Which of the following two “achievement statements” is more impressive and compelling?
- I am an excellent swimmer. I know you will be impressed by how well I swim when you watch me.
- I won an Olympic gold medal in swimming.
The first statement—unsupported by any objective validation—may rightfully be dismissed as mere self-serving puffery and an empty, presumptuous promise. By contrast, the second statement is impressive because it incorporates objective, inarguable, universally respected validation: An Olympic medal. That is, the statement proves that the swimmer meets the gold standard—literally.
WHEN TO USE THE POWER OF VALIDATION
You can similarly use the power of validation to prove that you meet the gold standard of your profession when you apply for jobs, promotions, awards, grants, academic programs, speaking engagements, the Senior Executive Service or other forms of professional recognition. Do so by incorporating into your interviews, cover letters, resume and applications your own versions of Olympic gold medals: That is, solid, objective, inarguable, and universally respected validation of your success and professional stature.
TYPES OF IMPRESSIVE VALIDATION
Some potential examples of your personal gold medals to cite:
- Your high academic grades or high grade-point average.
- Merit based scholarships you were awarded.
- The number of years of experience you have in your profession.
- Outstanding annual evaluations and praising comments on evaluations you have received.
- Spoken, written or emailed praise you receive from professors, supervisors, senior officials, stakeholders, clients, contractors, customers, staffers or mentees.
- Your bonuses or other awards, including team awards. (Remember: team awards provide solid evidence of your reputation as a team player.)
- The number of people you have supervised and/or hired. (Include the total number of people you have supervised throughout your career—not just the number you currently supervise.)
- Your record of meeting tight, ever-changing deadlines and completing projects on budget
- Promotions and rapid advancement. For example, “I advanced from a clerk to a program manager in six years.”
- The high circulation of a document, website or social media site you helped generate. (Even better if it was a record number for your organization or if it exceeded an industry average.)
- The large number of attendees at an event(s) or webcast in which you appeared.
- Glowing written evaluations from attendees at training, event, webcast or speaking engagement that you organized or spoke at.
- Positive press coverage drawn by events or projects that you managed or that incorporate your contributions.
- Improvements in survey results that you helped generate.
- The prominence of members of your audience. For example, were your work products distributed to senior managers, political appointees, Congress or important stakeholders?
- The size of the budget you manage and/or cost savings you produced.
- Special requests for your services from senior managers or stakeholders.
- Your membership on a management team or a prestigious work group.
- Acting positions you held.
- Security clearances you currently hold or have held.
- Grants you were awarded.
- Your publications in professional journals or the popular press.
- Prestigious, high-profile work groups to which you belong.
Generate more personal gold medals by asking yourself questions, such as: What metrics or anecdotal evidence shows that I have been successful? What positive feedback have my projects drawn? How did I improve the operations of my organization? What evidence shows that I wield a lot of responsibility? How have I saved time or money for my organization or improved its reputation? How would my organization be different if I had never worked for it? Why is my work important? Why do I deserve a promotion? What policy changes did my work help trigger? What high-level executives have singled out my work?
VALIDATING YOUR SUCCESS IN COVER LETTERS
A comparison of the following two real-life openers from cover letters shows the power of validation:
- I am writing this letter to express my sincere interest in obtaining a writer/editor position with the United States Mint. I am completely confident in my professional abilities and I am certain that your opening would be the next best step for my career.
- I would be eager to contribute my 15 years of experience as a writer/editor to the United States Mint as a Public Affairs Officer. My credentials include two awards of Excellence from the Association of Government Communicators, two recent merit-based promotions in four years and a security clearance.
The second opener helped the applicant land an interview–largely because it incorporates impressive validation, which was lacking from the first opener.
VALIDATING YOUR SUCCESS IN RESUMES
One way to brandish your gold medals in your resume is to copy the technique incorporated into ads for movies that splice together excerpts from good reviews, such as: Feel good movie of the year…Oscar-contender…Riveting portrait of the human condition. Similarly, consider splicing together excerpts from oral or written praise you have received from bosses, managers or other stakeholders, and include them in one of the bullets in your resume. An example of such a bullet:
- Excellent Reputation: Consistently receive excellent annual evaluations. Sample praise from senior managers: Joe is an excellent problem-solver….knowledgeable about the latest contracting techniques…frequently goes the extra mile…Thanks Joe, for making all of our jobs easier.