Part 6: Career Readiness Guide: Prepare For Success With Your Liberal Arts Degree | Job Search Communication Tools, Résumés & Job Interviews
The collective expertise of the staff in the Office of Undergraduate Education and Career Services in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota
February 22, 2022
This is the sixth of seven articles in this series, click here to go to the first article. If you’re searching for a remote internship, go to our search results page that lists all of the remote internships and other entry-level jobs advertised on College Recruiter and then drill down as you wish by adding your desired category, location, company, or job type.
JOB SEARCH COMMUNICATION TOOLS
Once you’ve developed a healthy list of job opportunities you’d like to pursue, you have to actually go ahead and pursue them! To do that in a way that maximizes your chances for success, you need compelling, convincing job search communication tools: • Résumés • Cover letters • Recommendation letters • Thank-you notes
You’ll use all of these critical tools, as well as your LinkedIn profile (see page 63) and opportunities like interviews, to cultivate and communicate your personal brand (see page 50): the image you convey to the world.
The Purpose of Your Résumé
The purpose of your résumé is to help you quickly explain your skills and competencies, qualifications, and fit for a position. It serves as your introduction to prospective employers and can be used both as a marketing tool for landing interviews and to help you reflect on your experience and plan for future skill and competency development.
Your résumé is one of the primary tools you can use to showcase your career readiness in a tangible, compelling way. Remember: We define career readiness as developing—and then being able to convincingly demonstrate and articulate—the following Core Career Competencies:
• Analytical & Critical Thinking • Applied Problem Solving • Ethical Reasoning & Decision Making • Innovation & Creativity • Oral & Written Communication
• Teamwork & Leadership • Engaging Diversity • Active Citizenship & Community Engagement • Digital Literacy • Career Management
Keep these competencies at the forefront of your mind as you create your résumé. And if you haven’t been doing so already, start: • Carefully documenting all your experiences, in and out of the classroom. • Pinpointing which Core Career Competencies your experiences have helped you develop.
(Note: Your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member can help you with this process.)
Remember: Ultimately, you need to be able to demonstrate your career readiness, on your résumé and elsewhere. You can’t just say you’re career ready; you have to show it. With that challenge always top of mind: Which experiences—academic, engagement, and career—can you highlight on your résumé to show prospective employers that you have, in fact, developed the Core Career Competencies that signify career readiness?
Career Fact: What Is a Curriculum Vitae (CV)?
A CV presents a full history of your academic and professional credentials (including research projects, publications, professional development, and practical experience related to your field). It is commonly used when applying to graduate/professional programs, fellowships, and grants. The length of a CV is not limited to one page.
A Few Things to Do Before Writing Your Résumé
• Research the specific organization you’re targeting, as well as the specific position you’re applying for, to find out what key skills, competencies, and experiences the employer is seeking. • Brainstorm a list of experiences you’ve had that demonstrate you have the skills and competencies for the position you’re pursuing. Be sure to include any unpaid/volunteer positions. • Create a list of three or four of your strongest characteristics that make you a good candidate for the job. Make sure you think not only in terms of specific skills, but also in the context of the Core Career Competencies that employers consistently seek in college students and recent college graduates. • Think of several accomplishments from your previous experiences that illustrate each key skill or competency. • Outline the training and education you have that qualifies you for the job.
One other piece of critical advice: Do not use a résumé template. You can use one as a guide, but don’t put your information into a pre formatted template. Remember: Employers review hundreds if not thousands of résumés. So they’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of résumés that show up in the standard two or three template formats. They’re not looking to see one more.
Career Fact: Your Résumé Will Get a Very Quick First Look
Employers spend as little as six seconds looking at your résumé. It’s essential to write it well.
Résumé Formatting Tips Visual Tips • Balance text and whitespace on the page. Consider one-inch margins on the top, bottom, left, and right.
