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Using The STAR Method in a Job Interview

Responding to behavioral questions during an interview may be one of the biggest challenges you will face. Behavioral interviews require you to share your skills by telling the hiring team about a time when you exhibited those traits. How you tell those stories will help land the job. But concise, compelling storytelling is a difficult thing to master. Fortunately, there is the STAR approach to help you nail the interview.

What is the STAR Job Interview Technique?

The STAR interview format can help guide your response to behavioral questions during the interview process. Following this framework will help you illustrate your skills by telling a real-life story about your work or life. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. When telling a story in response to an interview question, try to lay it out in the following manner:

  • Set the situation with the details of the work environment, team size, and responsibilities. Share the complexities of the scenario and the challenges your team faced.
  • Describe the tasks you were required to accomplish versus what your team handled. Be careful not to touch upon too much detail, or you’ll lose your audience.
  • Explain the action you took to change the course of the project. What steps did you take to achieve your goals or solve the problem?
  • Describe the result of your action, what you learned, and what outcomes occurred. How did the actions you took affect the overall outcomes of the project, your team, and the organization as a whole?

While you won’t be able to anticipate the interviewer’s exact question, think about some of your biggest accomplishments and the skills they illustrate. Have a few of these go-to responses in your back pocket in preparation for your next interview.

It’s very easy to go into a rambling monologue when asked a behavioral question. The STAR method helps you organize your thoughts and your response to an interviewer concisely and effectively.

When To Use STAR

Using STAR in response to behavioral questions is a great way to nail even the most challenging interview questions. You can spot these questions easily because they often follow a specific format that invites you to tell your story. For example:

  • Tell me about a time when you…
  • Describe a…
  • What do you do when…
  • Have you ever…
  • Can you give me an example of…

The last thing you want to do is get caught during the stress of an interview with no idea how to answer behavioral questions. The STAR method can help you practice your response before the interview so you can perform well under pressure.

Practicing the STAR Technique

Before going to your next interview, it’s a good idea to look at the company values if they’re posted on their website. Those values may be the kinds of examples you’ll need to answer questions during the interview. You can also think about the job you’re applying for and consider the kinds of skills you’ll need to exhibit to do the job well. Then use the STAR method to come up with a few concise stories that will illustrate you have the skills it takes to do the job well.

The best way to practice STAR is to get out there and interview. Top Stack can help you land your next interview. Contact our team today to explore your options.

Learn How to Answer the Interview Question “Tell Me About a Time You Demonstrated Leadership Skills”

Interviewing is always hard, but it’s the behavioral questions that are probably the most challenging. Behavioral questions usually start with “Tell me about a time,” and they require you to tell your story to illustrate a relevant job skill. One of the most common behavioral questions is ones that require you to discuss past behaviors that illustrated leadership skills. Here’s how to answer these types of questions, even if you haven’t been a manager in a prior role.

How to Illustrate Leadership in an Interview

It’s difficult to answer the question, “Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership skills,” if you haven’t been in an official leadership position. However, no matter the job, you can demonstrate leadership skills. The trick is to recognize these skills in yourself and concisely find a story to share that shows when you took the initiative to help your team. But where do you start sifting through all of your work experiences to find the best story to share with an employer?

  • Step 1 — Define what leadership is to you.
    Leadership means different things to different people, so start by trying to figure out what it means to you. There are all kinds of ways to illustrate leadership. You can show that you’re a leader by decisively determining what skills you think a leader has. Do this by reflecting on what you admire in leaders and what qualities you embody that is similar. Try to make a list of those characteristics and then move to step two: Roadmap a situation from a prior role where you illustrated those qualities.
  • Step 2 — Roadmap the right story.
    When considering what leadership story to share, try thinking about the role itself and the company. Are there leadership skills that would be more important to the job? Does the project require working with cross-functional teams? In past jobs, have you lead these teams or help facilitate communication between different employees? Maybe you took the initiative somewhere other than work, perhaps at a volunteer event or other function. The point here is that you don’t need to have “leader” in your job title to be one.
  • Step 3 — Structure and practice your answer.
    Once you’ve figured out which story to share in answer to the question, “Tell Me About a Time You Demonstrated Leadership Skills,” you can use the STAR model to help guide your response:

    • Situation — What was the situation you were in when you illustrated leadership skills. Outline the details as clearly and concisely as possible.
    • Task — What was your responsibility during this situation?
    • Action — What did you do to make the result happen? What action did you take?
    • Results — Finally, what happened? What were the results of your actions? What did you learn as a result?

