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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.

These Are The Qualities You Need to Be an Amazing Leader

Companies are looking for leaders. You don’t need to be a CEO to exhibit leadership qualities that make you stand out to future employers. What are the qualities that employers look for in their future leaders and how do you measure up?

Top Leadership Qualities for 2020

What makes a leader? We believe that the workplace can hone leadership skills and that tomorrow’s leaders are within the ranks of today’s front line employees. Employers know this, too; that’s why top employers are always on the hunt for employees that they can count on to lead teams. But how can you know if you have the leadership skills that make you stand out to these employers?

Some of the best qualities include:

  • Empathy
    Understanding your coworkers and doing things that help them succeed is one way that empathy manifests in the workplace. Being a good listener and taking time to understand the needs of your boss and coworkers makes you empathetic and understanding.
  • Focus
    Having the single-minded focus to achieve a vision or even a set of tasks is an important skill that leaders exhibit. If you can see the prize, chart a path toward it, and then work hard to achieve it – it’s the kind of focus employers look for in future leaders.
  • Integrity
    Real leaders have integrity in their dealings with people and Integrity means that you try to always do the right thing and are respectful of others in the workplace and even in your life.
  • Mentorship
    How much time do you spend helping others? That quality of mentorship is a kind of give-back to your coworkers, but also to your friends and family as you make your way through life.
  • Presence
    Do people gravitate toward you? That presence is a quality evident in some of the greatest leaders of all time, and it means that your coworkers trust and will follow your lead.
  • Self-Improvement
    If you’re the kind of employee that always has goals to improve yourself or those around you, employers want to hear about it. The best leaders look around constantly to improve the organization and those within it. The best bosses work hard to support their team in growing and learning new skills.
  • Support
    Positivity in the workplace is an amazing skill set that can change the course of business. The best leaders lift others, supporting them in a goal or mission. It can inspire those around us to work harder to achieve goals and create change that can ripple across an organization.
  • Transparency
    Honesty is the human quality that translates to transparency in the workplace. It’s a form of credibility that takes responsibility and ownership for mistakes. Transparency is sincere, consistent, and it lets others know they can trust you.
  • Vision
    Leaders often have a clear-sighted view of what’s ahead and how to get there. They can communicate this vision and have a passion for the execution.

Leadership is crucial to every job, and employers always have their eyes out for individuals that exhibit these skills. If you believe you exemplify these characteristics, Top Stack, and the employers we represent, would like to speak with you. Contact us today.

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 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.

Tips For Answering the Interview Question “What Are You Passionate About?”

If you’ve been in the job market for a long time, you’ve probably been asked, “What are you passionate about?” more than once. It’s one of these standard questions similar to, “Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses?” that is almost inevitable in any interview process.

However, the question could be awkward; who wants to share what they’re truly passionate about (“My spouse.”) (“My paycheck.”) with a total stranger? Too, if you’re working to live and not living to work, it may feel like the words “passion” and “job” don’t fit together. While you probably don’t want to lie and run the risk of the recruiter sensing it, you should give a professional answer. But what should it be? How should you answer the question, “What are you passionate about?”

First, Understand Why They’re Probably Asking

Remember that interviewers do want to get to know you both personally and professionally. Chances are, you’re going to spend a lot of time at their office, so the hiring manager just wants to get a sense of who you are and if you’ll fit the culture of the organization. When you think of it this way, the question doesn’t seem intrusive, but a fair way to assess what interests you.

Next, Consider How To Answer Professionally

The answer should reflect well on your professionalism, energy, and general strengths as a candidate for the job. Think about the job itself and the tasks you’ll likely do every day. Is there one that you’d particularly enjoy? Does the job do something to help the social good in some way? Maybe it would allow you to learn a new skill.

In these cases, you could tailor the answer to make your skills stand out as a good fit for the job. Above all, be real with your response while still being professional. Here are some good examples of how you can respond to, “What are you passionate about?”

  • Do you have a side project that relates to your profession? Say you’re a software engineer interested in innovation and start-up businesses. Do you volunteer for hack-a-thons or go to meetups? Maybe you’re a gamer and like to play with friends from all over the work on the weekends.
  • Maybe you’re a project manager that has a great love for organizing. Do you volunteer to organize events for your church on the side? Or maybe you help out at a non-profit by organizing their books?
  • Or, perhaps you’re a content writer that just started a blog. That’s certainly an appropriate passion to share if you’re going after a marketing or content writing job.

But What if Your Passion Isn’t Work-Related?

Truly this is okay. In figuring out how to answer this question, you may realize there are crossover skills from work that you use in your off-the-job passion project. Or, maybe that passion taught you skills that you apply on the job. Or, perhaps that passion is simply a way to decompress after a hard day’s work. There’s nothing wrong with that.

At Top Stack, our passion happens to be matching candidates to their perfect job. We can help you meld your work and personal passions in a new career in 2010. Contact us today.