• Ensure that your résumé’s headings stand out from the rest of the text, making items easy to find (through the modest use of bold, underline indentation, ALL CAPS, • bullets, etc.). • Keep the résumé to one page, and fill the entire page. Adjust the margins as needed to balance the page. • Proofread! Ensure that your final document has absolutely no errors. • Use 10- to 12-point body text in an easily read font (such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri).
Additional Tips • Don’t use personal pronouns, such as “I” or “my.” • Use the past tense to describe past experiences and the present tense to highlight current experiences. • Consider leaving off “average” information, such as a not-so-great job experience or a GPA that is less than 3.0. • Revise your résumé often, preferably for every position you pursue. • Get a second opinion: Have your résumé reviewed by a career counselor, your advisor, a faculty member, and/or another trusted person in your life.
Develop Compelling Skills and Competencies Statements The skills and competencies statements you write for your résumé need to: • Follow this basic formula: Action Verb + Details + Outcome/Results • Effectively communicate your experiences. • Demonstrate that you have what it takes to succeed, particularly when it comes to development of the Core Career Competencies. • Stand out from those of other applicants.
• Identify the specific needs of the employer. Look at the job description and the information you’ve researched about the organization. Identify the skills and Core Career Competencies that you think are necessary for this position. • Use action verbs that address these needs (e.g., “developed,” “coordinated,” “analyzed”). (See pages 69-70.) • Choose words that demonstrate responsibility (e.g., instead of “made up,” say “created” or “designed”). • Vary your word choice. Doing so helps you make your skills and competencies sound more diverse and adds depth.
Details • Ask yourself the following questions: Who/for whom? What? Where? When? Why? How?
• Find the balance between short and long. The majority of your bullet-point statements should be one line only. • Most positions will have between two and five bullet points, with more emphasis on relevant positions.
Outcome/Results • When possible, use numbers to quantify your skills and experiences. Think about these questions: How many? How much? How often? • Expand your concept of “results” beyond a quantifiable figure. Numbers are not your only achievements. • Ask what difference you’ve made: As a result of your action(s), what happened to you, your client/colleague/boss/customer, and/or others involved?
On the four pages that follow, you’ll find: • A categorized listing of action verbs you can use on your résumé (and elsewhere—for example, in your cover letter, in interviews, and on your LinkedIn profile). • Examples of two solid résumés so you can see how the energy you put into writing and designing your résumé pays off in an attractive, compelling final document.
Whenever you apply for a job or an internship, you always need to send a cover letter along with your résumé, whether it’s required or not, unless a posting specifically tells you not to.
You’ll want to write a different cover letter for each position you pursue. And you’ll want to tailor your cover letter to the specific position you’re seeking; don’t use one generic cover letter for everything.
Why? Well, this is one of those occasions when your Analytical & Critical Thinking competency (as well as your Oral & Written Communication competency) goes beyond career readiness and plays a key role in your job/internship search as well.
Just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of an employer. You’re trying to fill an internship position or a job opening, and you’re reading dozens of cover letters as you evaluate candidates. Which type of cover letter will truly grab your attention—one that is obviously generic, or one that is written specifically with you and your needs in mind?
The answer couldn’t be more clear: The targeted, customized cover letter wins every time. So be sure to target and customize every cover letter you write and send.
Use your letter to succinctly present your qualifications, personality, and enthusiasm for the position. In most cases, your letter is the first extension of your personality that an employer will see. So it should not simply restate the information on your résumé. Instead, the two documents should work well together without being overtly repetitive.
CAREER FACT: Your Cover Letter Needs to Grab the Reader’s Attention Quickly
On average, you’ll have about 20 seconds to impress an employer with your cover letter. It’s essential to write it well.
The Benefits of Cover Letters
Writing cover letters—especially targeted, customized letters that will actually grab an employer’s interest—takes time and energy. Lots of it.