Questions about leadership skills are almost inevitable in every job interview. It’s very common because organizations tend to gravitate toward employees that illustrate these traits. Preparing now for these types of questions can help you succeed. Contact Top Stack today to find the best opportunities to suit your skills.

How to Properly Use Social Media to Help Your Career

Most people probably recognize that social media can both help and harm your career choices. These days most recruiters will track you down on social media and look for inappropriate postings that could disqualify you for a job. But social media can be a tool for good when it comes to your career. How can you use Internet social tools to improve your chances of landing a job?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find Out What it Means on Social Media

Building a positive social media presence requires exercising caution in what you post and what you respond to. Always be respectful in your dealings with other people. Be professional and consider if what you’re trying to say could be used against you in a job search. The most basic rule of thumb for social posts is never to use profanity or post something offensive. But beyond that, don’t take any controversial stance on social media that could hurt your career. Certainly, don’t post memes about how terrible your current role is.

LinkedIn is Your Friend

If you’re not on LinkedIn, now is the time. Make sure you have a professional headshot and a complete profile. Don’t use a selfie picture of you at a party or Disney World. Instead, keep it warmly professional and concise. Make sure if you post, you consider how it would look to an employer. It should be obvious that you don’t use the venue to trash your current employer. The benefit of LinkedIn, however, is that it’s a very active platform for recruiters. There is even a privacy setting on the platform that allows you to let recruiters know you’re looking for a position.

Speaking of Privacy Settings

You can certainly use social media like Instagram or Facebook to share your personal opinions. Still, you should always take advantage of their privacy settings, which allows you to lock down your settings. You can also change your profile name to a nickname or your first and middle names to keep things on the down-low.

Another way to keep things on the down-low is to be careful never to post during the workday. Certainly, don’t post any sensitive information about your company or the work you do. That’s a huge flag for potential employers. If you speak badly about your current company, many employers may wonder what you’ll say about them if you get the job.

Social Media for Job Seekers

The general rule for social media today is to post as if everyone is watching. Be respectful of others, and don’t post on controversial topics. Have a professionally polished presence on LinkedIn, and make sure your privacy settings for your personal, non-work accounts have the appropriate settings to keep these pages more private.

 

Talk with Top Stack for more helpful job search hints. Our team is here to help you find your next career opportunity.

How to Have a Successful First Week at a New Job

Starting a new job is stressful, fun, and exciting. You’re nervous and on edge, maybe not getting enough sleep. By the end of the first week, you may be overwhelmed with how much you need to learn and accomplish. These feelings are very common if it’s your first job or your fifteenth. But we have some tips to help you take it all in, while still hitting the ground at a steady pace.

Soak it All In

First of all, congratulations. You worked hard to get right where you are, which is part of the feeling of excitement you have when walking through the job to a new job. But get some perspective; your real job, in week one, is to be a sponge. Absorb, listen, and take it all in. You need to get the lay of the land politically (who has power, who are your bosses, how can you excel) and culturally (who will be your friend), but also how to communicate, who your teams will be, and even what office systems to use.

Take time to go to orientation and sign up for any classes or training. Attend to all the tedious but important HR paperwork. Then get the lay of the land by sitting in on meetings, observing, and listening. Go to any of the fun stuff they have for you; happy hours, lunches, and take the time to get to know your people.

Soaking in the new environment is the biggest job in your first week. The real work starts in week two, but for now, take time to get comfortable in your new home.

