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Telling Compelling Accomplishment Stories

What are you most proud of? What’s your most impressive accomplishment? What’s the most important goal you’ve achieved?

Ever heard those questions before? If you’ve ever been interviewed for a job, I’m sure you have. Did you have your answers ready? Did you stand out from the competition? There’s an art to structuring your Accomplishment Stories—and they need to be polished and practiced for your next job interview or networking event. And don’t worry about bragging. Interviewers want you to shine; they’re hoping you’re the candidate they’re looking for.

But to back up just a bit…Why do interviewers ask these questions about your achievements and goals in the first place? Are they just being annoying or trying to trip you up? Not at all. They’re trying to gain insight into your work ethic, your core values, and the kinds of projects you’ve worked on. So make sure your accomplishment stories clearly demonstrate these things.

Ready to be a STAR and get interviewers to RAVE about you? In a job interview, the spotlight’s on you—so make yourself the STAR attraction. STAR is an acronym—and a formula for crafting an Accomplishment Story that will get interviewers to lean in. It contains the basic elements of every story ever told: a beginning, a middle, and an end—or, in more literary terms: conflict, crisis, and resolution.

Let’s start with the beginning, the conflict. You need to provide the context for your accomplishment. That’s the S-T in STAR: The Situation or Task. What project were you working on? What problem were you trying to solve? How difficult was it? Was the task assigned to you or did you volunteer for it? Answering these questions will help you determine how to best begin your story.

Next, the middle. That’s the A in STAR: The Approach. How did you go about solving the problem, improving the situation, or accomplishing the task? What key actions did you take? Did you collaborate with others or work alone? What skills or competencies did you demonstrate? What obstacles did you overcome? Answering these questions will provide your story with conflict and tension, and maybe even some suspense.

And finally, the end. That’s the R in STAR: The Results. In what measurable way did you improve the situation? The results could be qualitative or anecdotal—an increase in company morale, for example, or improved reviews on Yelp. But it’s best if the results are quantitative, backed up by concrete details: Reduced the budget by 25%, increased sales by 30%. This is the resolution, your story’s happy ending.

To illustrate the STAR formula in action, let’s pretend we’re listening in on an interview with Stacy Madison, the founder of Stacy’s Pita Chips. Stacy’s looking for an angel investor, let’s say, or a job with a major food manufacturer. The interviewer asks, “Stacy, what’s your most impressive accomplishment?”

Stacy replies, “Um. I was operating a sandwich cart in Boston and the lines were pretty long. I wanted to give something to the customers in line. We always had leftover pita bread, so we took it home, cut it up, and baked it into chips. Well, the chips were a real hit.”

Come on, Stacy! You can do better than that. Now is no time for false modesty or for downplaying your accomplishments. Yes, the key elements are there, but as Accomplishment Stories go, it’s pretty ho-hum. It’s time to bring your A-Game!

Let’s rewind. The interviewer asks Stacy what she’s most proud of.

Stacy says, “About 25 years ago, my ex-husband and I were operating a sandwich cart in Boston’s Quincy Market. Our pita sandwiches were very popular. At lunchtime the line stretched around the block with a wait of half an hour or more. Sometimes people complained about the wait or left the line and grabbed lunch elsewhere. That wasn’t good. So, one night we took home the leftover loaves of pita bread, cut them into bite-size chunks, and baked them in the oven. We started handing out pita chips to customers while they waited in line. The chips were a hit. People wanted to order them along with their sandwiches. In 1998, we started wholesaling pita chips. By 2006 it was a $65 million business. Which Pepsi Co. purchased for $250 million.”

Much better, right? It’s got the key STAR elements: the situation/task: losing impatient customers; the approach: baking and handing out pita chips; and the results: a highly popular product and profitable company. And, no, Stacy Madison isn’t on the job market. From what I hear, she’s been doing a lot of travelling.

I’d like to share an Accomplishment Story of my own with you. Again, we’ll start with the unpolished, unpracticed version.

In response to the inevitable question in a job interview, I reply, “Good question. Let’s see. I was selling display ads for a tourist magazine. I convinced the editor to run a two-page spread on a commercial strip that was outside of the city center. And then I sold a bunch of ads to businesses on the street.”

My story has got promise, but it’s not ready for Prime Time. Here’s Take 2:

“A while back, I had a sales job that paid commission and that’s it. No salary, no draw. I was living in Tel Aviv, selling display ads for a tourist magazine and struggling. I came up with the idea for the magazine to do a feature story and 2-page spread on a trendy street that most tourists didn’t know about. At first, the sales manager and editor resisted the idea. They weren’t sure I could sell enough ads to make it worth their while. But I kept asking, and finally, they agreed—as long as I sold at least 10 ads. It was a big challenge. There were lots of objections from the business owners on the street. ‘Advertising doesn’t work.’ ‘It’s too expensive.’ ‘Tourists don’t come over here.’ Not to mention the voices in my head: ‘No one’s gonna go for this. I’ll never be able to sell 10 ads.’ But I kept pounding the pavement, talking about the advantages of being part of our 2-page spread. First one business bought an ad. Then another. Then a third. I brought in a dozen new advertisers and the promotion was a success. In fact, the 2-page spread became a regular feature of the magazine.”

Much better, right? It might not be material for a bestseller or feature film, but it does a good job of selling myself and conveys just what the interviewer is looking for: insights into my work ethic, my core values, and the kinds of projects I’ve worked on. That’s what the STAR formula and a compelling, polished, and practiced Accomplishment Story can do for you. Ready to get started on crafting your own Accomplishment Stories? The Delivery Specialist can help. For more information about one-on-one coaching or to schedule a time to chat about bringing Steve Budd into your organization to lead a workshop, please Contact Me.

Photo credit: PRNewsfoto Stacy’s Snacks

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