The investment is well worth it, though, because a compelling cover letter:
• Serves as a writing sample, as well as a true example of your overall communication competency in a situation that matters. • Allows you to convey your motivation and your interest in the position and/or organization you’re pursuing. • Gives you the chance to describe aspects of your experience or identity more fully—you can elaborate on your values, for example, or demonstrate your personality. • Helps you get started with interview preparation by developing relevant stories and examples to share. • Lets you directly address any potential barriers you may be facing (e.g., gaps in employment, relocation, being unavailable during certain phases of the hiring process).
How to Structure Your Cover Letter Here’s a basic tutorial on what your cover letter should look like, in terms of both content and format:
Career Fact: Connections Gain Attention
Referrals are one of the top ways people get invited to interviews. So share any connections you have with people your cover letter’s recipient might know, provided those people are comfortable with you using their names. Referring to connections, or “name-dropping,” is very common and is expected in U.S.-dominant business culture.
How to Submit Your Cover Letter Save each cover letter file with your name and the document type—e.g., “Lastname,Firstname_CoverLetter.pdf.”
When you’re submitting your application materials via email: • Save each document as a separate PDF file, attaching it to the email. (Note: Saving files as Word documents may be a better idea if you are uploading them to online recruiting sites.) • In the body of the email, provide a brief, friendly, and somewhat formal and professional message, adhering to all the basics of good email communication (e.g., proper greeting, excellent grammar and spelling, proper salutation). • Be sure to use a helpful subject line for your email message, such as: • “POSITION NAME application-FIRSTNAME LASTNAME”. • “Public Policy Intern application-Firstname Lastname”
Avoid These Common Cover Letter Pitfalls We’ve covered what to do when it comes to your cover letters. Here, conversely, are some of the more common mistakes college students and recent grads make where cover letters are concerned: • Not including a cover letter at all. Unless a position description specifically states “no cover letters,” it’s always best to include a cover letter each time you apply for a job or an internship. • Ignoring directions from the employer. Be sure that you carefully read the job description and follow the guidelines provided by the employer. Sometimes, for example, employers ask applicants to address specific things in
the cover letter. Make sure you follow such directions when you see them. • Exceeding one page. Your cover letter should demonstrate concise, polished writing and should not exceed one page. • Submitting a cover letter with errors. Proofread your letter carefully, reading it aloud to uncover spelling and grammar errors. You’d be amazed how often you catch things when you hear them vs. seeing them. • Overuse of “I” statements. Vary your sentence structure so that you’re not starting each sentence with “I” statements, like “I was in charge of a very important project.” Instead, you could say: “Through my leadership, our team achieved our project goals on time and with great results.” • Using language that undermines your confidence. Instead of writing “I believe I would be a great asset…” or “I think I will make a great team member,” simply delete the less-confident language and instead say “I will be a great asset…” or “I will make a great team member….” • Making it all about you. It’s great to be energized about how the position you’re pursuing will help you. But remember: The employer is the one who is in the hiring position, and they want to know what you will do for them. • Using clichés. Stay away from phrases like “As you can see on my résumé” (e.g., “As you can see on my résumé, I have excellent communication skills.”). If something is already obvious on your résumé, there’s no need to waste cover letter space saying so. Instead, focus on your key point and rewrite to something like: “My experience as a student organization leader helped me build excellent communication skills.”
Let’s look at a high-quality cover letter so that you can see how the energy you put into writing one pays off in an attractive, compelling final document.
Be sure to include your name and contact information at the top of your letter, either mirroring your résumé header information or using professional business letter format.
Some prospective employers will ask you to provide recommendation letters along with your other job search communication documents (i.e., résumés, cover letters).
A letter of recommendation should describe—and give examples of—your strongest qualities, your best skills/competencies and abilities, your commitment to a particular field, and your potential to contribute to the company/ organization you’re pursuing.
