Today’s job market is more competitive than ever. Global movement of labour and higher domestic standards of education mean that securing well paid and fulfilling employment is no longer simply a matter of having the right qualifications and experience – you also need to stand out from the crowd of applicants for any position, and that process starts with the humble CV (or resume for US-based job seekers).
When you apply for an attractive position, the recruiter for that job will more than likely be faced with dozens or even hundreds of CVs to plough through, and anything you can do to make yours grab their attention is going to put you ahead of the pack. Your CV needs to be succinct and direct, and to clearly show just why you are the ideal person to fulfil the position in question. Not only do you need to list your relevant qualifications and experience, but you need to show how you’ve put your knowledge into practice in previous jobs. The most effective and direct way of doing this is by using the STAR method.
What is the STAR Method?
STAR is an acronym for ‘Situation, Task, Activity, Result’, and each CV example of your previous work experience should ideally include a sentence or two about each of these words. While a normal CV might just list relevant bullet points, a STAR-based CV provides a concise narrative that gives a much fuller picture of your competencies and how you’ve previously put them into practice. Note that the ‘Situation’ and ‘Task’ sections can easily overlap, and can often be combined into one point. The individual words that make up STAR can be interpreted as follows:
Situation – Describe your role and position in the company for a previous job that you’re using as an example of your capabilities.
Task – Think of a time when you had to show your qualities by completing a specific task, or solving a problem. How did this relate to a quality required on the application form?
Activity – What did you do to achieve the task? Did you work off your own initiative, or did you follow guidelines accurately and successfully? Did you work alone or as part of a team? This part should make up the bulk of your example, and highlight your best qualities wherever possible and relevant.
Result – What was the outcome of your actions? How did they contribute to the success of your organisation or the smooth running of the workplace? How did they lighten the load of your colleagues or superiors?
By considering each point above, you not only clearly demonstrate that your knowledge and qualifications have real-world value, but you deliver that demonstration in a straightforward way that answers many of the follow up the questions a recruiter may have.
Putting STAR Into Practice
So much for the theory, but how can you use the STAR method effectively to make your CV stronger? The trick is to take a look at the job description and person specification that came with the application form, and come up with some examples to show that you meet the requirements. A position may specify that you will need to ‘Work Effectively as Part of a Team’, but it’s not particularly compelling to just write that you worked in a team in your last job and so have this experience – you need to provide more detail to pique the recruiter’s interest, and this is how you’d do it using the STAR method.
An Example of Using STAR to Demonstrate Teamwork Ability:
Situation: “I was the product development manager for a small technology company who landed a chance to pitch our flagship product to a major player in our sector.”
Task: “Our CEO asked me to put together a demonstration we could take to the potential client in the hope of clinching the deal.”
Activity: “As I had in-depth technical knowledge of the product, I put together a comprehensive list of the benefits it could bring to the client, and drew up answers to all the potential queries I could think of. Next, I recruited two colleagues into the project. The first colleague took my product notes and worked them into an attractive sales demonstration, while the second used her presentational skills to deliver the pitch. Afterwards all three of us were available to answer questions from the client.”
Result: “The presentation was a success thanks to our combined and complementary skills, and resulted in a trial order from the client.”
While this is only an example and most likely will not apply to your own work experience, it’s clear that this approach is more effective than simply noting that your prior job involved teamwork, and it will make a much more powerful impression on the recruiter.
Getting Into the STAR Mind Set
This approach to writing a CV may at first seem strange and even a little unwieldy, but with practice it can become second nature. There’s no need to write a lengthy essay for each competency you need to demonstrate, and indeed this is one of the strengths of the STAR approach – by focussing on the four important points of Situation, Task, Activity and Result you can deliver the necessary information efficiently and precisely. Incidentally, this approach is also extremely useful should you progress to the interview stage, where you have the time to go into greater depth, so ensure you have a bank of answers to common questions ready-prepared before attending an interview.
Submitting a great CV with your job application is only the first step in the process of landing your next dream job, but if you get your CV wrong your chances of success could be foiled before your abilities have the chance to make a good impression. The STAR approach to putting together a CV provides a solid framework to work to, and offers a powerful way of succinctly demonstrating your qualities and how they can be put to practical use in the workplace.
Image 1: “STAR-STRUCK” ©Neal Fowler – https://flic.kr/p/8wZwHe
Image 2: “Typing Hands” ©Rainer Stropek – https://flic.kr/p/h93T3e