I recently delivered a career strategy program for masters of internetworking students at a local university and was amazed at the depth and quality of experience these international “professionals” have under their belts at such a young age.
Some of these individuals have already worked for Fortune 500 companies around the world and have achieved impressive results.
During a job interview coaching session with one of these students, I learned more about engineering than I had anticipated. One of my typical questions for interviewing and coaching is: “Tell me about the most memorable accomplishment in your last position.”
When I asked Arturo (a former structural engineer), I received a complicated response that I did not understand.
Here is his first answer:
“Using finite element analysis, I was able to determine that the structural integrity of the flange was outside of recommended international standards for marine vessels and so I needed to continue with a study of components and make a recommendation to the client. We decided I would re-design it using after-market components with greater structural integrity and have it custom produced so that it met the standard.”
This young engineer, extremely bright and competent, did not customize his message for a non-engineering audience. The risk is that the person listening to it (or reading it in a resume) might not understand what the accomplishment was.
If your audience doesn’t understand your accomplishment, how can they recommend you as an ideal candidate to decision-makers? They cannot. Even if this engineer is an ideal candidate for this position, we will not know it if he provides jargon-laden answers to simple questions.
Here is how we transformed his answer.
“I saved the client $30,000 by redesigning a defective flange for their ship’s gang plank, increasing safety and reducing risk.”
This is what is called a front-loaded accomplishment and this can be used for resumes or for interview answers. We placed the main accomplishment at the front. When you are writing your resume or answering a question during an interview or meeting with a prospective employer, investor or another decision-maker, ensure that you connect the dots for your audience. Most people will not probe your answer if they do not understand it, they will simply move onto the next topic.
We can also end-load the accomplishment, although this is generally considered less effective than front-loaded accomplishments.
“I increased safety, reduced risk and saved the client $30,000 by redesigning a flange for their ship’s gang plank.”
I believe the first example is more powerful. Do you?
Communicating your value to your decision-maker can be very simple if you use the right language and construct your examples in a basic way.
It is clear from his second answer exactly what this engineer did to help the client. Whether you are an experienced engineer, a junior HR consultant, administrative professional or CEO, each of these professionals will easily understand this accomplishment.
Using the simple formula, C-A-R-I we can craft an answer that is clear and easy to understand.
C – is for challenge – what was the challenge or the problem?
A – is for action – what action did you take?
R – is for result – what was the result?
I – is for impact – what impact did it have?
Whether you front load or end load your answers, ensure that your language is simple and your accomplishment is crystal clear.
In this example with the structural engineer, the challenge was a defective flange. The action was the redesign of the flange. The result was saving money and the impact was improved safety and reduced risk.
In human resource management theory, there is an accepted principle that past performance predicts future success and so the logic is that if the candidate can clearly articulate past successes, he or she will be able to repeat them. This is your value proposition for the employer.
If you are a technical professional or executive, how clear are your explanations to non-technical audiences? Do their eyes glaze over when you tell people what you do for a living? As a naturally curious person myself, I like to probe answers to questions, but not all interviewers will do this.
If you are struggling to write your own resume, you can sign up for my complimentary 3-page resume assessment form to evaluate your resume or see the Westgate portfolio of executive resume samples.