Resume Writing – STAR Statements

“Your resume is bland, boring, and meaningless.” He seemed a bit shocked that I would say that to his face. “It has no content, no personality, and no potential.” He finally spoke up and started to defend his work, but I cut him off and said, “Ah! Now we can get it fixed…I needed you to get passionate about it first!”

Yes, I was a bit tough on the young man, but sometimes it takes getting a person’s complete attention before he’ll agree to really rethink his resume. It was nicely formatted and had the basic structure and content, but it was lacking excitement and details. He had been defending lines like “Helped write a department training manual” and “Ran the nightly computer backup programs” -– urgh!  It sounded like a job description rather than a resume of personal success! He needed to get past his modesty and develop a resume, not an obituary.

To get this fellow’s resume on track I decided to show him the STAR model. Now there are several variations on STAR (CAR with the ‘challenge’ or PAR with the ‘problem’), where some people like to merge the “S” and “T” parts, but here’s the one I like that keeps them separate:

  • S = Situations – It can also mean Setting. Give just enough background to make sure the reader knows the environment, the high-level problem, or the purpose for the needed action. ‘S’ also stands for Simple — keep the sentences, the terms, and grammar simple. (Some use ‘C’ for Challenge here.)
  • T = Tasks/Tactics – Tell me the task you faced in a clear enough way so that I can easily understand what you were trying to accomplish or what you succeeded in doing. This can sometimes be considered as the goal of the tasks. Use terms that the average reader will understand, staying away from lingo and overly-technical terms. (Oh, ‘T’ also stands for Truth.)
  • A = Actions – I don’t want to just know the situation and the task, so give me some action or an accomplishment. Your task and setting might be to develop training for a major client suffering from out-dated materials, so detail the actions you took or the accomplishment reached. This might include things like the amount of time, the number of pages, or the type of customer you dealt with.  (‘A’ also means Accomplishment, where it’s clear what you succeeded in doing.)
  • R = Results – Just because you took a Situation and performed a Task to Accomplish a goal, doesn’t mean you’re finished. Tell us the Results so we know how it all came out. Sometimes ‘R’ means Rating or Ranking your results.  Was the client happy? Did your efforts close the deal? Is the software still in production? What level of profit did you achieve? This is the part that most people leave off and what most recruiters want to see. (I like to call this ‘Scale’, but that doesn’t start with ‘R’.)

Partly because many of us have been taught to be modest in public, we tend to write modest resumes. But you need to look at your resume not as a “journal of activities”, but rather a “marketing document of your talents”.

Think of TV commercials that advance the benefits and strengths of their products. How often have you seen a commercial selling a truck and it talks about horsepower, towing capacity or payload. They are clear, enticing, dynamic, and targeted– exactly what your resume needs…clear situations, enticing tasks, dynamic actions, and targeted results.

Bottom Line: Avoid the “job description” type of resume. Think S.T.A.R. When writing each and every line, consider a STAR statement. Tell us a story in each sentence. Don’t exaggerate, but be proud and even a little boastful of your past work. This is a marketing document – sell me! [Updated July 2011]

(See my more recent STAR Part 2 posting)

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2 Responses to Resume Writing – STAR Statements

  1. mrl8nite says:

    In an online discussion, a fellow resume specialist used an analogy for STAR that was based upon a fairy-tale or old fashioned story. I thought it was pretty good…it goes something like this:

    “Once upon a time…” – The situation or the setting
    “Then suddenly…” – The problem or task to solve
    “Fortunately…” The actions you used to solve it
    “Happily ever after…” – The benefit of your involvement

    Maybe this will help you get the idea of how a STAR statement makes the story you are telling come alive!

  2. mrl8nite says:

    A friend asked me about the SOAR resume method. This is similar to STAR, it just takes the “Tactics/Tasks” part and replaces it with “Obstacles” – you clearly define the hurdles or challenges involved. This is good when trying to describe an event or activity that is difficult or requires finesse. So either STAR or SOAR – your choice…the important part is to get away from duties or roles and focus on success!

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