Exercise Caution

It’s going to feel tempting to take on the world in that first week. You’re feeling optimistic and excited. It will be easy to overcommit. While going to meetings and participating is important, you must also find balance by having quiet time at your desk. Do not set yourself up by thinking you can be “all things to all people” and get overwhelmed. Pace and take care of yourself by scheduling a short walk at midday to reflect on everything you’re learning. Or, put in your earbuds while sitting at your desk and writing down what you’ve learned. These techniques will help you find balance later on.

Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask questions. You need to learn and get up to speed fast. Your coworkers will expect you to ask lots of questions, and they should be more than happy that you’re engaged enough to ask. Write down everything, even if it seems mundane. It’s possible at some point your brain will be overwhelmed and start to shut down, making you forget important details. Try writing down everything you can. Then, on Friday of your first week, take time to rewrite your notes more slowly (and probably legibly) to review everything you learned that week.

Speak Up and Add Value

Feel comfortable adding insight when you can during this week. They hired you to add value to the organization, so when you have something to contribute, speak up. You won’t know everything, but maybe you’ll have an idea they haven’t thought of yet. Your willingness to participate in the success of the organization will be noted—and appreciated.

If you’re ready to experience the excitement of a new job, there’s no time like the present. Contact the professionals at TopStack. We have the best jobs in your industry and can help you with your goals.

 

These Tips Will Help You Stop Procrastinating at Work

One in five people admits to being chronic procrastinators. Procrastination is so common; we think these numbers are low. Procrastinators can let work pile up until the pressure is too much or the deadline too close—and something has to give. While procrastinators may say that all that added pressure makes them more creative, is the quality of their work generally better or worse if they’re rushing to get it done? While you’ll have to be the judge, we do have some tips to help you stop procrastinating at work to (finally) accomplish your goals.

Start with the To Do

Let’s go old school for a second and make a list. Limit your list to one to three things that you want to get done that day. Do it every morning before you start work. These tasks are the big accomplishments for the day; the rest is just cake icing. Make it your goal to get the tasks on the list accomplished and do whatever is necessary to make it happen. This includes blocking time on your calendar where you turn off Slack and email, close your office door, and force yourself to concentrate on just those couple of things. If you can do this, every day, you will break your procrastination habit.

Work Backwards from the Deadline

Developers are familiar with this concept. In Agile environments, large complex projects, like a software build, start at the deliverable and map their way back through each task to get to the goal. You can use this same technique no matter what you’re trying to avoid. Say you have a task due on Friday with multiple milestones along the way. Benchmark those milestones throughout the week, and then add them to the day’s task list. By the time Friday hits, you won’t have to pull an all-nighter to get the job done.

Procrastination versus Percolation—What’s the Difference?

Noodling over a project to solve a problem isn’t procrastination. It’s an important part of the creative process that lets you solve a problem. A complex problem may require a walk around the block. You may need to take a break to go to lunch. You may even need to sleep on it. While these things are going on, your subconscious may be working to solve the issue. What you can do is set limits on how much time you’ll spend percolating. That way, you’ll know when you cross the border into procrastination.

Create a Fake Deadline

You’ve heard about fake news? To stay ahead of deadlines, try to forget the real deadline and create a fake one that’s earlier. If the deadline is weeks or months out, setting benchmarks is the first step. But set each of those milestones just slightly ahead of the real deadline. Your efficiency will wow your boss!

Do It Now

Finding a new job isn’t something you should procrastinate over, but so many people hate the drama of job searching, they put it off. The time is now to look for better opportunities. Contact us today. We can help you get started.

How to Advance Your Career in 2020

If you’re like most Americans, you made personal or professional New Year’s resolutions. One of them may be to advance your career in 2020. It’s a good goal that can lead to a better title, more responsibilities, and perhaps more money. If you’re seeking to advance your career, we have some tips that might help you reach your goals.

