Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Sell yourself with the facts

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How can you persuasively sell yourself to hiring managers without sounding self-serving and egocentric? By factually describing your achievements, their importance, and how they improved your employer’s operations. And by not offering baseless descriptions of how valuable you are, predicting how impressed hiring managers will be with you, or otherwise describing yourself in unqualified grandiose terms. Remember: Bombast usually bombs.

In your résumé and job applications and during your interviews, back up descriptions of your results with concrete examples, hard data and objective validation of your results. In short, present yourself in factual, specific terms. By doing so, you show your high value and compel employers to conclude you are a prize.

One way to validate your success to employers — and to bosses before annual reviews — is to cite the positive feedback your work has drawn, including:

*Recent promotions or quality step increases.

*Excellent performance evaluations. For example, when interviewers ask you why they should hire you, pull out a copy of your latest excellent annual evaluation and cite your record of consistently earning excellent annual evaluations and why.

*Written praise, including e-mails, from supervisors, other managers, clients, contractors, colleagues, stakeholders, customers, your staffers, or attendees of training you ran. Keep copies of all written evidence in your “success file.”

*Oral praise from the groups mentioned above. Whenever you receive oral praise, immediately write it down so that you will be able to quote it accurately. Or ask the person praising you to send an e-mail to your supervisor, with a copy to you, repeating the praise.

*Awards you earned or helped your employer earn.

*Annual bonuses and awards, including team awards. If you are asked in an interview or on a job application whether you work well with others, cite your team awards as proof of your team-friendly approaches.

*Your record of serving in “acting” positions.

*Favorable media coverage that you received or that you helped your employers earn, or publications that have quoted you.

*Current or past security clearances.

*Letters of commendation.

*Fellowships, grants or merit-based scholarships you received.

*Your record of being hired from a contract or temporary position into a permanent position.

*Your rapid advancement. For example, if you were accepted into the Senior Executive Service after only several years as a federal employee, or you flew up the General Schedule ladder, say so.

*Your record of drawing large crowds to training or other events.

*Articles, books, newsletters, Web site content or other publications you wrote.

*Your leadership role in work teams, professional organizations, neighborhood groups or other organizations.

*Your overall grade point average or your grades in courses you took that help qualify you for your target job.

Also copy the attention-grabbing technique used in ads for movies: String together excerpts from your best reviews, including annual evaluations and written or oral praise in your résumé and applications. For example, one of my clients landed a job with a résumé that included the following bullet:

“Sample feedback from my supervisor and other managers: ‘What would we do without Joe? [He is] knowledgeable about the latest contracting techniques and he goes the extra mile every time. … Joe always provides expert advice to senior managers, and he gives trainings that get results. … Thanks, Joe, for making all of our jobs easier.’ ’’

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.

How to make your résumé shine

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I am frequently asked, “What is the most common mistake that job-seekers make on their résumés and application essays?”

My answer: Virtually all of the thousands of job applications that I have reviewed — no matter how much expertise is offered by the job-seekers they represent — are dominated by unimpressive statements from job descriptions instead of specific, achievement-oriented descriptions of successes. They fail to convey the importance of the job-seeker’s accomplishments. Therefore, they fail to show how the job seeker could improve his target employer’s operations.

I was recently consulted by the communications director of one of the most powerful members of the Senate because his job search wasn’t producing pay dirt. A quick scan of his résumé identified the likely cause: Reading it was about as impressive as reading a stranger’s ho-hum “to do” list. If I hadn’t already known what a skilled, productive and creative power-broker he is, I never would have known it from his résumé.

Here are questions to ask yourself, to help you define your achievements in compelling terms:

*Why is my work important?

*How have I improved my organization’s reputation to internal and external stakeholders?

*How have I saved time or money, or streamlined processes?

*Which of my achievements am I most proud of, worked mightily to accomplish or earned recognition for, such as awards to me or my organization, promotions, bonuses or praise?

*How do I do my work better or differently from peers or more junior professionals? What do I offer that no one else does?

*How would my organization’s services, resources or morale suffer if I had never worked there?

*How have I shown initiative and gone the extra mile?

*How have I wisely used my judgment, discretion or creativity?

*What am I an expert in?

*When have I contributed to high-pressure, high-profile, high-dollar or high-priority projects?

*Which of my accomplishments warrant superlatives like the first, the only, the best, the fastest, the highest rated, the most or the strongest?

You don’t have to be the first climber up Mount Everest to have an important superlative under your belt. Automating a process, creating a new Web site, developing new training, creating a document or completing a project in record time warrant superlatives.

More tips on how to describe your achievements are featured in my book, “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.”

Lily Whiteman is a public affairs officer at the National Science Foundation and author of “How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job.’’ Her Web site is The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of the National Science Foundation.