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Storytelling is one of the most essential skills in a successful job search. Doing it well can mean getting a great job much sooner. In this post I’ll provide SOAR story examples and tips.

Your success stories prove what you can do for an employer. They’re vital in job interviews – especially for answering behavioral questions. They’re powerful in you resume as well.

To get the most out of your stories, follow the SOAR interview storytelling technique.

SOAR stands for Situation, Obstacles, Actions and Results. It’s a lot like other techniques such as STAR and is interchangeable with them, but I like the added focus on overcoming obstacles. I’ll say more about that a minute. Here’s an example of a “SOAR story.”

SOAR Stories: Examples

The first story is about Denise, an office manager.

Situation: Denise realized that she and her co-workers were wasting time on tedious processes that could be better handled by software. But the company was small and had no IT department, so the tasks hadn’t been automated. Denise wanted to change that.
Obstacles: The budget was tight and management was resistant to spending money on something new. Also, nobody had time to figure out what was needed.
Actions: Denise did some research on her own time and recommended a software called WhateverWare. She also worked up an estimate of the staff time that would be saved, and the dollar value of that time to the company. She used these data in presenting the idea to management. They were convinced, and they found some resources to make it happen, asking Denise to coordinate the project.
Results: The new software saved 10-15 staff hours per week. The company is still using it, with increased productivity to the tune of over $15K per year. Denise received a raise at her next review, and her supervisor wrote in the evaluation that “This achievement is further proof that Denise’s initiative and dedication are exemplary.”

Here’s another example from Michael, an instructional designer.

Situation: Michael was an instructional designer who discovered a lot of redundancies and inaccuracies in the documentation the workers needed to do their jobs. He took it upon himself to update them.
Obstacles: Some of these documents flatly contradicted each other, and when he asked around, he found a lot of disagreement as to what the correct procedures really were.
Actions: He made a list of the procedures the workers disagreed about, prioritized them, then set up a meeting with the appropriate managers and team leads to sort out what the best practices were. Although he was only able to get through a few of the documents in that meeting, they were the most crucial ones, and when the improved documentation went online the response was so positive the managers offered him a regular time slot in their team meetings.
Results: Gradually, the documentation was updated and streamlined. On average, the workers saved 30 minutes per week, QA scores increased 10% and staff were grateful. His manager said “Michael, you’ve made a lot of friends by doing this, for yourself and the training department. It’s added to our credibility with the CEO, too.”

Would these stories have worked as well without SOAR?

If Denise and Michael hadn’t uses the SOAR story technique, they might have skipped over the obstacles, thus understating the difficulty of the task and how much skill they brought to it. Also, they might have been too vague about the results – the “evidence” of success – missing a chance to vividly depict the value they can bring to an organization. Or they may have rambled, telling the story in a confusing or repetitive way and not knowing when to stop.

What about other storytelling models like STAR? They’re pretty much interchangeable, but no matter what model you use, you can enrich your interview stories by including obstacles you overcame.

If you found these SOAR story examples useful, you might like the additional tips I provide in “Job Search Tool #1: SOAR Stories.”   (This post was originally published in March 2013 and has been updated.)