Written by Craig Zelizer with Catalina Rojas
In our 40+ years experience in the social impact sector, having hired for many positions, mentored countless individuals, and also applied for many jobs and fellowships ourselves, one of the biggest gaps we see regarding resumes is the failure use relevant data to demonstrate your skills and abilities to potential employers. In our opinion, a resume that skillfully demonstrates your past contributions with numbers greatly increases your chances of being considered for a potential interview.
Quantification of your work is one of the most important factors in developing a compelling resume. What this means in practice is that wherever possible when the numbers work in your favor (and are accurate) use them to show the impact or results of your work.
This means putting on your analytical hat and asking the following questions:
1) Can I demonstrate concrete results, impact or outcome from my work? Did I contribute to a growth in revenue, the number of people trained, partners, the number of events organized or in the organization’s social media presence?
2) Which skills or abilities are most relevant to the job I am seeking? How can I honestly show the relevance of my previous work?
3) Am I doing buzzword mania (only using active words such as managed, trained, etc.) and actually not showing any demonstrable results?
This emphasis on quantification is particularly relevant for applicants seeking opportunities at US based employers but also important for many other regions (of course it is always important to tailor your resume for the norms in your region/sector). Quantifying evidence of impact from past professional experience can make a huge difference in your job prospects. We do want to emphasize that is obviously essential that one needs to have the required skills and qualifications to be a competitive candidate.
A potential employer may appreciate seeing a buzzword, especially if you took the time to research the organization and incorporate key words used by the organization into your resume. However, without clear evidence of results, the employer may not be convinced to look at your story in more detail. Remember you’re competing against all the other applicants (or at least the top 10%). In reviewing resumes employers need to have a strong sense that you meet and exceed the criteria. And it is your responsibility as the candidate to make a convincing case. Trust us in our experience if you don’t provide the evidence, when hiring employers will very, very rarely investigate your candidacy further.
Quantifying is a great way to help strengthen your resume. This isn’t to say that quantification is more important than other critical resume factors the overall content, structure and aesthetics of the document.
The short rule is that whenever possible and if the numbers help tell your story or the results of your work in a favorable manner try to put them down. This can be helpful even if your experience is from a different sector than the one in which you’re seeking to obtain employment.
Here are some examples:
Example: Worked at the XYZ Organization, managed budget and conducted training.
Does this sell a story or show results? No.
Instead this can be reworded to say.
Reframe to: Worked at the XYZ Organization, organized and managed a $400,000 project. Successfully wrote grant proposals totaling over $50,000 from X source. Conducted over 20 trainings in advocacy techniques with high school students and teachers, reaching over 500 people.
An employer looking at these examples can clearly see the second one as evidence of someone who has a diverse range of expertise and impact.
Are you wondering how to quantify your experience if you are just starting out or if you are transitioning to a new sector? At any level of your career it is usually possible to find ways to quantify relevant experience. For example, if you’re a student and did a thesis avoid just writing: completed a thesis. Think about how many people were interviewed for your research. If it is a decent number then it may be worth putting something like this:
Completed an independent thesis on the topic of (fill in the blank). Conducted 20 interviews (1-2 hours long) with civil society activists (you can fill in the focus): transcribed interviews and conducted detail analysis using qualitative and quantitative approaches. Presented findings in a public defense.
Another example is many students volunteer during their university studies. In your resume you might write volunteered for x organization. But think about if there is a way to show concrete numbers or impact. For example, some volunteers might organize or co-organize a series of events or fundraise a certain amount of money. Instead of writing I volunteered, consider providing a more compelling story as in this example: co-organized 10 events involving 300 people or fundraised or managed a budget of X thousand USD.
The exact wording will need to be refined to reflect your experience, but usually it is possible to find honest and compelling ways to demonstrate skills and results.
If social media is your passion, we have seen countless resumes where people indicate as part their job or volunteer work that they managed an organization’s newsletter, Twitter or Facebook accounts or generated original content such as videos or blogs. This doesn’t tell the potential employer much in terms of the results/impact. Do you have data to show that you grew an organization’s Twitter following by X % or that your blog readership increased by a certain range. Or if you don’t have data to show the growth do you know the # of Twitter followers the organization has? For example, writing you managed a Twitter account versus saying you managed an account that had 10,000 followers makes a big difference. Even more powerful if you can show through your work the organization’s social media accounts grew from from 150 followers to 3,000 in 1 year or in 2 years.
