Executive Careers Blog

Knock ‘em Dead with Your Accomplishments


Sooner or later, they’re going to ask what you’ve accomplished. You could be anywhere - a sales meeting, a performance review, a parole hearing.

What’s an accomplishment, anyway? Consider the following:

a) Getting out of bed (on a day when you were really sleepy).

b) Making $1 million.

c) Performing brain surgery.

An accomplishment needs three things:

1) obstacles, 2) skillful action, 3) results.

In other words, you take action, overcome obstacles, and get results.

By that measure, none of the above definitely makes the cut.

a) Getting out of bed has obstacles, and plenty of them, but that’s about it.

b) Making $1m. could qualify. But maybe you took a $10m business, and ran it into the ground. Or, maybe you won the lottery.

c) Brain surgery sounds impressive. When people try to reassure you about other tasks, they say, “Look, it’s not brain surgery.” That calms you down - unless you happen to be a brain surgeon:

Dr: So, what’s on the schedule today?

Assistant: In 10 minutes, you’re doing brain surgery.

Dr: Oh, no!!!

Is brain surgery an accomplishment? Well, what were the results? Did you actually get the brain back in the head? How’s it working?

To make your accomplishments work, tell their story. Need a format? Try “SOAR.”

“S” is the situation; here’s where you describe the context. “OAR” refers to that trio we discussed before: obstacles, action, and results. These three pull your accomplishment along.

Suppose, for example, you work as an Account Exec at a PR firm, and you just happen to be my daughter, Rebecca. A recent accomplishment might sound like this:

Situation: Needed to get PR for an important client; no one had been successful despite lots of effort.

Obstacle: Client operated in a space that was thinly covered by the media, and the few reporters covering it, kept getting re-assigned.

Action: Identified new media targets, developed relationships - and persisted.

Result: Scored two important media meetings for the client’s C.E.O. Client was so pleased that they increased our PR budget.

Tip: Tell the story of your accomplishments. Stick to what happened – you’re not bragging, you’re reporting. And remember, it’s not brain surgery.

More Executive Strategies Including:

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (  Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

Comments?  Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com