“You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you
had to overcome to reach your goals.” ~ Booker T. Washington
An important element of your communications strategy is to identify and demonstrate to others your ability to get the job done through stories about your accomplishments. Employers, as well as recruiters and others who can connect you to employers, want to know about your problem-solving, leadership and team building skills and these can aptly be portrayed through stories that may be told at job interviews as well as — when appropriate — networking events, casual conversations and correspondence (cover letters, follow up thank-you letters, etc.).
Storytelling is an extremely effective way of providing examples of how you will be able to deliver on your promises to perform well in the position to which you are applying. Think of those occasions where you were given an assignment or found yourself in a challenging situation. What problems, or obstacles, did you encounter in accomplishing your task or goal and how did you overcome them? What was the successful outcome and how did it benefit your school, community, college or employer?
The following is a popular model in which to frame and construct your stories:
Situation – Describe where you were – at school, on campus or in the workplace – the time frame, your position, and the particular assignment or task that you were expected to complete.
Obstacle – Describe the obstacle or obstacles you faced in completing your assignment or meeting the challenge.
Action – Explain in concise detail the action(s) you took and the skills, strategies, tactics and techniques you used to overcome the obstacle(s).
Result – Describe the results of your efforts and how they were beneficial.
To home in on your strength and skills for a particular position to which you are applying, think of three stories that exemplify your strong suits. Use the SOAR model to construct them (an alternate structure is called STAR – Situation/Task/Action/Result). Your stories should be brief and to the point – like verbal hors d’oeuvres to whet the appetite of the interviewer for more knowledge about you. Following are a few examples:
In my freshman year I joined a small club that spoke to one of my major interests. The club had been around awhile but the membership was small and the funding to support initiatives and events was anemic. In other words, it was going nowhere. Although I had not yet made a lot of friends and other contacts, I was able to interest one of my professors, who was also new at the college, in becoming involved. The president of the club was very excited to have such new-found support, and together the three of us networked on campus and stirred up new interest in the club. We were able to put together by the spring semester the first event sponsored by the club. The turnout was decent. But, the next year we were able to recruit more students as members and committee heads; I headed the special events and fundraising committees; by my sophomore year our spring event was bigger and better attended and we raised enough money to create ongoing club initiatives. In my junior year I was elected president of the club and by the time I graduated it was one of the most active on campus. Because of the increased and diverse membership, the club was assured of continuity and continuation for years to come to serve an important segment of the campus population.
New Grad / Young Professional
As a computer science major with two internships at Fortune 500 companies, I was was hired for a permanent position by one of the companies after graduation. One of the first teams I was assigned to was working on hiring an outside vendor to install a new system that would replace the existing internally-developed enterprise-wide system that tracked customer information. This was a critical system that fed information to all other company systems. During my training period, it was essential that I learn the existing system both from the back end and from the user perspective so that I could assist with analyzing the prospective new systems that the team was considering. During this training period I noticed a glitch, which was one of the reasons the company wanted to replace the current system. However, because the glitch was something with which I was familiar in my spare time I worked on a possible fix. I hesitated to bring up a possible fix until I was pretty sure because wiser people than I had been working on these problems for some time. But, I was able to come up with a hypothesis and felt pretty confident about it. I presented it to my supervisor, who thought it was solid enough to share with the team, if for no other reason than to demonstrate my interest and participation in the project. The team liked it and formed a task force to test it; I was asked to be a member of the task force. My proposed fix worked, and that opened the door to revisit some of the other glitches. As it turned out, it was determined that the current system could be fixed with some outside consultation. In the end, not only were all the problems addressed successfully, but the system was streamlined to make it more user friendly and, therefore more efficient and productive. As a result, the current system worked better than it had before and the company saved more than $50,000 by not having to purchase a new, outside, system, and it saved a ton of hours in employee training to use a new system.
In my current position as EA to the CFO of a Fortune 500 company, my boss was encountering difficulties in getting some sector controllers to meet crucial deadlines. In speaking with their secretaries I discovered that they were often in the dark about such deadlines or were told by their managers not to worry about them. I realized that the secretaries needed someone to ensure that they were on board with deadlines and other issues affecting the Finance Department. But, I knew that the controllers were very busy and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I proposed to my boss that I hold monthly luncheon meetings to brief the controllers’ secretaries on the various issues and deadlines facing the division and why they were crucial so that they can better assist the controllers in meeting such deadlines. My boss liked the idea so much that he offered to pay for a lunch of sandwiches, salads and sodas once a month and offered his executive conference room for the monthly meetings. In addition, he declared that the secretaries had a dotted-line organizational reporting to me in matters of administrative support. The controllers actually appreciated the concept, and as a result last quarter all deadlines were met with reports being handed in on or ahead of schedule. As a bonus, the morale, job enthusiasm and productivity of the secretaries has increased.
All three examples of SOAR stories demonstrate leadership, communication and team-oriented skills. Now it’s your turn! The more stories you can come up with the better, but three is a good number. Make sure they are strong and solid and targeted to the position to which you are applying. Get them down on paper and see how they read. Practice telling them orally. Your tone should be upbeat and professional, with no trace of bragging or swaggering. Have fun with this segment of your job hunt preparation!
Until next time,