Who should write letters of recommendation for you? Here are some tips for picking the right people: • Approach potential writers who will give you a strong, positive recommendation. Ask them directly if they would be willing to write a letter that is reflective of who you are and the good work you do. • Focus on people who know you well academically or professionally: faculty members, supervisors, coworkers, or advisors. Family members are usually not appropriate.
Remember, too, that your prospective letter writers have busy jobs, appointments, and possibly other students seeking recommendation letters as well. So do everything you can to make your request
simple for them. Give them everything you can from the following list: • Relevant information about the position you’re applying for and the company/organization offering it. • Your thoughts on what you see as your strongest qualities and skills/competencies (especially in the context of the Core Career Competencies that signify your career readiness). • A copy of your current résumé. • A list noting which academic courses you’ve completed and how well you did in them.
A few other key tips: • Be sure that all of your recommendation letters appear on letterhead. • Give your letter writers an early deadline, occasionally check in with them, and offer them reminders as needed. • Thank your letter writers; they’re giving you a significant amount of their time and energy! • Keep your letter writers informed about the application process. • Stay organized by carefully tracking who your letter writers are, what application deadlines you’re dealing with, and who you have followed up with or still need to follow up with.
At some point, you will land an interview for one of the jobs/internships you’re pursuing with the solid résumé(s) and cover letter(s) you’ve developed. After that interview (Note: we cover interviewing extensively next in this guide), you will need to send a thank-you note to your interviewer(s).
Why? Well, for starters, it’s common courtesy. Your interviewer has spent time and energy with you and on you, and is spending additional time and energy evaluating you for the position. It only makes sense, then, to thank them for that consideration.
But a thank-you note benefits you, too, because it gives you the chance to reiterate your interest in the position you’re pursuing, as well as your qualifications and fit for it. It’s one last chance to make a compelling case for your candidacy—and to demonstrate your career readiness along the way.
Keep this little-known fact in mind too: Most job/internship applicants fail to send a thank-you note after their interviews. So when you do, you’ll instantly stand out from the crowd and improve your chances of landing the position.
Some Key Tips on Thank-You Notes • Plan to send your thank-you note within two days after your interview. • Ask for the hiring manager’s business card at the interview so that you have correct spellings and contact information. • You can send a handwritten note card, an email, or a typed letter (printed out and mailed). A typed letter is the most formal. Handwritten notecards are more personal and can be shorter. Email is a good choice if your interviewer prefers email contact, or if you know a hiring decision will be made immediately. • Proofread. Then proofread again. Check for typos, grammatical errors, and awkward sentences. One error can move you to the bottom of the candidate pool (which is true for résumés and cover letters, too). Have someone else proofread your note; a second set of eyes and a second brain are invaluable. • If you were interviewed by multiple people, send an individual thank-you note to each person who interviewed you. Change each thank-you message somewhat. At a minimum, send a thank-you note to whomever seemed to be the leader in your interview. • Keep track of whom you send thank-you notes to and when. Keep a copy of emails and letters, too.
Here’s an example of a concise, but effective thank-you note:
You’ve made your case on paper—specifically, on your résumé and in your cover letter—for a job or an internship that intrigues you (and you’ve effectively applied many of the Core Career Competencies in the process, by the way). Now, you’ve landed an interview. Congratulations! It’s time to make your case in person—through an in-person interview and/or a virtual interview via video or phone. (The information in the pages ahead applies to interviews in general; we cover the key nuances of virtual interviewing below.)
We will walk along the path to interviewing success step by step: before the interview, during the interview, after the interview and—keeping our eye on the ultimate goal—at the offer stage.
More than half of employers now use video or phone interviewing as one of their college recruiting tools. In many ways, you’ll prepare for these virtual interviews—and perform in them—just as you would for a face-to-face interview, following the advice in the pages ahead
But virtual interviewing is also its own art form—particularly when it comes to interviewing via video. Whether you’re interacting with an employer on the phone, live on screen, or are instead recording your responses to a set of questions delivered asynchronously by a computer, you want to make sure your best self shines through!
