Salary negotiation

Career wins list of professional achievements

Don't negotiate your salary without preparing a career wins list. Here's how to do it.

I'm going to let you in on a secret: You probably aren't getting paid as much as you're worth. Companies employ whatever psychological tricks they can to conserve their budget, and since they do this so often, they're really good at it. 

Therefore, it's no surprise that many folks are too intimidated to negotiate. So how do we get from "I don't want them to think I'm only in it for the money" to "This is a great job, but I'm great too — I deserve to get paid what I'm worth"?

One thing I've found to be simple but effective — always maintain a list of professional achievements or career wins.

Why This List is Worth Your Time

In short, this is a list of accomplishments you're most proud of. These are the types of achievements we list on our resumes (work experiences, special projects, etc). Here's the difference: instead of compiling this list whenever you look for a new job, add to it every time you achieve something.

If the content is similar to a resume or cover letter, why is it worth creating?

1. To boost your confidence

Keeping this list up to date will give you periodic confidence boosts — when you question the value you add to your team or company, re-read the list to remind yourself of what you've accomplished.

You should also re-read this list before you go into a negotiation. If your key achievements are top-of-mind, you'll be in a better headspace for self advocacy. 

2. To remember the details of your achievements

It's amazing how much you forget when you don't record these events as they happen. You miss key dates, skip important details, and lose data on performance.

If you keep a running list of accomplishments, you won't have to worry about this. When making your argument for a better salary, you'll (a) have concrete, evidence-backed examples of your worth, and (b) be able to answer any follow-up questions with ease.

3. To help your supervisor or hiring manager build a case

These tangible examples of success will help your manager build a business case for increased pay. You might even want to print a few copy of this list and take it into the room with you: one copy for your reference, and one for your manager!

They often want to pay you more, but need your help to make the case to their boss. Having this list is going to help them immensely, and it makes paying you more the path of least resistance.

Which Accomplishments to Focus on

Let's start with the basics: How do we define professional achievement? What counts? Well, it varied by industry and job role, but there are several recurring themes that apply. There are three types of achievements:

  1. Did you make the company more revenue?
  2. Did you lower company costs?
  3. Did you achieve a strategic goal (non-monetary)?

When answering these questions, think in terms of money and time. If you saved the company time, that translates directly into profit.

Bonus: Brand Name Companies

Even if you never did anything revolutionary, being part of a winning team does wonders for your career. Working with household name brands, startups that have a successful exit, or companies dominant in your industry, will always get you a foot in the door.

To be more specific, here are a few things current or potential employers will like to hear about:

  • If you work in sales, show off those banner clients you closed that your boss will recognize
  • Highlight your work on projects that impacted the companies' biggest clients
  • If you work closely with big names, subtly speak to the things you accomplished with them — it's not just companies that have brands

This can be tricky to pull off, so make sure you're doing it the right way. Avoid embellishing your accomplishments and, of course, make sure the name dropping is natural and relevant to the conversation. Use brand associations to establish your credibility, not brag about your network. How can your example help the person you're talking to achieve their goals?

Bonus: Personal Achievements

This one is relevant to folks wrapping up the job search (wow-ing on your resume and during the interview) and ones asking for a promotion: standing out from the crowd is always a bonus.

When writing these achievements, consider the following: Do you have any interesting hobbies you can talk about? What about personal goals — have you achieved anything in your private life that proves you're a motivated person? What unique experiences do you bring to the company culture?

Having a 'thing' is the key to staying memorable — especially when you're one of thousands of employees. This might not go on your achievements list, but it can help you skip levels and network with managers several stations above you. Remember that managers are human and mostly promote who they like, based on often fuzzy, intuitive, and poorly expressed feelings.

So while you prepare your own list of achievements, remember that your manager has their own (likely less positive) list of your achievements in their head — it's that one that matters. Take every chance to get items off your list and onto theirs.

How to Frame Your Accomplishments

You know how your manager always makes you set SMART goals — Specific, Measurable Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based? Well, now you get to turn the tables.

This is the perfect format for listing your professional accomplishments. Make your achievement specific and show proof that you made progress. Emphasize how unachievable it looked at the time, how relevant it was to the organization, and how quickly you got it done.

Here are a few things to think about when framing your career accomplishments.