Expanding Your Skills

Advancement usually comes at the price of hard work. If you’re seeking a better job or increased career responsibilities, it makes send to expand your skillset in your chosen or targeted field. There are tons of free and paid online training tools, many of which come with credentials that can add to your resume. Some good ones include:

There are also hundreds of podcasts that will expand your skills, including:

With the Internet at your fingertips, learning is just a click away. Expanding your skills just takes time and effort, but it’s always worth it.

Seek Mentoring

Seeking out a mentor is an important way to move forward in your job in the New Year. Look for a mentor that already has the skills you’re seeking or a job you’d like to work toward. A mentor can give you objective advice on your career and motivate you in new ways. You can look for mentors in your current or a former workplace or seek out a colleague from your social network. Do you have a former college professor that you look up to? Or, does a friend have a connection with a business colleague that could help your career? The key to learning new skills is to make a connection with someone you trust and respect that can give you honest and authentic advice to move your career forward.

Network

Networking is extremely important for advancing your career. In fact, about 70% of new jobs are found through networking. LinkedIn is a good place to start this process; having an updated professional social profile is a crucial first step toward building a network. You can use a tool like LinkedIn to follow companies or professionals that have advanced in their career to where you want to go. It might help you connect with a mentor, as well. You can also attend networking events in your community to reach more people or join a professional organization. There are all kinds of social and professional organizations out there, from Girls Who Code to Toastmasters. There are also dozens of MeetUp groups happening in cities and towns all over the country. Each of these opportunities exposes you to new ways to learn and grow.

One of the best networking partnerships you can form is with a recruiter. Recruiters know people and companies, so taking the time to network with these professionals will help advance your career in new ways.

At TopStack, we believe in your goal of self-improvement. Contact the recruiters at Top Stack when you’re ready to meet your New Year’s career advancement goals.

 

4 Tips For How to Improve Your Interpersonal Skills

In 2020, it’s all about soft skills. Soft skills are the interpersonal traits that help people collaborate and work well with others on tasks and goals. Interpersonal skills are increasingly important in most fields, but particularly in careers where big teams must work together toward a common aim.

Here are four tips on how to improve these important interpersonal skills in 2020.

All About Interpersonal Skills

Some of the best and most in-demand skills for 2020 are interpersonal skills such as:

  • Active listening
  • Motivation
  • Communication
  • Conflict management
  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Leadership

No matter the job, we can all agree that some of the skills necessary for getting along with others in the workplace. Having these skills can mean the difference between completing a team-driven set of tasks and failing to meet goals. Having or not having interpersonal skills can also strongly affect your career advancement—and new employers are always on the lookout for these traits.

Since these skills are so important, how can you improve them?

Tip 1 – Increase Your Confidence

Having a balance between humility and confidence will help you quietly command a team. Shyness has no place in collaborative environments, so building your confidence will allow you to advance your career. In a job, having confidence can come with experience but also subject matter expertise. But if you feel like you lack the self-confidence needed, sit down and write up your strengths. This is especially helpful if you’re going into a big meeting and feel nervous. Take that list into the meeting and glance at it to shore up your confidence.

Tip 2 – Ask for Feedback

If you want to have confidence in your skills, ask the people around you for feedback. Tell them you’re trying to improve your interpersonal skills and ask if they’d share how you come across in meetings. Are you a good listener? Does the person feel like you’re working well as part of the team? How can you improve? The positive feedback will give you a confidence boost. Anything negative will be like a roadmap for your self-improvement.

Tip 3 – Listen and Ask

Listening is just as important as talking. Everyone knows this, but far too many people forget to hone their listening skills. Asking questions and listening to the answers is an important way to hone your interpersonal skills. It’s a selfless way to engage with others. Practicing these skills is important when working in a team environment.

Tip 4 – Gain Perspective

Put yourself in other people’s shoes. Gaining the perspective of another person’s approach to problem solving or communication will help you gain patience. Before responding to a team member, try imagining their perspective on things. Then try to adapt your response to their unique situation and perspective.

