Real World Resume Tips: But How Do I Quantify the Unquantifiable?

In my last post on writing a strong resume summary, Chaz left this comment:

What if you are in a situation where you can’t quantify your results? I volunteer for a nonprofit. Right now I am in the works to develop a database for them to keep track of the students and the mentors who mentor them. They need one because it is a “cardinal-sin” in database to have MS Excel as a database and would make their work a heck of a lot easier. What metrics would you use to quantify something if your not sure of how much it would improve their efficiency. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

It’s a great question and of course it applies to more than the summary. You constantly hear about how you should quantify your accomplishments in your resume, but what do you do when that’s not possible?

The answer depends on why it’s not possible. In Chaz’s situation, his accomplishment will be quantifiable because it will save his colleagues some specific amount of time – he just doesn’t know the exact details yet. In that case, I recommend guesstimating (and being clear that it’s a guesstimate). If others could help you decide the impact, ask them but otherwise just think about the improvements you’re making and what impact you personally would expect them to have. Will this database eliminate 20% of the unnecessary work they’re doing now? 40%? 60%? Once you’ve decided on a reasonable number, you might word the bullet point something like this:

  • Currently developing database projected to streamline workload by 25% – replacing unwieldy Excel spreadsheet with fully functional relational database that will allow employees to quickly access information and run a variety of accurate reports.

By using the word ‘projected’ you are making clear that you don’t yet know the exact impact, but you’re still taking credit for the inevitable results that will occur from your work.

But my work isn’t quantifiable

OK, but what if it’s just not possible to describe your impact in numbers, either because you don’t know them or because the work you do doesn’t lend itself to measurement? In that case, focus on the overall impact of your work. For example, if you are a graphic designer in an agency and no one ever tells you how many sales your work generated, talk instead about the creative impact. Perhaps you redesigned a logo because the company’s image was stale and they wanted to attract a younger market. In that case, your impact was modernizing the brand.

Or maybe you worked on a project for a notoriously hard-to-please client who never liked the designs he was shown, but who loved the ones you created. In that case, your impact was pleasing a difficult client (although I probably wouldn’t use the word ‘difficult’ just in case the client sees your resume!)

If you are one of the mentors who works in Chaz’s organization, your impact is probably almost impossible to quantify too – but you do have an impact. So tell us what it is! Have you turned around a particularly difficult student? Have parents praised your efforts? Have you engaged your students more with a redesigned curriculum? Whatever it is, just write about it.

Remember, if your work is hard to quantify, everyone who reads your resume will understand that because they work in the same world. But you do make an impact every day and if your resume explains how, you will stand out just as much in your world as the top-performing sales guy does in his.

For more on how to write an effective resume, check out my free resume writing course where I walk you through tips and strategies that will transform your resume.

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