Don’t wait. Write down accomplishments as they happen

Don’t wait. Write down accomplishments as they happen

Right now, before you read this post, take a second and think back to last year. Off the top of your head, what are five things you accomplished that brought value to the company and made you feel proud?

Seriously, take a minute.

For myself, I honestly can’t think of a single thing. In retrospect, last year seems like a mess of setbacks, false starts, and stuff that’s been dragging on way too long. All I can remember are the mistakes I made, the things I should have done differently, and the awesome stuff I designed that never got built.

At least, that’s how I was thinking until I rediscovered an Evernote file I’d been keeping. Until about August, I’d been writing down my accomplishments as they happened. Wouldn’t you know it, there was a bunch of great stuff there that I’d completely forgotten about! Like the plan commit workshops I ran for the whole endpoint team and a usability testing brown bag session.

Accomplishments are intermittent and wonderful things. But our successes are too easily swallowed up by the daily grind of crises and compromises. As a high achiever, you’re already prone to dwelling on your failures and minimizing your successes. Add to that the fact that success dims with time and you’re likely to reach the end of the year with a sense that you’ve got nothing to show for it.

This is why you need to write down your accomplishments as they happen.

It’s hard enough to remember last year, never mind the last three years—or, god forbid, ten years. But isn’t that what we always do? The only time we think about accomplishments is when we’re dusting off our resume in anticipation of a new job search. Suddenly you’re racking your brain trying to think of what you’ve been doing for the last few years and coming up with maybe three or four things. Yet, if you’d been writing them down all that time, you’d have thirty or forty to choose from.

The solution is simple. Start a file today and write down everything you’ve accomplished since the beginning of the year. Then set a calendar reminder every two months to update it.

Your future self will thank you.


Writing accomplishments: How well you did it

Writing accomplishments: How well you did it

When you’re writing accomplishments, they should follow the pattern “what you did and how well you did it”—where “how well” ideally means how your actions benefited the company. I covered “what you did” in an earlier post (“Writing accomplishments: What you did”) and in this post I’m going to cover “how well you did it.”

Benefits to the company are simple, because only two things matter: increasing revenues and decreasing costs. This is true even if you work at an agency. Success on behalf of your clients should be framed in terms of referrals, repeat business, and the agency’s ability to win accounts—in other words, how the project’s success benefited your employer.

Nonprofits are a slightly different story because the organization exists to benefit others. In that case, you can use the same guidance below, and apply it to both the results for the organization and the outcomes for your membership or constituent group.

Decreasing costs is a benefit no matter what kind of organization you work for.

» Show me the money

The most powerful way to describe your impact on an organization’s revenue or costs is to put a dollar value on it. Here are a few examples:

  • Designed a mobile booking app that brought in $1.2 million in new sales.
  • Created a clickable prototype that helped us win a $60,000 project.
  • Spent $380 to create an on-site test facility, saving the company $17,000 a year.

The best thing about including the dollar amount is that even a clueless recruiter can understand the value of your accomplishment.

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Can you do the job?

Can you do the job?

One reason I wanted to write this blog is that there seems to be a tremendous gulf between what designers think is happening during the hiring process and what hiring managers or recruiters think is happening.

» The communications gap

For example, designers are offended when they send in their resumes and never hear a thing from the company. But from the hiring manager’s point of view, half the resumes she gets are from people who are not at all qualified for the job or clearly didn’t read the job description—why should she feel obliged to respond to people who aren’t serious candidates?

In an ideal world, job descriptions would be written in a way that attracts only qualified candidates and companies would respectfully communicate with every candidate about the status of their application. Sadly, we don’t live in that world. Yet.

As a candidate, most of the time all you have to go on is a job description that tells you more about the hiring manager’s idealized wish list than their real expectations for the job. You know your resume needs to answer their questions. But what are those questions?

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Changing careers to UX

Changing careers to UX

Probably the question I get most often when I give presentations about UX resumes is, “How can I transition into UX from my current career?”

There’s no doubt about it—UX is a hot industry right now. There are more jobs than qualified candidates, starting salaries are high ($60-80,000 in major tech hubs), and the work is fun and challenging. It’s no wonder so many of you are trying to get a piece of the action.

So, if you’re serious about getting into UX, here are a few tips:

» You have to be able to do the job

No matter how much experience you have managing projects, designing logos, or writing proposals—no matter how many years of experience you have—if you can’t demonstrate some ability to do UX, I’m not going to hire you for a UX position. If I hired an unqualified candidate, I wouldn’t be doing my job, would I?

I’m expecting to have to train you in our processes, our corporate culture, and our industry or subject matter. But I am not expecting to have to train you in basic UX concepts, techniques, and tools. Very few employers these days can afford the luxury of long ramp-up time or weeks of training. We need you to be productive from day one.

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Why are resumes so hard to write? A conversation with Leslie O’Flahavan

If you’ve been following this blog, then you know one of my common complaints is that UX resumes are poorly written. They not only suffer from typos and grammatical errors, they’re rife with banalities, awkward prose, and poorly expressed ideas. To understand why this is so, I talked to my good friend and former client, Leslie O’Flahavan from E-Write.
The fabulous Leslie O'Flahavan
Leslie has more than 30 years’ experience teaching students and professionals how to write effectively. In person, she’s down-to-earth and full of droll observations—even on short acquaintance she makes you feel like you’ve been friends since high school.