Employers increasingly seek out workers with solid interpersonal skills. In today’s increasingly collaborative environments, it is these skills that help organizations come together as teams to get the job done.

Top Stack offers the kinds of opportunities where collaboration and communication are just as important as hard job skills. Make the connection. Contact our team about your options today.

4 Great Ways to Stay Motivated at Work

Most Americans are disengaged at work. It’s a sad state of affairs that many people in every field lack the motivation to do more than the bare minimum at work. While this may not always be the case, sometimes work can get boring and monotonous, and people can struggle to stay motivated. This is true in every job and every field. Some days there are exciting projects to work on and other days—not so much.

This article will give you four ways to stay motivated even when you’re feeling “blah” on the job. You’ll be surprised by how a few changes to your attitude will improve the motivation of everyone around you.

  1. Put Your Work in Context

Not every task can be glamorous. This is especially true on particularly complicated projects like building a software product. But everyone on the team plays a crucial role in the build, so recognizing the bigger context of your work is important for staying motivated. Say you’re a finance manager trying to balance the books in a non-profit organization. The task of cleaning up a ledger may feel like watching paint dry, but how are you helping the mission of the non-profit organization by completing these tasks? No matter how mundane or small the task, everyone has a role to play toward achieving the organizational mission.

  1. Avoid Procrastination by Breaking Down

By “breaking down,” we don’t mean having a tantrum or weeping uncontrollably. Sometimes you lose motivation and overwhelmed by how large the job is. All books start one page at a time. All presentations start with an outline. All projects start with a task list. Every closed deal starts with that first phone call.

Try replacing the huge project jamming up your motivational gears with a series of smaller tasks. As each task is accomplished, celebrate the small win to keep motivating yourself. You can try this approach with a team or across a department to keep everyone moving forward. Something is satisfying about crossing a task off a list as you move toward a goal.

  1. Step Outside the Box

Is your lack of motivation stemming from being underutilized? Are you simply bored? Breaking out of your funk means breaking away from your comfort zone. Are there skills you want to apply somewhere else but don’t feel you have the chance? Are you just not feeling challenged? Why don’t you speak with your supervisor about taking on a new project outside the box you’ve found yourself in? Breaking up your routine could require additional training or helping with a new project. It could even be a physical rut; are you sitting at your desk all day? Should you get up at lunch and take a brisk walk to improve your mood? The point is that you need to shake yourself out of the rut you’re in by doing something different to remotivate and inspire yourself.

  1. Push Yourself By Setting More Deadlines, Not Less

Snap yourself out of routine by setting daily goals and deadlines for yourself. This works well if you have a big project that you’ve broken into increments. Every day try writing down your tasks and set one big goal to go after. It’s okay to share what you’re doing with others on the team. Make it a contest to see who can hit their goals fastest. The power of the team will create some competitiveness, which could push all of you to hit deadlines and reengage in the tasks you’re doing.

If you’re still not motivated in 2020, maybe it’s time for a change of venue. Top Stack has a variety of roles. Contact us about jump-starting your career.

How to Set Personal Development Goals

To set personal development goals, it’s important to build emotional intelligence, feel confident in your talents, grow your motivation, and become more mindful.

If you stop growing in your life or career, it’s a detriment to you and the options you have down the road. Personal growth is a worthy goal, and it can lead to big career advancements, more salary, and generally more opportunities. The personal goals we set can sometimes be different from professional goals. However, there is so much overlap between the soft skills you use at work and your personality, that it’s safe to assume your personal development goals should influence your career.

Here’s how to set personal development goals and then leverage them to improve your professional career.

Understanding Personal Growth

Personal development is the growth of you as a person. Improving yourself, your skills, and your life are all personal development. Growth in this area means that you become stronger, more confident, and more effective as a person. Personal development improves how you interact with other people and see yourself and your future. Personal growth and development could affect your emotional intelligence, communication skills, decision-making, or even the positivity you bring to your life and your work.