Clarify Logistics. It’s OK to do so! This information is likely to be shared when you are invited for an interview, but in case it isn’t, do clarify logistics by asking what you can expect. For instance, will the employer be contacting you via phone or via video conferencing software? (Clarify who will be contacting whom.) How long is the interview? With whom will the interview be? What can you expect during the virtual interview?
Check Your Tech and Environment. Before and during the interview, make sure your technology works—Internet connection and phone reception. We recommend using your headphones. Next, think about where you will interview. Arrange a space that is comfortable, has little to no distractions, and offers good lighting. Lastly, communication is key. At the start of the interview, check in about how communication is going for you and the employer (i.e., audio, connection, volume). This is also a good time to discuss a backup plan in case technical issues come up. Provide the employer with a number to best reach you.
Eliminate Background Distractions. From both a visual and an audio standpoint, make sure the setting you pick is quiet and distraction-free. If you’re interviewing from your residence, ask your roommate(s) to keep the noise down. If you’re interviewing via video, make sure the room you’re in is well lit so that the interviewer can see you clearly. You also want to make sure that nothing in the background reveals personally identifying information you would not want to share.
Dress the Part. Yes, even if you’re not meeting in person; it will boost your confidence. You want to dress wisely, in a way that makes sense for both the job/employer itself as well as for your own personal identity. Experiment a bit beforehand, with the help of a friend, to get a sense of how you look best on camera.
Speak Clearly, into the Microphone. Be sure you talk loudly enough to be heard, but not so loudly as to be overbearing. Confirm as well that your computer’s/phone’s microphone is working properly, and that it is set to pick up your voice easily.
In Video Interviews, Look at the Camera, Not at Your Counterpart on the Screen.
If you spend an entire video interview looking at your interviewer’s face on your computer screen—and not instead at your computer’s webcam—you will end up appearing to look down the whole time instead of looking the interviewer in the eye. Put your computer at eye level as you’re sitting so that its webcam will be more or less at eye level as well. Nonverbal cues—such as smiling—can even be picked up via the intonation of your voice.
Adopt a “Yes, I’ll Practice” Mindset. Television news anchors learn to perform well on camera; it looks easy because they have practiced. You’ll need to practice communicating on camera and/or on the phone too. The more you do, the better you’ll get—and the better your chances will be for interviewing well and landing the job.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
What to Know, What to Bring, and What to Wear
Here are some tips to keep in mind before your interview, particularly with respect to what you should know, what you should bring, and what you should wear: • Know the details of the interview: date, time, length, location, number of interviewers, and who the interviewers are. If the organization doesn’t provide this information, ask. • Update your résumé and bring several copies with you.
• Bring a padfolio or notepad, pens, and a portfolio (if you have one). Taking notes is perfectly OK—and expected. • Plan a professional outfit. Remember: It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed! You don’t need to spend a lot of money on an outfit; perhaps you have items in your wardrobe that are interview appropriate. If not, check department stores for discounts or look in thrift stores. Dress in a way that is authentic to you, comfortable, and showcases how you would like to be viewed in a professional setting.
Before going into an interview, it’s critical for you to know how your experiences, skills, and competencies (namely, the Core Career Competencies) relate to the position you’re applying for. While you will not necessarily be asked the specific questions that follow, knowledge about yourself and how you fit with the position will help showcase your enthusiasm and integrate your skills/competencies into your interview responses:
• Who are you? What are your interests, passions, values, talents, and skills/competencies? • What is your educational background? What classes have you taken? What certifications are you pursuing, and what research have you conducted? • What do you know how to do? (You should be able to articulate the experience you’ve gained through jobs, internships, volunteer positions, learning abroad, student group activities, and class projects.)
