Achievement _ betterI’d like to dedicate a short post to a favorite topic; one that will crop up from time to time…like, here.  I’m making a big deal about it because my experience tells me that many of us could benefit from this slight mental adjustment.

Experience.  At all career stages, marketers tend to be focused on their level of experience and what that might mean for the next leg.  For those of us starting out, we’re worried about our lack of marketing background or even work experience.  When we’re older and tossed out to pasture, we kvetch because, while we have all this experience, no one seems to want us…and what’s up with that??   And, in between, we wonder how to convert a few years of experience we have finally acquired into a step change in our careers.  At a later date, I will dedicate some blog space to special issues at different career stages; for now, experience is something on which we all commonly fixate.

Experience is not unimportant, especially in more technical vocations where specialized skill proficiency usually just comes with time and is much more valued.   The success metrics are more defined and include reducing errors and improving cycle times for example.  But in the world of business and marketing, our ability to succeed is almost boundless.  This is where employers concentrate although it’s often done subconsciously.  They (we!) seek to understand where your abilities and energies have taken you in this particular phase of your career.

What recruiters are thinking – both consciously and subconsciously – when they look at your resume is, “what can this candidate do to get me to the next level?”  Top companies aren’t just looking for a butt to fill a seat; they are looking for game changers.  Their signal that you are a game changer is the impact you have had on everything you touched in and out of work.  Those who move forward the quickest are those who demonstrate achievement not only on the job but in academics, hobbies and extra-curriculars.   I got my first job out of university via a snail mail application to a major Canadian bank (I had no idea people actually got hired that way).  My resume was one of 30 picked out of a pile of over 500 (I was later told) because of a few achievements in my teen years:

  • High school Student Council President
  • Gold Pin award for outstanding overall student
  • Started a lame fast food job on my 15th birthday and just killed it.  Became a full-blown manager before I turned my 16, one of the youngest to achieve that level

Take a look at your resume and see if it reads like a series of job descriptions or more like a tribute to your contributions.  If you sense the former, maybe it’s time for an overhaul, or more importantly it could be time to re-evaluate your approach to what you do.  While we can’t always be the President or the first or the best, you can at the very least deliver more than what you’re asked.  Start there.  Take on volunteer work and run something.  Take on more than your job requires at your current employer and frame your contributions as such on your resume.   After all, going beyond requirements is a form of achievement.  Take up a hobby and get to a level of proficiency. These opportunities are all at your disposal from the time you enter high school. And, if you’re young enough, that’s how far back employers will be willing to look for signals of your ability.

Achievement is what substantiates potential, something you can’t really cash in on by itself these days.  By the time you hit your 20s even, ‘potential’ is no longer an asset.  It’s a throwaway word.  So quite simply, my first piece of advice to help you supercharge your career is to accomplish something more.  You’ll get noticed…and impress.

UPDATE AUGUST 2014:  The notion of ‘achievements’ is a subset of ‘credentials’.  Here is a post from another career advisor that speaks to credentials. That’s a huge gap to close if you are looking to take the next step.  He presents a few other ideas to get you there as well.