 

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.

 

Learn About the Benefits of Having a Passion Outside of Work

Having a passion outside of work will boost your performance at work, increase your confidence, make you more resilient, and more. 

Being a workaholic is one thing, but lacking any interests outside of work can make you less productive on Monday morning. That’s what the current research says. Here’s why cultivating the passionate pursuit of a hobby outside of work makes you even better on the job.

Inc. Reports Having a Hobby Makes You a Better Employee

A recent article in Inc. suggests that people that pursue other interests when they leave work come back rejuvenated and inspired. Employers can take this to the bank; studies show that when their employers have a hobby, they are more productive.

San Francisco State University researchers studied how creativity outside the job in the form of cooking, painting, gardening, or knitting affected work performance. They found that people who engaged in a creative pursuit were 15 to 30% more effective at work. Researchers couldn’t tell if the creative pursuit was a motivator, helped people recharge their batteries, or had some other benefit, but they did show that these employees were at the top of their game when they returned to work.

But that’s not all. A British study recently found that if people have a hobby, they are more confident in their ability to overcome challenges on the job and in their lives. The study found that the more passionate the person was about their hobby, the more they achieved self-confidence and mastery in their professional and personal lives. The only caveat was that the hobby had to be radically different from their work in order to achieve this benefit.

The Inc. article also looked at the research of Duke University psychologist Patrician Linville. This researcher found that the passionate pursuit of an activity or hobby outside work made the person more resilient. When faced with a setback in one area, these workers were able to overcome it by using their hobby to bounce back. For example, if the worker faced a defeat at work, and their hobby was baking, going home to whip up a delicious baked item made them better able to cope with the setback.

Some hobbies nourish the brain and even make you smarter, according to research cited in Inc. Note that we said “some hobbies;” binge-watching TV or playing Mario Kart may not raise your IQ. However, exercising, reading, writing, or playing a musical instrument can all boost your energy and intelligence. The studies show that playing video games can even improve your ability to make decisions under pressure, although that may not help your IQ.

Finally, the article suggested the research shows having a hobby outside can increase your mindfulness and even make people nicer. Having a passion outside of work can lower stress and improve focus. Focusing intently on a project can help people sharpen their minds and relax, a de-stressor that many of us need after a long day at the office.

So, for those of you without a hobby, it might be time to consider one. Or, maybe it’s time to combine what you love with a great job in your field. That’s where Top Stack can help. We help people change their lives. Contact the team at Top Stack. We can help.

3 Tips for Finding a Career You’re Passionate About

To find a career you’re passionate about, be sure to ask yourself, not other people, what you feel passionate about. You also want to think about where that passion can lead you. 

There are lots of Americans right now that believe it’s impossible to find a job that they’re passionate about. We know this because of the latest research that shows 70% of workers are disengaged from their work. Employers are very concerned about these trends because disengaged workers are demotivated, possibly demoralized, and certainly less than fully productive. 

Do you know what might shake these workers out of their apathy and disengagement? The millennials. The studies show this youthful population is actively seeking out jobs that have a purpose. Millennials want to be passionate about their careers. This article will give millennials—and other workers of any age, three tips for finding a job they can be passionate about.

Tip 1—Define Your Passion

If you’re ready to look for a career that is more than just a job, start by defining what you’re passionate about. When was the last time you became so engrossed in an activity or project you were working on that you lost track of time? Start paying attention to the little voice inside you that points you toward the true work that makes you happiest. Look around at your friends and family. Are they engaged in work they love or work that just pays the bills? Can you do both? Try to surround yourself with people that are excited about their work. What did they do that led to the job they have now? 

The first step is to ask yourself what is it that you like to do. After you’ve defined your passion, step two is to determine if it can make you a sustainable income. 

Tip 2—Put Your Passion to Work

The good news is that there are all kinds of flexible work arrangements out there today. The Freelancers Union says more than 56 million Americans had some sort of side hustle going last year—and that number is expected to grow. Side hustles can be conducted even if you hold a day job, and; the work benefits Americans not only for the extra income it brings, but it can serve as a conduit toward the passionate pursuit of a job that makes you happy. There are all kinds of platforms online that can connect you with employers. Staffing agencies can also help you with part-time or other flexible work options. But you have to make an effort to find your passion and put it to work. 

Tip 3–Consider Contracting

One of the biggest benefits of connecting with a staffing agency like Top Stack is that we help give you a taste of what’s possible in the work world. Through flexible contract arrangements with top employers, we help candidates “try it before they buy it.” For employees engaged in the passionate pursuit of what makes them happy, we have a variety of roles available that will let you explore jobs and work environments in shorter-term arrangements. Contracting is perfect for anyone interested in building their work portfolio and experiences until they are ready to settle into a longer-term arrangement. These engagements can help you determine the kind of culture and the type of work that will ignite your passion—and perhaps, even fill up your wallet. Call on Top Stack today to find out more.