All of these skills have an impact at work, affecting everything from how you handle stress to how you work on teams. As you improve yourself, you will naturally begin to affect others around you in new and more positive ways. Here are a few personal goals that will have a big impact at work and possibly improve your career:

  • Living in the moment or mindfulness is a practice that could calmly center your emotions and help improve your work/life balance. Practicing the art of mindfulness allows you to compartmentalize stresses and focus more intently on what’s happening in the moment instead of worrying about the past or future.
  • This practice can also help you with situational awareness of yourself and those around you. Understanding how your actions affect others is an important way to navigate tricky political waters at work. It can help you manage a fractious team or a difficult boss. It’s also crucial to the possibility of promotion or career advancement.
  • Learning better organizational skills is a crucial work best practice, so the overlap for this personal goal is clear. If you struggle each day to accomplish tasks, teaching yourself how to set goals and then complete them will increase your productivity at work. This is extremely important if you’re hoping for a promotion at some point.
  • Build your emotional intelligence and see how much better your working relationship is with your peers and managers at work. It can also improve your interactions with customers, which will strengthen your reputation at work. Learning how to deal with crucial conversations, stress, or other conflicts at the office is a vital management skill. If you can achieve this as a personal goal, the work-related reward will be high.

Many of these personal development goals can be achieved and benefit your work. As you start to achieve these personal goals, you will naturally become more self-confident in your abilities. You will carry this confidence forward into the work world, whether it was an intended side effect of the personal goal or not. Top employers look for all of these personal skills and hire and promote leaders that have taken the time to develop themselves as people, as managers, and as employees.

Contact Top Stack about how you can apply your personal and professional skills this year. We can help you grow.

4 Important Networking Tips When Looking For a Job

When networking, it’s important to know how to make your pitch, keep track of your contacts, and always be open to opportunities.

Today, professional networking is one of the most important things you can do for your career. Building professional contacts can lead to your next job or help you land a sale. Networking can also find mentors or business connections that can help you grow your skills. It’s a type of exposure that always pays you back in opportunities. But if you’re looking for a job, there is no better way to make connections. LinkedIn says 80% of professionals say networking is still the most important thing you can do to land a new job or grow your career. But they also say most people don’t know what to say when they’re networking or how to use these connections. Here are some tips to help you improve your networking efforts.

Practice Your Pitch

The first step toward knowing how to network is to understand why you’re networking. What is your goal? What is your pitch? Try to break it down concisely but share your skills and how you plan on using them. You can introduce yourself as “I’m an entrepreneur with ten years in technology.” Or, “I’ve been a finance manager for a top firm for the past five years.” But you should also come up with two or three conversations starters that can be as simple as “What is it that you do?” or “Why are you here today?” or “Tell me more about your company?” As the conversation progresses, you can let them know you’re open to new opportunities, and you’d like to call on them to network further in the future.

Keep Track and Follow Up

Keep a list of the people you meet, any referrals they give you, and where you met them. If you get a business card, always follow up by connecting on LinkedIn and then sending them an email after your visit. You may even want to schedule a coffee with them down the road to strengthen the connection.

Who and Where Will You Meet These Connections?

From business events to the kid’s soccer games, there are all kinds of ways to start networking. Neighbors, alumni organization, professional or personal groups, or other activities all give you opportunities to meet people. You just have to take advantage of these contacts.

Be Ready for New Opportunities

Before you get serious about networking, consider your LinkedIn profile along with your resume. Take time to do any updating necessary. You may want to have small cards with your name and contact information to leave with the person you just met. Always ask them for their card and if you may reach out to them to network in the future.

Networking your way to a new career will get you out and noticed by professionals. It’s important to always stay open to new opportunities as they arise. Make an effort to get to know people and then follow up with them to see who they know. You should also reach out to the team at Top Stack for a confidential assessment of your resume. We can add it to our database, so as jobs come up, we can alert you to who’s hiring and connect you with new employers. Contact us in the New Year. We can help.