Remember too, once again, that you are more than your major. Don’t forget that the list of the Core Career Competencies you’ve been developing came from extensive discussions with employers in particular. They are the ones looking for your Analytical & Critical Thinking, Innovation & Creativity, Oral & Written Communication, and Applied Problem Solving (among other Core Career Competencies) in real-world settings. Your liberal arts education is helping you develop these competencies. Now is the time to speak about them!
Career Fact: Skills and Competencies Matter Most
While the classes you’ve taken are important, 93% of employers report that they care more about your skills and competencies than your specific major (according to a study by the Association of American Colleges & Universities). So be sure to emphasize both in all your career-related interactions.
Know the Employer
The biggest mistake interviewees make, according to surveys of employers who hire new college graduates, is lacking knowledge about the organization they’re interviewing with You can avoid this fate by doing your research to learn more about the employer before your interview. Figure out its culture, philosophy, and career paths, as well as its history and structure. The more you know, the better prepared you will be—and the more impressive you will be as well. Follow these steps to guide your efforts:
Gather information on the employer from:
• People you know who work in the industry. Use any connections you have through family, friends, professors, or classmates. • The company’s/organization’s website. • External websites such as Glassdoor (glassdoor.com), LinkedIn (linkedin.com), and The Business Journals (bizjournals.com) for the geographic area where the organization is headquartered.
Prepare questions to ask the interviewer(s):
• Don’t ask questions that could easily be answered by visiting the employer’s website. Instead, use the information you find in your research to create thoughtful questions that go a bit deeper. • Don’t ask about salary or benefits unless and until you have a formal job offer to consider. Sometimes employers will ask you about your salary requirements before they offer you a job. When they ask, be ready to give an answer based on the research you’ve done. • Possible general questions that are appropriate to ask: • What is a typical day like for this position? • Who is your ideal candidate? • What is the supervision structure? • What are the next steps in the interview process?
Know Your Fit After you’ve thought about your background and you’ve done extensive research on the organization, your fit for the position will start to emerge. While the interview is a place for the employer to find the best person for their open position, it is also an opportunity for you to figure out if you are a fit for that job and that organization. Throughout your interview, it’s critical to be able to convey to the employer why you’re a good fit.
So go through each line of the job description and think of an example from your academic, engagement, or work experience that demonstrates the associated skill/competency or quality the employer is seeking. This exercise will help you decide if you’re a good fit for the position and help you prepare for the interview itself. You can even make yourself a quick chart:
Practice Answering Interview Questions It’s impossible to know exactly what an employer will ask you in an interview. But the position description offers you a pretty good guide to what skills/competencies the employer is seeking.
So determine what those key skills/competencies are, always keeping in mind that the Core Career Competencies will certainly be among them. Then write down and practice describing examples of how you have developed these skills/competencies.
The more you practice, the more comfortable and natural you’ll feel during the interview. You can even record yourself so that you can study how you’re coming across to others. You can also do a practice interview with a career counselor, your advisor, a faculty member, and/or a volunteer employer.
Here are a few of the most prevalent types of questions you should be ready for:
Tell me about yourself • This is a very common way for an interview to begin. The key here is to keep your answer relevant to the position you’re seeking. The interviewer doesn’t need to know your entire life story; only the parts that make you a good fit for the position. So think about what brought you to this interview. Why did you apply for the position, and why are you qualified? You may want to talk about your educational background and the experiences you’ve had in college that are relevant, such as internships and student group involvement. This is also an excellent time to specifically mention your strongest of the Core Career Competencies that signify career readiness, perhaps doing so in terms of how others see you (e.g., “The people who know me best say I’m an excellent writer and a collaborative leader.”)
• Bring up pre-college experiences only if they are particularly important to why you are applying for the position. Perhaps, for instance, you had early exposure to the organization through a family member, or you took a key class in high school that sparked your interest in the industry.
• Keep your response to this question concise. That’s why preparation and practice are so important. Time yourself, making sure your response is no more than two minutes long.
