Your resume has one purpose: to get you invited to the interview process. To do this, it needs to tell potential employers your professional story. And in today’s competitive job market, that means doing more than just listing off your areas of responsibility. It means showing how successful you were in these areas — demonstrating skills that would be valuable in any environment.
In my 20 or so years of recruiting I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes, and I’ve found that most read like a job description — or, as my colleague likes to say, “a laundry list of soul-sucking tasks.” But the resumes that stand out paint a picture of a professional whose skills resulted in a series of accomplishments.
It isn’t easy to tell your entire professional story through a series of bullets, but the resume trick I’ve been suggesting to my candidates is the same one I use to interview them: the STAR method.
A Look at the STAR Method
The STAR method is a behavioral interviewing technique that’s been widely adopted by many companies. I first learned it when recruiting for Amazon, and as I became more familiar with the technique, I realized that, whether they did it intentionally or not, the strongest candidates — and the most likely to get invited for interviews — were following the STAR method on their resumes.
To break it down, STAR stands for situation, task, action and result. These are the four elements you want to illustrate in your resume. Here’s a closer look at each:
Situation: The background of the problem
Task: The goal you were trying to achieve
Action: The tactical steps you took toward solving the problem and achieving the goal
Result: The outcome of the actions you took
This probably sounds a bit overwhelming, but the good news is that not every bullet needs to follow STAR for your resume to be powerful. I recommend creating two or three bullets per role that demonstrate success by identifying a particular problem you solved, how you solved it, and what the outcome was.
The STAR Method in Action
Let’s use an example from one of my recent candidates. The original bullet on his resume read:
- Significantly reduced high turnover by introducing new interviewing techniques
While every employer should be attracted to the idea of reducing turnover, this bullet fails to show us how the candidate did it or just how successful he was. (An aside, whenever I see the word significantly on a resume, I cringe. It tells me nothing and sounds made up. Stay away from flowery descriptors that don’t actually say anything.)
After using the STAR method to gain a better understanding of the candidate’s story behind this bullet, we came up with this:
- Identified root cause of higher-than-average turnover by conducting analysis of screening process and exit interviews. As a result, introduced focus in candidate selection on credit card sales capability, reducing overall attrition by 30 percent and increasing credit card sign-up by 11 percent within six months.
The bullet still doesn’t tell the whole story, but in three lines we’ve shown this candidate to be a resourceful and analytical problem-solver, a transferable skill that can be applied in virtually any situation. By giving a timeframe, we also show he solved the problem quickly, meaning he would do well in a fast-paced environment.
That said, here are a few more tips to help you utilize the STAR method to create a compelling resume.
Be Specific and Use Data to Support Your Story
Another reason the above bullet is so powerful is that we used several metrics to illustrate success. That’s the “R” in the STAR method — result. It’s the most important piece of the story and the one most often left out of resumes!
Data is the most efficient way to convey impact, portray scope and give credit to your story, leaving no room for assumption or misunderstanding. We removed the flowery word significantly, which doesn’t actually say anything. (Effectively, by the way, is another overused-but-colorless word to shy away from.)
Instead of saying you made a difference, show how effective you were, and how significant your impact was, by using data points.
Call Out Promotions
Trajectory is another important piece of your story, and you can borrow from STAR here, as well. If you were hired into one role and finished in another, separate the two (or more) stints under the company name, then use the STAR method to show a direct correlation between success and promotion. (You may be tempted to make it look as if you’d been a director all along, but it’s actually a better story to show that you were promoted while at the company.)
Let’s take another example:
- Promoted to director within one year
There is no arguing that a rapid promotion is indicative of success, but how about this instead:
- Within one year, tapped by CEO for director position to lead turn-around team of 15 project managers
Now I see that not only were you promoted, but you were tapped by the CEO for promotion, and she identified you as a strong enough leader to take on a poor performing team. That’s a big vote of confidence — and a great story.
Proofread! It’s Not Just About Spelling
Finally, before calling your STAR resume done, make sure you proofread — and not just for basic grammar and punctuation. The fastest way to lose credibility is to present a resume riddled with errors, but you also want to make sure the content successfully conveys your story.
Sometimes we don’t realize, being so close to the subject, that our points aren’t coming across clearly. Have someone who isn’t familiar with your line of work review your resume. Can they understand from your content what you do and how good you are at it?
It’s not easy to convey your professional lifetime of achievements in a couple pages of bullets, but by employing these tips, your resume can be a STAR!