Tag Archives: STAR

Stories are important to the job search, but how many are necessary?

I have a hard time remembering my brothers’ birthdays, so you can imagine how difficult it would be for me to remember the specifics of my customers’ occupations and goals for employment. I need to know more than: software engineer in the defense industry, or nurse in pediatrics, or physics teacher in high school with a dual license in middle school.

I need a story, and not just any story, from my customers. A story that shows accomplishments and highlights  numerous skills. Employers feel the same way; they’re going to remember you best if you tell them compelling stories. You may wonder how many stories you’ll need in your arsenal to succeed at an interview.

How many stories are enough? Katharine Hansen in her blog titled, Create a Memory in Job Interviews By Telling Stories, talks about the importance of telling stories to help the employer remember you.

When I have taught students or conducted workshops about using story in job interviews,” she writes, “I have participants develop three stories—largely because most audiences can develop three in the short time period of a class/workshop. I’ve found that with even just three stories, participants can adapt the stories into responses to many, if not most, interview questions.”

Katharine continues to explain that preparing for an interview will probably require more than three stories. She refers to both Ellyn Enisman, author of Job Interview Skills 101, and Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute, of the importance of the number seven—the magical number of stories a person needs to succeed at any interview.

Really, how many stories are enough? Katharine pushes the envelope, saying that 10-20 would be a better range of stories to tell, but then recants and says that the number seven is more realistic. I agree that the goal of 10-15 stories is a bit demanding. I encourage my customers to identify in a job ad the most important competencies for the position and write a story for each one. If there are eight competencies, develop eight stories. But this, I believe, is also pushing the envelope.

Stories tell more than one story. One wonderful thing about stories is that often they reveal more skills in the candidate than the interviewer originally asks for. For example, the interviewer asks you a question based on leading global teams. You tell a story that reveals not only leadership skills, but also problem solving, time management, and communication skills…with positive quantified results. The story is told with such conviction and confidence that it covers potentially four questions.

How to prepare your stories. There are many acronyms you can use to organize your stories. One I present to my customers is (STAR) situation/task (their task in the situation), actions, result/s. There are also (PAR) problem, actions, result/s;  (CAR), challenge, actions, result/s (OAR) opportunity, action, results, etc.

Regardless of which structure you use to tell your story, try to structure it the following way: 20% for the situation/task; 60% for the actions, and 20% for the results. Employers will be most interested in the actions you took to arrive at the result/s, so make sure you describe your role in the situation.

What if….It’s also important that you not only prepare success stories; you also prepare stories that address failures. These types of stories contain the same elements: the situation/task, the action you took to meet the situation, and the result; which in this case is mildly negative. You’ll also keep the “failure” questions short and sweet; don’t elaborate as you would with the success stories. It’s advisable to prepare a failure story for each competency. When you do the math, you may double the number of stories from seven or eight to fourteen or sixteen.

What you’ve read is a lot to stomach. The important thing to keep in mind is that stories when told well are powerful and memorable. Once you have written your stories based on the competencies required by the employer, most of the hard work is accomplished. The next step is telling your stories at the interview.

Be strong at the interview; Nowitzki vs. James

During the NBA Finals, I wrote with great anticipation about the Dallas Mavericks hopefully beating the Miami Heat. My son and I wanted the Mavs to beat the Heat because 1) they knocked our beloved Celtics out of the play-offs and 2) we despised the way Lebron James made a circus out of leaving Cleveland, practically claiming to be the chosen one.

Maverick players were getting it done by being demonstrative and touching each other by high-fiving, patting butts, handshakes, etc. I related this to management’s attempt to raise morale as a great thing and that companies need more of it.

Now I’d like to talk about Dirk Nowitzki and Lebron James and how they are analogous to jobseekers vying for the same position. No one will stage a great debate as to whether James is better than Nowitzki; James is a dominant, every-coaches-dream player…at least on paper.

What I’m going to assert is that if you’re not the best person on paper (Nowitzki), it doesn’t mean you’re not the best one for job. I’m referring to your résumé, which may indicate a lack of certain job-related skills. It may not be the best one submitted for the job, but keep in mind that a résumé doesn’t get the job; the interview does.

Although a great résumé helps in getting to the interview, a good one can accomplish this, as well. Let’s go back to James and Nowitzki. On paper James is king, but during the playoffs, Nowitzki ruled. To further the analogy, let’s look at the playoffs as the interview.

Interviewers often look for the intangibles in job candidates. They see that the other candidate for a Marketing Manager position, for instance, has the prerequisite skills, while you’re missing a few and not coming across, on paper, as not the strongest candidate (Nowitzki). What’s your plan of action?

  1. At the interview demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job and mention your strong personal and transferable skills whenever you can. You show initiative, hustle (another word for work hard) and are willing to dive for every ball. You’re a true leader who inspires your colleagues to do their best.
  2. Take every moment to explain your accomplishments and how they raised revenue, saved money, and improved processes at your last job. Quantify your results with numbers, dollars, and percentages. Use the Situation/Task, Action, Result (STAR) formula to tell your stories.
  3. Be prepared to answer the tough questions, one of which will be, “Why should we hire you?” or some deviation of this. You can do the job, will do the job, and will fit in, is the foundation for this answer. Rattle off the requirements you meet, not the ones you don’t; talk about your love for the company and all it stands for; and mention how you were respected, not feared, by all your colleagues.
  4. Appear confident and unstressed by questions regarding the technical skills you may lack. One of which might be your experience with direct mail. Talk about experiences that required total organizational, follow-through, management, and cool-under-pressure skills. Don’t spend the alloted two minutes answering this question.
  5. Do your due diligence: follow up the interview with a thank-you note that reiterates your strong abilities to do the job. Don’t revisit the one area of the position where you lack the experience; rather focus on the ones where you do. Be gracious of the time the employer took interviewing you. Address any potential problem the company has that was raised during the interview; explain in detail how you can help them solve it.

Keep in mind the words of Rick Carlisle, the manager of the Mavericks, “Our team is not about individual ability, it’s about collective will, collective grit, collective guts.” Employers look for the intangibles job candidates have, what they can do for the company in the future. If your lack of experience is insurmountable, take pride in the effort you put forth at the interview. It was Nowitzki and his team that beat James and the Heat, despite how the King looked on paper.