In our conversation, she quickly got to the heart of why writing resumes is so difficult. Her insights challenged me to think harder about the purpose of the resume and about how to make the hiring experience more transparent and satisfying for job-seekers.

» Resumes really are the worst kind of writing

If you find writing a resume to be hateful drudgery, or you feel like it’s impossible to represent yourself properly in the confines of such a formal document, or you hate the way you sound in your resume—you’re not alone. And the good news is, it’s not your fault!

According to Leslie,

A resume is the worst interaction of all the worst conditions to produce good writing.

She went on to identify six reasons why the resume (and the hiring process in general) conspires to undermine our confidence and ability to write effectively. Continue Reading

The executive summary: Energy misdirected

The executive summary: Energy misdirected

For years, resume writers were told that we must include an objective statement. But the objective statement has recently fallen out fashion, and with good reason (see “The Objective Statement, aka ‘I Want a Job’”).

Now, we are told, our resumes must include an executive summary, because recruiters only look at resumes for 6 seconds and you must GRAB THEIR ATTENTION. The executive summary is where you “brand” yourself and tell the prospective employer about your unique talents and key accomplishments.

Wait, isn’t that what your resume is supposed to do?

» A summary of a summary

How did we end up needing a summary for something that’s already supposed to be a summary? It’s like we’ve given up on the actual resume and have decided to stick another resume on top of it. I’ve seen UX resumes where the executive summary takes up the whole first page. Perhaps we’re hoping that the sexy new summary will devour the traditional resume and all its dry, boring bullet points.

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Writing accomplishments: What you did

UX designers are positively gushing when they talk about their skills and responsibilities, but when it comes to concrete accomplishments, the reservoir of words seems to dry up. The problem, I believe, is that many of us haven’t taken the time to think about what we’ve actually achieved on the job and what kinds of results we’re getting. We’re not good at recognizing our own accomplishments.

An accomplishment in its simplest form is: what you did and how well you did it. Where “how well” ideally means how it benefited the company.

In this post, I’m going to focus on what you did.

» Deadlines and deliverables

The first place to look for accomplishments is in your deadlines and deliverables. Did you deliver what you promised on schedule? Did you exceed the client’s expectations by delivering more than you promised? If so, you might write about it like this:

  • Exceeded client expectations by delivering five screen designs instead of two.

Were you asked to do an impossible amount of work, so you busted your butt to get it done on time? Were you well organized and able to get the project done early?

  • Worked weekends and evenings to meet a challenging 6-week development schedule.

Notice how short these accomplishments are? I’m not describing which screens were delivered, or why there was a 6-week development schedule. You don’t have to get into a lot of detail—you just have to write enough to pique the interest of the hiring manager. Believe me, I’ll call you if I want to learn more. Which is exactly what you want.

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“Expertise”? I don’t think so

“Expertise”? I don’t think so

Malcolm Gladwell famously said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve an elite level of mastery in a skill. Of course, most of us aren’t at an elite level in any skill. At best you could probably call yourself an expert in one or two skills or practices.

So, if it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, how long does it take to achieve expertise—maybe 1,000 hours?

Now let’s look at the “Areas of Expertise” section on your resume. How many of the skills listed there have you spent 1,000 hours doing? Let’s say you have 12 areas of expertise—that’s 12,000 hours, or approximately 6 years of 40-hour work weeks.

How many years of experience did you say you had? I’ve been in UX for 7 years and I doubt I’ve done anything near 1,000 hours of user research, just to pick an example. I certainly wouldn’t claim to be an expert user researcher.

» Say more with less

“Expertise” means you’re an expert. And that means your list of expert-level skills should be short.

The same thing goes for “areas of specialization.” Specializing means you’re focusing on one skill to the exclusion of others. If your list of specializations has more than one or two items in it, that’s not specializing.

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Less wanting, more doing

Less wanting, more doing

A close cousin of the objective statement is the “I want” paragraph. Here are a few examples:

I Want #1

I Want #2

I Want #3

I can guess why candidates put this stuff in their resumes—they want to describe their passion for UX, their motivation, and their goals. Unfortunately, this content almost always comes across as egotistical and pretentious. I think we can agree to call bullshit on wanting to “continue to explore new methods of providing narrative in UX documentation.” Yeah, whatever.

The more you want, the more I think you’re going to be difficult to please.

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The objective statement, aka “I want a job”

Maybe there’s an effective objective statement out there. If so, I have yet to see it.

Because they’re so prevalent, I assume there’s some training or general wisdom out there that says your resume must contain an objective statement. Too bad whoever put that notion out there didn’t bother to tell you how to write one. As a result, UX job-seekers have come up with a thousand and one overblown, pretentious ways to say, “I want a job.”

For example:

To secure a UX designer role where I can utilize all my skills to help create delightful products or services.


I am looking for a job that will allow me to demonstrate my skills in visual design, interaction design, content strategy, and usability


A director, manager or senior level User Interface/Experience Designer position in an organization looking to leverage the depth of my design experience, leadership skills and proven track record, to deliver highly innovative user experience solutions.

Continue Reading

My goal is to help motivated UX job-seekers present themselves more effectively so they get the best jobs they are qualified for.

Writing from the point of view of the risk-averse hiring manager, I provide insights into the hiring process, what managers are looking for, and why so many resumes get rejected.

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