March 31, 2014
Using Your Career Accomplishments to Communicate Your Strengths
Written by Rachel Eddins
Clarifying Your Career Accomplishments
Whether you are looking for a job or wanting to advance your career within your current organization, it is essential to recognize, capture, clarify and communicate your career accomplishments and key strengths to decision-makers. The foundational tool for communicating your accomplishments is the S.T.A.R story.
- Situation – a brief synopsis of the situation you faced
- Task – the problem you needed to solve as a result of this situation
- Action – what you did to make the problem better
- Result – the outcome of your actions.
You may also hear these referred to as P.A.R. stories (Problem, Action, Result), where the situation and task are combined into a single step.
These stories provide the foundation for creating a powerful résumé, for answering interview questions and even for introducing yourself to the CEO if you find yourself stuck on the elevator with her.
Creating Accomplishment Stories
Let’s start with this key tool. Later articles will address how to adapt this information for specific career-related communication tools, such as your résumé, your 30-second commercial or for the interview process.
I recommend that you keep a file, either electronically or on paper to capture these stories as they come up when they’re fresh in your mind, the data to substantiate the results is more readily available and so you won’t forget.
In general, you want STAR stories that demonstrate your signature strengths and that communicate key qualities that employers are looking for. These would include communication skills, initiative, leadership, problem-solving, teamwork, etc.
When describing the situation that was the precursor to your accomplishment, you want to be succinct, but to provide just enough detail that your audience gets a sense of the importance of the problem. For example:
- A key competitor introduced a new product that was being reviewed favorably by the press.
- There was a shortage of a key component for your company’s manufacturing process.
- There was an increase in post-operative infections at a single surgical center.
- There was a decline in donations from a major foundation.
The task is the specific problem you needed to solve as a result of the situation. For example, your task might be to:
- Defuse the post-announcement press generated by competitor’s new product.
- Identify alternate sourcing for the scarce component.
- Isolate the source of the infection and implement a plan to resolve it
- Strengthen the relationship with the foundation board to secure ongoing support.
When describing your action, you want to choose strong verbs that allow your audience to imagine you at work. You also want to describe your specific role in the process.
Rather than saying you “assisted” in a larger action, say exactly what you did. It can be difficult to talk about yourself, but you need to actually be able to say, at least when you’re communicating orally, “I did this,” not, “We did this.”
Otherwise, your audience can’t really tell what your role was, or even whether your role mattered. On a résumé, of course, the pronoun is implied rather than stated. For example,
- Led multi-disciplinary team to secure and analyze competitor’s new product to provide company spokespeople and sales force with counter-arguments to competitor’s claims.
- Researched and secured contract with alternative supplier of scare component.
- Identified source of increased infections by analyzing data on changes in staff, procedures, and sanitation products that preceded increase in infection rate.
- Planned and implemented foundation board dinner to express appreciation for the foundation’s past contributions and to heighten their awareness of important results the foundation’s contributions made possible.
When describing your results, you want to try to quantify results where possible. This might include the use of dollar figures, percentages or other metrics. For example,
- Customer orders resumed at pre-announcement rates within 2 weeks.
- Met sales goals for quarter and increased market share by 5% as competitors’ production was backlogged.
- Reduced post-operative infections to pre-incident rates.
- Strengthened partnership with foundation board and restored funding to previous levels.
Future blog articles will discuss how to adapt your STAR stories for a variety of career communication needs. Keep an eye on our website for more information.
Identify Your Character Strengths
You may also be interested in identifying your personal character strengths.
You can also incorporate this information into your job search process.
Use examples that illustrate your character strengths on your resume, when networking with others and in the job interview.
Want to feel more joy in your career?
One factor those who feel happy at work have in common is that they utilize their key strengths on a regular basis. Gallup research has shown that people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged at work.
Martin Seligman’s research showed:
The more signature strengths were applied at the workplace, the higher the positive experiences at work. This study showed that character strengths matter in vocational environments irrespective of their content.
Strengths-congruent activities at the workplace are important for positive experiences at work like job satisfaction and experiencing pleasure, engagement, and meaning fostered by one’s job.
Guiding Principles for Utilizing Your Strengths
1. Discover, claim and own your strengths.
There are many ways to identify your strengths. Many of them you probably know innately but may be taking for granted because they come so easy or natural to you. A career counselor can help you assess your strengths objectively.
Here are a few ways you can identify them on your own:
- Reflect on times in your past (any time) where you felt you did something well, enjoyed what you were doing and were proud of what you did. This is referred to as a good experience. When we’re engaged in good experiences, we are very often utilizing our best strengths. We’re doing what we naturally do well. Review your experiences and identify what strengths were demonstrated. It can be helpful to share these stories with someone else and get their input on what strengths were exhibited.
- You can get a general idea of some of your key character strengths from a strengths questionnaire. The questionnaire will identify your top strengths from a grouping of 24 character strengths. Visit the authentic happiness website and look for the VIA SIGNATURE STRENGTHS questionnaire.
- The StrengthsFinder 2.0 book also has a link to an assessment you can complete to identify your top strengths.
2. Build on your strengths and manage your weaknesses. This means you build increased skill and experience with your strengths vs. trying to improve your weaknesses. Rather, be aware of what your weaknesses or blind spots are and seek help to manage them. Find opportunities to fine tune, or improve upon your strengths.
3. Position yourself for success by deploying your strengths effectively. Find ways to utilize your strengths where they have impact and are meaningful to you.
4. Optimism and happiness are learned behaviors. You can train yourself positive! Not only that, but our brains function at their best when we are positive.
Set positive intentions for yourself. Take time to let go of the negative and bring positivity into your environment. This doesn’t mean not to allow so-called negative emotions.
Rather, it means to shift your attitude or thinking about situations. It’s easier to learn optimism and happiness when you lead from your strengths.
You’ll feel more accomplished and confident in yourself. The fact that optimism and happiness are learned behaviors means you can learn it!
5. Practice Resilience. Thinking about your strengths and your life and career, ask yourself:
- What do I have in my life that I want more of?
- What is something that I don’t have that I would like added to my life?
- What do I have or do that I would like to eliminate?
- What do I always dream about that I have not yet taken steps towards doing?
- What kind of person am I and what do I truly value in my life?
- What could I do to be different in my life?
Now that you have taken some time to think about your life, see if you can come up with some ideas as to how to transform your life, improve your motivation, and feel more satisfaction utilizing or incorporating your strengths.
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