Thompson Rivers University

Be a storytelling STAR: top 5 tips for job search success

April 18, 2019

Marketing & Communications Strategist Jean-Luc Lemire (left) is a co-op student with the Career & Experiential Learning Department.

Stories have been around for a long time—so long, in fact, that our brains have evolved to understand them—and thus, they are still the most memorable way to convey information today. Therefore, it’s no wonder that employers use stories to determine whether prospective employees will fit with their organization. As Career Counsellor Larry Iles always says, “From cover letters and resumés to interviews, the job application process is all about telling your story.”

Here are five storytelling tips to land you your next job:

1.      Prepare in advance

Analyze the job posting, identify the required skills and prepare stories to highlight your strengths. Beyond humblebragging, cultivate narratives about growth, change, and reflection. Share a challenging experience and through the narrative arc, show how those experiences altered your perception. Rehearse them for friends, family or a Career & Experiential Learning Counselor and ask for constructive feedback.

2.     Show—don’t tell

General statements, like “I am a hard worker,” “I take initiative” and “I have great communication skills,” will not stand out to employers. After all, anyone can repeat a list of skills from a job posting. Show that you are the best fit by telling personal stories that illustrate your transferrable skills.

3.     Use the STAR plot structure

Situation-Task-Action-Result (STAR) is a great plot structure device that illustrates transferrable skills in a brief yet memorable way. STAR stories are short, concise and effective because each plot element builds on the last and contributes to the story’s key message. Limit yourself to one or two sentences for each STAR element and improvise details later.

Consider the following STAR story about problem solving: I worked in a forestry camp during the spring of 1952. One morning, my crew left without me to relocate our camp, leaving me lost in the woods (Situation). I looked around to find a high place from which to orient myself and saw a tall tree nearby (Task), so I climbed it. The new campsite was visible when I reached the top of the tree, so I checked my compass, estimated that I was one kilometer north of camp, and walked south (Actions) until I arrived at the new campsite (Result).

4.    Take your listener on a journey

Portray yourself as a heroic figure who responds to situations, identifies tasks and takes actions to accomplish them, thereby obtaining a desired result (STAR). Employers won’t have grounds to hire you if you can’t communicate your value, so place yourself at the heart of your narrative and take credit for your successes! Your story should take the listener on a journey through conflicts, resolutions and growth, and above all, it should illustrate your merits to employers.

5.     Align narrative with industry standards

Before the interview, be sure to visit the employer’s website, read their mission statement, study core values, and then tailor your stories to best align them with the employer. Is the organization proud of its sustainability practices? Demonstrate skills with stories that portray you as being environmentally conscious. Bear in mind, you always want your stories to be genuine, so don’t mislead the panel with inauthentic information.

Student volunteers including Jean-Luc

Jean-Luc Lemire is a Marketing & Communications Strategist (Co-op) with the Career & Experiential Learning department. The English and Psychology major graduated from Fraser Lake Elementary Secondary school from the small northern town of the same name. Before attending TRU,  Jean Luc began his post-secondary education at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George.  Jean-Luc’s dream is to become a published academic one day.

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