18. Don’t Hide Your Light Under a Bushel—Document What Makes You Proud

In admissions and job interviews, you need to be prepared to tell stories that demonstrate what you’ve achieved. Writing accomplishment statements describing those achievements will help you to articulate—and to remember—those experiences when you’re in the hot seat. This module has you use the PAR/CAR formula to write effective, impressive accomplishment statements you can use when it’s time to demonstrate your value.

You were probably taught not to brag. Which can make “selling yourself” and your achievements to admissions officers and employers feel uncomfortable. Our advice? First, stop thinking of building a personal brand as “selling yourself” and start thinking of it as putting your best face forward. Second, realize that documenting what you have accomplished is not about bragging but is an important step in the personal branding process. It gives you the stories that you can use when discussing who you are, what you are about, and what makes you unique.

It’s ironic that many people prepare for interviews by researching and learning all they can about the institution, organization, or business to which they are applying, without preparing talking points about themselves. This lack of preparation makes an interview tricky, because most of us find it hard to remember our accomplishments off the cuff. That’s why it’s important to write them down.

The best way to keep track of your accomplishments is by developing accomplishment statements. These are powerful tools that show what you know, how you problem-solve, and that you can produce results. These statements are written as specific examples of action you took and the results that you produced, as well as how people benefited because of your actions. Such statements form the foundation for the stories you should be telling in interviews.

One great way to get comfortable documenting your accomplishments and writing accomplishment statements is to use what experts call the PAR/CAR formula. The initials stand for Problem-Action-Result and Challenge-Action-Result. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Begin with a problem that you had to solve or a challenge that you overcame. An example might be Membership was declining and my sorority was dropping in campus rankings. As the Membership chair, I needed to solve this.
  2. Use action words—verbs written in past tense—to describe, as vividly as possible, the action you took. I rallied all current members and brainstormed ways we could build membership. I reevaluated the competition and repositioned the sorority with a new recruitment strategy.
  3. If you can, add a quantitative or qualitative result based on your activities, even if it is only estimated. Membership increased by 15% and the sorority regained campus rankings. Members were excited to be part of the sorority again. The house honored me for the membership turnaround.

To enhance your accomplishment statement, include facts, figures, money volumes, percentages of increase or decrease, numbers of people involved, or geographical scope, where you can, in order to make the result clear and show the positive impact of your action. Sometimes quantitative results won’t be as easy to come by, but you can use other, more qualitative, facts to support your narrative, such as quoting a stellar review of a play in which you performed.

As you try your hand at writing your own accomplishment statements, also consider these questions:

  • What were some personal qualities that best described your behavior in solving these problems?
  • What are some of your favorite words or key phrases that appear in the statements?

In the example above, the speaker showed leadership and enthusiasm. Her keywords may be “rallied,” “brainstormed,” “reevaluated,” and “excited,” which show her to be a motivated problem solver.

Do you have a signature accomplishment that defines who you are? If you are known for something specific, you should absolutely use this achievement to build your personal brand. It could come from any arena—academic work, volunteer work, sports, activities, hobbies.

To get started creating accomplishment statements, think of two accomplishments that you are proud of, and let’s address them one at a time using PAR or CAR.

Module 18 | Don’t Hide Your Light Under a Bushel—Document What Makes You Proud