Wrapping up an internship? Make sure you update your resume with what you accomplished this summer.


Internships and co-ops offer you the opportunity to gain new skills and experiences. But how you communicate those skills and experiences to future employers can have as much impact on your career opportunities as the internship itself.

One of my favorite aspects of my job while managing the co-op/internship program at a large automobile manufacturer came at the end of the term, when I met with each student to conduct the exit interview. This was an opportunity to sit down with each individual one-on-one and listen to what he/she had been working on over the previous several months. As part of the exit interview process, students were required to bring with them a detailed report showing exactly what they had been tasked with accomplishing, their step-by-step plan for achieving this, and the final outcome of their efforts. Additionally, each student was to bring an updated copy of his/her resume.

The students never ceased to amaze me with their ingenuity and resourcefulness. Time after time I was simply blown away as I listened to the students describe their problems, their approaches, and their results. Given what they had accomplished, I expected to see some amazing resumes. Unfortunately, I was repeatedly disappointed when it came to the resume review portion of the exit interview. With few exceptions, students listed the following: name of company, department, time period, and a brief list of responsibilities. Rarely did a student list his or her accomplishments or provide statistics to frame the scope of his or her tasks.

In the beginning, when I first took over the exit interview process, I thought this was just an unusual coincidence – that, for some reason, this particular batch of students struggled with updating their resumes properly. But I soon discovered that this was not a rare occurrence. Each new round of exit interviews brought the same thing – a stark contrast between what the students had accomplished and what was reflected on their resumes. I knew what these students were capable of – amazing things! But looking at their resumes, no one else would ever know.

Perhaps the reason for this is simply because students haven’t been taught how to turn responsibilities into accomplishments. So, here’s a brief overview of that process:

Step 1: Make a list of all your responsibilities for a given job.

Step 2: Under each responsibility, list specific examples of what you did, paying special attention to the following:

  • Specific problems you encountered and how you solved them

  • People you interacted with and any issues surrounding those interactions

  • Ideas you suggested to improve efficiency, reduce cost, eliminate waste, etc.

  • Praise, recognition or accolades you received

  • Training you led

Step 3: Rewrite specific examples as accomplishment statements with data to back up your claim.

Now you should have a better idea of not only what you were responsible for, but also what you accomplished within those areas of responsibility.

Using the above process as a guide, let’s take a look at an example of a student finishing up an internship in human resources:

Step 1: Responsibilities:

  • Helped maintain I-9 documentation files

  • Prepared new hire packets

  • Filed employee personnel papers and documentation

  • Assisted in setting up and maintaining employee personnel and benefit files

Step 2: Specific examples:

  • Prepared new hire packets

  • Suggested ways to combine documents collecting similar information

  • Assisted in setting up and maintaining employee personnel and benefit files

  • Reviewed and reorganized filing system to improve efficiency

Step 3: Rewrite examples as accomplishment statements:

  • Streamlined new hire documentation packets, eliminating redundancy, reducing paper costs, and decreasing required time for completion by 25%

  • Reorganized filing system resulting in 30% increase in file/document retrieval success rate

Do you see the difference between the Responsibilities (Step 1) and the Accomplishments (Step 3)? The responsibilities are generic job functions that anyone in a human resources internship should be able to do. It says nothing about the capabilities of the specific person actually working in that role. The accomplishments, however, show that this particular student intern can take initiative, analyze a situation, identify problems, and develop and implement solutions that bring results. That’s the type of employee recruiters are looking for.

Securing a summer internship or co-op is an incredibly important step in your career preparation, and one you should be proud of. Many students graduate college without ever having this opportunity. However, simply listing this fact on your resume will do very little to help you as you prepare to launch your career. To make the most of this experience, you MUST make sure your resume reflects what you accomplished during this time. Remember….responsibilities are listed on job descriptions, results are listed on resumes.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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