“Awake. Be the witness of your thoughts. You are what observes, not what you observe.”
– Siddhartha Gautama
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Introducing the STAR Method
- Arguing for STAR Case Studies
- What Your Personal Case Study Should Have
- Case Study Example: KatrinaHousing.org
- Problems With My Personal Case Study
- Your Own STAR Case Study
One tactic to do this is using the STAR. Method. This acronym stands for:
Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.
Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
Results: Share what outcomes your actions achieved.
The advantage of using the STAR Method is that it gives you a structure within which you boil down your experience into clear and concise statements about accomplishments. This allows you to emphasize key skills in each area without going off on tangents or getting bogged down in unnecessary details. This kind of framework makes crafting an effective response to your achievements much more straightforward.
Arguing for STAR Case Studies
The STAR Method is common with resumes and interviews, but I have never seen someone do it as a personal case study. Most resumes and interviews that use the STAR Method share limited information, which is the point. However, a personal case study allows you to provide more details while keeping it structured and easy to understand.
I define a personal case study as:
“Documenting an experience that illustrates notable personal development.”
A personal case study deserves more space than a resume or an interview. A Linkedin article or blog post works well in building a story around the achievement. Unlike the popular Harvard business case studies that can be 20 to 100 pages long, the STAR Method offers a quick structure that helps simplify your personal case study.
When featuring my case studies on my resume, I use a short URL that links STAR Method case studies to my professional blog. This provides more context than a resume could ever give and helps lead people to my blog, which I use to go in-depth about my skills and achievements. Utilizing the STAR Method in this manner gives me significantly more space to be convincing on just how amazing I am 😀
Below is an example of how I used the STAR case study approach in showing my efforts in the 2005 Katrina hurricane. Yet, there can be some confusion on exactly what you should do in each section of the STAR Method. I’ve outlined exactly what the section means and what needs to be done.
SITUATION: YOUR MOUNTAIN
When discussing the Situation, you want to paint a picture of a mountain of a problem. Be honest, but show the difficulty of the situation you had to overcome. If it’s not difficult, think of something else to build a case study around. The whole point of the STAR Method is to take your audience through your own Hero’s Journey.
- Bad Example: In college, I took an entrepreneurial management course that required me to do a project.
- Good Example: 82% of businesses fail in their first year, and one of the top reasons is due to poor management. In college, I took an entrepreneurial management course that, with only over a month, had me plan, organize, and execute an entrepreneurial project. The project’s purpose was to challenge us to learn how to work as a team and overcome poor management in a start-up.
For a personal case study, I could add more to paint a mountain of a situation, but what is essential is that the reader understands this was not a normal situation.
TASK: YOUR ROLE
Out of the four steps of the STAR Method, Task is the most confusing. It’s not uncommon for people to think, “What are the tasks I had to do?”. More of like a checklist, of sorts. However, this section builds further off the Situation, and shows what you were “tasked” with in order to overcome the challenge. What is your role in this Hero’s Journey tale?
Another mistake you want to be wary of is sharing your actions. Normally, when we tell people about our job, we don’t just say our title. We often share what we exactly do, which you want to save for the next step, “Action.”
- Bad Example #1: Our event was a dancing lesson, and we needed to sell t-shirts and collect phone numbers.
- Bad Example #2: I was in charge of designing t-shirts, where I created the most amazing designs that everyone loved.
- Good Example #3: My team and I decided to answer the challenge of overcoming poor management by organizing a dancing event that had several monetization and marketing components. I have a lot of experience in graphic design, so I was specifically tasked with designing t-shirts to be sold at our event and doing the advertising to drive up our attendance.
You can see in our good example I gave more context about the event my team was putting on and my skillset. I also didn’t just say I was over design and marketing. I expressly shared what I was tasked to do.
ACTION: YOUR EFFORTS
Action is probably the easiest to share in the STAR Method. It’s actually what we jump to when an interviewer asks what we did to overcome something. The key to the Action step, at least for personal case studies, is to be detailed in your efforts. Here is where you want to shine. You want your audience to see that you accomplished a lot.
- Bad Example: I designed t-shirts and flyers. I collected emails and sent them out.
- Good Example: For the marketing, I designed flyers, collected student phone numbers, developed a texting campaign, and worked with multiple clubs to have them invite their members. For the t-shirt designs, I created five designs and sent out a survey to over 500 people to see which ones they liked the most.
In the above “Good Example,” I could actually dig deeper into my actions. How did I collect the students’ phone numbers? What software did I use to do a texting campaign? What software did I use to design the shirts and survey? You want to showcase your skillset as much as possible.
RESULTS: YOUR IMPACTS
Finally, the results section. This, without a doubt, is the most powerful part of the STAR Method. You want to give as many impacts as possible to round out your Hero’s Journey. The more details you can provide, the better.
Also, I want to point out something with my example case study of Katrina House that I share below. I go beyond stating the results and have added an evidence sub-section. I think this is so important to have. You want to back up your claims. I suggested they change the acronym STAR to STARE, but I was outvoted :-D. You could argue that you should blend your evidence throughout the whole case study, which you definitely could and should. I just think it is good to make visible all the evidence you have, even if it is already shared in your personal case study.
- Bad Example: Our event was a success. We sold a lot of t-shirts and collected a lot of phone numbers.