1. Make the numbers digestible and impressive

Choose your comparison period wisely. For most revenue or cost savings, per year is the standard. But, depending on the metric, you might want to get a little creative. For example:

Youtube claims to have "500 hours of video uploaded every minute" — why not say 262 million hours uploaded every year? Well, hours per minute seems more relatable, and people have a hard time processing really big numbers.

2. Keep the delivery casual and straightforward

Try this thought experiment — you're in a noisy bar, about 3 drinks down, and someone you want to impress asks you "how is work going?".

What would you say? How would you say it?

You want to sound impressive, but you still have to be casual about it — you're not in a job interview. You have to dumb it down because this person doesn't work with you, so you can't use insider jargon.

So, you might say something like:

Yeah honestly it's been really good — we just did a big pilot project with Google. I work on the software side and I managed to make everything run about 50% faster. It was a big deal for our company — they represent 20% of our revenue.

Take the simplicity of that statement, jargon free, and include that in your list of achievements. Now it's in a form that anyone can understand, because this thought experiment helped you strip away all but the most important aspects.

3. Know how much detail to share

Revealing sensitive data or business practices could put you in breach of your NDA, so be careful. Stick to the following rule: Reveal the company but not the results, or the results but not the company.

So if you worked with Google to improve latency by 52% in their data centers, you could say "I worked with a prominent Silicon Valley tech firm to improve latency by 52%" and reveal the method, OR you could say "I worked with Google on their data centers" but not reveal what worked.

People will be impressed you work at Google, and will understand and respect that you can't elaborate. Always stick to percentages where possible — it's safer than revealing sensitive revenue figures. Be especially sensitive of what you reveal in writing versus in person or over the phone. Please don't put sensitive company information in your LinkedIn bio, for example.

Examples of Achievements

​Still unsure of how to present your accomplishments? Here are a few examples of the above principles in practice...

  1. Created an Excel template for invoicing. Resulted in company savings of $37,500 per year, increasing net profit margin by 15%. It also saved a team of 10 people 2 hours each per week, improving productivity.
  2. Implemented a new and improved CRM system. It helped the sales team exceed quarterly sales goals by an average of 23% each quarter. It also encouraged 40% more notes taken per sales call, which helped us develop richer client profiles.
  3. Improved latency by 52% in our data centers, leading to zero downtime in the past 3 months and 23% fewer customer complaints about speed.
  4. Successfully integrated a full brand redesign of our website 4 days ahead of schedule, despite 2 weeks of delays from an external agency supplying the assets.
  5. Achieved my quarterly business objective to get the number of severe bugs found down to under 5 per month. All 5 bugs were found and corrected in QA due to closer collaboration with res.

You might not have access to all of this data — my advice is to just ask. This data does exist somewhere and most companies want to quantify it. Remember it's in your bosses best interests to calculate these numbers...because they will have their own career wins list too!

How to discuss your biggest accomplishments

For the really big accomplishments, your greatest moments, you need to tell a story. Don't just list a bunch of numbers and move on — you need to keep your boss or hiring manager entertained. If you get stuck, consider the CAR formula:

  • Challenge
  • Action
  • Result

Every accomplishment should include the problem or challenge, tell a story about the action you took, and then share the outstanding results of your hard work. This is the simplest version of an engaging formula for a story (for more detail, think "The Hero's Journey")

Now it's your time to be the hero in the journey that is your career. Don't oversell it — you don't need to. Make it as interesting and eventful for them as it was for you to live through it.

Putting it into practice

Let's take an example we've seen and embellish it further to use as a template.

Created an Excel template for invoicing. Resulted in company savings of $37,500 per year, increasing net profit margin by 15%. It also saved a team of 10 people 2 hours each per week, improving productivity.

We can take that great achievement, and turn it into a story like this:

Last year when I was still an intern, I got assigned to do invoicing because my manager was out sick. This wasn't something I had trained for, but I did know my way around a spreadsheet, so although it felt like forever, I got it done in 4 hours. Little did I know that even the senior staff were taking 6 hours every week to get this done! My trick was to create an Excel Macro to automate the copy and pasting from one tab to another — nobody in the department knew you could do that. When my boss came back, he was so impressed that he got me to train the rest of the 10 person team. Based on the time saved, we calculated we had saved the company about $40k per year, which was about 15% of our profit margin at the time!

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