal and presented it to my boss. Yes, she hesitated at first, thinking this project would take time away from the pressing work, but at the same time she realized I did not have to do anything once I got the ball rolling. I could just coordinate the work of the IT staff to manage the computerized file systems. After she budged with me the time I needed to do this project against the time it would save, she agreed it was worthwhile and approved me to do it. After it was implemented, it not only saved me three days a month, but saved time of the accountants who now had a more efficient system to input their monthly expenses into.

Warning:
This is still a rough answer; a work in progress. I can work on editing it down a bit more to make it shorter and sweeter. This is how it would work out for you as you go through this process.

Take note:
This is an example from the author’s real life. This project was initiated when working in a ‘low level’ or an ‘entry level’ job. I had no managerial or supervisory power in this job, yet I was still able to understand the system, coordinate people and take initiative to make a change. These are the kinds of stories American interviewers want to hear. Can you create any of these kinds of stories from your professional life?

If you need assistance with this kind of assignment and also how to project yourself confidently in a job interview or a client meeting with the US based clients, contact me, Jennifer Kumar. I provide communication and soft-skills solutions for Indians working with or proposing to work with Americans or in the U.S.A.

This article is written by Jennifer Kumar. Contact Jennifer by clicking here.


Related Posts:
One Indian's Journey to Career Fulfillment in the USA
How Can I Do What I am Good at and Enjoy?
Impressing American Recruiters in Writing

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