I was reading through a stack of resumes for a lecture I was leading and noticed that most of the sentences were describing the actions taken by the people, but seldom included the setup or the conclusion. It was like reading a bunch of job descriptions: “Run computer backups” or “Sell new and used cars on weekends”. These sentences didn’t give a sense of need, importance, success, or quality…the resumes were full of unsubstantiated statements such as “energetic leader specializing in team building” or “drove a fork lift in a large warehouse.” I found myself asking out loud, “So what?” or “To what end?” The problem was…no STAR statements.
In a prior post I’ve already explained the STAR method (similar to other variants known as SAR, CAR, PAR, SOAR and S/TAR statements) for developing strong accomplishment sentences for the resume, so let me provide a brief review and a few examples:
Situation – The situation or setting; the background for context
Task – Tasks or tactics used to approach or assess the challenge
Action – Activities or actions used to effect the change
Result – The outcome, a sense of scale, the quantifiable benefit
Writing STAR statements isn’t that hard once you’ve had some practice, but people sometimes find it a difficult concept to grasp. Maybe an example or two might be what you need to be able to move from concept to implementation. So here’s a couple of sample STARs to help get started…
A weak resume statement:
A successful builder of high-performance teams that can address challenging client situations
You have just “bragged” on yourself without a context, without an example, and without any sense of scale or success. I, as an interviewer or recruiter, would tend to doubt your statement. So next, let’s take that same brag and convert it into a STAR statement…
A strong (STAR) resume statement:
Assigned as a new project leader to a client that was previously dissatisfied with our firm’s services, rebuilt the project team with talented programmers, rewrote the application to the customer’s satisfaction, resulting in an extension of the contract.
To help isolate the parts of the STAR statement, consider what I just wrote and apply it to the four steps of STAR:
Situation: assigned to a dissatisfied customer
Task: to solve a technical issue (program) and a client issue
Action: pulled together a good team to solve the technical issue
Result: achieved customer satisfaction and earned a contract extension
Now that’s a much stronger statement and I, as the interviewer or recruiter, would say to myself, “He’s a builder of high-performance teams and can handle challenging clients.” The STAR statement allowed me to make that assessment of you without reading unsupported bragging!
Let’s do another one…
Updated an old database application using Java and SQL
Stronger STAR Statement:
Inherited an extensive database application written with legacy code, assessed the viability of enhancing the data access and converting the program to a web application, converted the program from COBOL and DB2 to Java and MySQL, resulting in a 8-fold improvement in speed and completed on time and under budget.
Situation: an old database and program needing an update
Task: convert to current technology and preserve the data
Action: migrated DB2 data to SQL; reprogrammed COBOL to Java
Results: with improved performance, on schedule, and saved money
Yes, both of these samples were a bit wordy. No, you don’t need to be as wordy with your STAR statements. But these longer examples helped expose how a STAR is assembled (by you) and disassembled (by the recruiter).
How many lines in your resume should be written in the STAR format? As many as you can, but at least one per unique task listed on your resume. No, not all bullets or sentences in a resume need to be STAR format, as the resume can start sounding a bit “dense”, so mix in a few variations…some statements can be just TAR (no “S”) or any number of other variations, such as STA, SAR, RATS, RTA, or even an occasional TA. But once you realize the benefit of a STAR statement, then you’ll NEVER want a sentence or bullet that just lists the task (“T”) or just the action (“A”) again.
Bottom Line: Rely heavily on the STAR method of describing the successes of your career in your resume (or even in an interview). The story that the STAR statement spins is often memorable, puts your work in context and highlights the benefits of your efforts. Mix in a few TAR, RATS, SAR, STA, and AR statements to keep the writing from getting too dense, but err on the side of lots of STARs. Recruiters and hiring managers prefer to read success stories…not a list of duties. (Updated 6/26/2013)
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