Equally important related to social media and many skill sets, if you are skilled in particular tools or software programs relevant to the job you’re seeking this can be useful to add. For example, being a master at Google Analytics, Hubspot or graphic design tools such as Canva, Over or Affinity Designer can be a huge asset.
If you are transitioning from a more traditional sector to the social impact sector we recommend you don’t discard your previous experience. Rather, consider how to reframe your skills and experience to the sector in which you’re seeking a position. This is vital as career changers mistakenly underestimate the relevant qualifications they have to offer from their previous work experience. For example, if you worked in the private sector and managed people and a budget, make sure to highlight these experiences for the new position you’re seeking.
Many younger professionals might take on research roles with professors or at think tanks. Instead of writing that you were a research assistant try to be more specific about your role, for whom and if possible what was the result. For example in my ten years as a faculty member at Georgetown University I had almost 20 research assistants. A sample of what some of my RAs could write: “I was an paid part-time RA for Professor Zelizer, Associate Director of the CR Program. I conducted background research for the edited volume on X (name of publisher), co-wrote an article for the journal, helped organize over 10 events with 300 people on topics related to the SDGs.” We hope you can see this is more compelling than a simple served as a research assistant.
In our experience working with countless students & professionals we’ve found that many times people unfortunately discount their experience if they think it isn’t relevant. At times we’ve seen that women tend to sometimes be too humble (of course not all women) in reframing their previous work experience. We’ve also found this especially true for recent immigrants and international students when they are applying for positions in the US. One student I know spent a summer managing a pool cleaning operation. The student thought this experience was irrelevant, but when we got into a deeper discussion it was clear in the role the candidate managed a decent size budget in excess of $50,000. Finding the way to quantify this work and show budget management experience is a perfect example of translating skills across sectors.
Another example from our career coaching is an individual was applying for a much higher level position. We helped her with her resume, strategy and practice interviewing. In reviewing her draft resume and cover letter she listed only minimal amounts of information. But upon careful discussion and with lots of questions on our part, it became abundantly clear she was underselling her experience. She had previously managed a team of almost 40 and oversaw very significant budgets, but hadn’t listed this information. We worked with her to revise her materials and also radically increase her confidence regarding her qualifications for the position. We’re pleased to say she did get the job.
Finally, we created the list (see below) below to help you produce the best resume possible in terms of quantification.
1) Use numbers/results when they help strengthen your resume, not when they hurt your case. For example if you managed a $500 budget or taught English to one person these numbers may not help.
2) Do you have solid data – In reflecting on the results or outcome of your work, make sure you’re being truthful and have relevant data (sometimes rough estimates could be appropriate). For example, if you helped grow a website’s traffic by 300% do you have data from Google Analytics or elsewhere to back up your numbers? Make sure the numbers and story you tell feel right to you and also be prepared to show proof of your numbers if you are invited to an interview.
3) Highlight numbers relevant to the job – Try to highlight numbers that are critical to the job you’re seeking to obtain. It may not be feasible to include all ways you can quantify your resume.
4) Tailor your resume and your numbers for the particular job in question. Do not have ONE resume for ALL positions. Use the language of the organization; provide numbers and data in the relevant sectors that will make a difference building your case as the ideal candidate.
5) Be strategic and selective. For most positions don’t provide your life history – List the positions and education relevant for the position and that the employer might expect to see. Of course this will vary by type of employer and by geographic region. Most employers in the US will not want see high school experience or education listed if the candidate has already moved on past undergraduate education.
6) Focus on the skills and results – When deciding to add a position to your resume that may not be directly related to the one you’re applying for consider how to translate the skills/outcomes that the potential employer would want to see. For example, working as a waiter may not seem relevant. But if you helped managed a team or managed a significant budget this may be worth listing.
Anything else you think is key in order to tell your story with numbers effectively? What has been your experience? If we missed something, you have questions, comments or an experience that you want to share, please let us know. Hopefully these tips will get you the job and career of your dreams in the social change field.