What are your strengths? weaknesses? • Think of three strengths you have (especially in the framework of the Core Career Competencies) that are relevant to the position, and come up with specific examples of when you’ve used these strengths to accomplish something that matters. For example, you might say that your top three strengths are:
• Written communication, as evidenced by the concise memo you wrote for your internship supervisor, summarizing a recent book proposal.
• Organization, as shown by your ability to maintain a 3.8 GPA in a busy semester of 18 credits, a 15 hours-per-week internship, and a leadership position in a student organization.
• Problem solving, which was apparent when you led the development of a process for attracting and recruiting new students in collaboration with your fellow sorority members.
• When you’re asked to give a weakness, the best way to respond is to focus on something you’re trying to improve. Pick a skill versus a personality trait, and talk specifically about what you’re doing to get better at it. For example: While I’m confident in my ability to present to a group, I’m not as skilled in different presentation tools. I am currently challenging myself to not use PowerPoint for my next three presentations, and to instead use newer tools such as Prezi, or rely on different visual aids.
One cautionary note: Make sure the skill you decide to talk about as a weakness is not one that is essential to the position you’re seeking! That said, employers know you’re human, and that as humans, we make mistakes and have weaknesses. Showing self-awareness of the areas you need to improve is a great sign of maturity. Therefore, it’s OK to be honest about those things, and then discuss how you have learned from your past experiences.
Behavioral-based questions Employers are relying on behavioral-based questions more and more, thanks in large part to the underlying assumption behind them: “The past predicts the future.” Specifically, the thinking goes, how you’ve performed on something in the past will give the interviewer some pretty good insight into how you might respond to similar situations in the future.
Behavioral-based interview questions usually start with a phrase like “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of when….” Because you won’t know in advance the exact questions you’ll be asked, you’ll need to study the job description closely to see what specific skills the employer is seeking, particularly in the context of the Core Career Competencies that define career readiness. Then, simply think of examples of times when you demonstrated these skills/competencies, pulling from a variety of situations (not all from your classes, for instance, or an internship, or a student group activity).
Then practice—and practice some more—responding to each anticipated question using what we call the STAR format: Situation-Task-Action-Result.
Let’s break this STAR concept down a bit further: • Situation: Briefly set up the situation you were facing by describing the context of your example (the who, what, where, when, why, and how). • Task: Explain the task you (not the group) had to complete, or the problem you had to solve. • Action: Describe the actions you took to complete the task or solve the problem. • Result: Close by explaining the result of your efforts. Quantify the outcome if possible.
Here’s an example so you can see exactly how the STAR technique works:
Question: Describe a project for which you faced multiple deadlines, and talk about how you handled it.
Situation: Last fall, I took the initiative to apply for grants to fund a professional speaker for a campus event. It’s often difficult to get grants for event funding, and it’s important to meet various grant deadlines. Task: I researched grant options and found several possibilities. Each had a different deadline and a different window of time when the money could be used. Action: The varying timelines required me to create a small database, which I organized by grant deadlines, purposes, and the windows of time they could be used. I used this database to help me apply for the appropriate grants at the appropriate times. Result: The primary grant came through, but a smaller grant did not. So I quickly helped find a last minute event sponsor, then helped to update the PR materials and budget accordingly. In the end, the event was successful on multiple levels. We expected about 50 students to attend; 60 showed up. Also, we were able to provide honorariums to additional speakers. It was a fun project—one that required me to organize, problem solve, and make decisions.
As you get better at answering interview questions this way, you will find that the STAR approach is actually quite empowering. It gives you a specific method for responding, which boosts your confidence and improves your performance.
No, you may not know exactly what questions you will face in an interview. But you can make some pretty educated guesses, and the STAR technique offers you a proven way to prepare and deliver compelling responses.
— This is the sixth of seven articles in this series. Click here to go to the next article. This series of articles are courtesy of the collective expertise of the staff in the Office of Undergraduate Education and Career Services in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.