- Good Example: Our event was a success. We had 422 people show up to our dancing event. For two hours of fun, we made $781, of which $259 was profit. Additionally, my shirt designs were extremely popular. We sold 64 shirts, making $1,280 in revenue, and made a profit of $640. Due to us collecting phone numbers at other events (not just at our dance), we were able to collect 812 phone numbers. Here are some pictures and a video of our event. Also, I’ve taken a screenshot of our Venmo account showing all the money we made on t-shirt sales and the dance. Finally, here is a screenshot of our software dashboard that shows how many phone numbers we have in the system.
The more evidence you can share, the more impressive your personal case study becomes. It builds credibility in what you’ve done and shows how you conquered your mountain.
What I just walked you through was a quasi-real experience by a student team in my Small Business Management course. Though not perfect, the leader of this event wrote up a STAR case study that does a good job of showcasing his involvement and achievements.
Hopefully, you can see how having a link to a personal case study on your resume can be powerful. I guarantee it will make you stand out from everyone else that is applying for whatever job you want. It not only portrays an impressive picture of what you’ve done, but the reader is going to see that it took you time to develop your STAR case study. You shouldn’t just have a few sentences. If so, just put it on your resume. You need to prove to the reader why the extra space is merited.
MY OWN CASE STUDY
SITUATION: The Serious Problem with Hurricane Katrina
On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast near Buras, Louisiana, bringing floods that devastated New Orleans. More than 1,833 people in the region died. Nearly 228,000 homes and apartments in New Orleans were flooded, including 39% of all owner-occupied units and 56% of all rental units. Approximately 204,700 housing units in Louisiana were either destroyed or sustained major damage. In the wake of the hurricane, the Red Cross announced as many as 450,000 people would need housing. FEMA would later estimate that Katrina displaced as many as one million people. Unfortunately, neither FEMA nor the Red Cross were equipped to support the temporary housing needs this catastrophe caused.
TASK: Our Response – KatrinaHousing.org
To address this massive housing shortage, my good friend Joel Otterstrom built, within 48 hours, KatrinaHousing.org, which had a searchable online database where people could offer temporary housing for Katrina hurricane survivors. Unknowingly, Joel had developed the first of its kind house-sharing platform, a model that Airbnb wouldn’t create and popularize for another three years.
After Joel built Katrina Housing, he contacted me and asked if I would “get the word out” about the website. By accepting his invitation, I would end up doing much more than marketing Katrina Housing.
Here are some additional roles I took on:
- Company’s spokesperson
- Manage volunteer efforts
- Run the in-house call center
- Work as a volunteer
- Oversee partner relationships
Eventually, I would take over as Executive Director and run the operations until we merged Katrina Housing with another emergency housing organization.
ACTION: Turning Digital Efforts Into Emergency Relief
When I started the marketing efforts for Katrina Housing, we had no budget. Myself and another teammate, Eran Greenburg, wrote several news releases and worked with volunteers to do extensive outreach across the web, seeking forums and blogs that discussed relief efforts for hurricane survivors. We enlisted several dozen of these platforms to post our news releases to bring awareness to our website.
In the early days of the disaster, I worked with other emergency housing efforts to centralize and consolidate all the web efforts to help the hurricane survivors. We launched a blog (which was fairly innovative in 2005) to keep the community we created informed of our efforts.
To overcome our budget deficit, I set up Katrina Housing as an official 501c3, making it possible to accept donations.
I established close partnerships with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Salvation Army, Ancestry.com, Verio, and Zion’s Bank and enlisted their help in supporting our website and a toll-free helpline.
Most Katrina survivors who needed housing didn’t have Internet access. So, I worked with my friend Joel and used his company’s toll-free number. With his number, we established a call center with our partners to help people use Katrina Housing. To handle the surge of popularity we were receiving at the height of our efforts, I managed 10+ volunteers that handled the call overflow that the other call centers couldn’t take or during off hours.
I designed a simple one-page flyer featuring our toll-free number and had hundreds of them printed in Houston. We had a Texan volunteer who worked with his local church to distribute the flyers to everyone possible at the Louisiana Astrodome.
RESULTS: The Powerful Impacts of Digital Emergency Relief
In our first two weeks, Katrina Housing had placed almost 5,000 families and individuals in temporary homes. In the end, we placed over 100,000 people and generated 186,118 listings people could use to help them overcome their dire situation.
My early guerilla marketing efforts lead to me interviewing with multiple national networks like NBC News, Fox News, CBS, and The New York Times, among other smaller outlets. These interviews broadcasted our website and toll-free number, making it possible to reach millions of people who could provide temporary housing.
Our blog became the centralized platform for the digital relief efforts that were happening with the Katrina and Rita hurricane (Rita hit Louisiana & Texas not even a month later). We consistently published hundreds of weekly blog updates about the emergency efforts and provided a much-needed source of communication for digital volunteers and on-the-ground emergency workers.
By creating a legal non-profit, I was able to collect over $250,000 in donations to help us further support the relief efforts. Our 501c3 status made it, so we were able to establish key corporate partnerships that allowed us to utilize their infrastructure, free of cost, to support the heavy load of traffic to our website and helpline number. It was also key in becoming a premier partner with The Department of Homeland Security and the Salvation Army. This partnership allowed us to show our toll-free number on the JumboTron in the Louisiana Superdome. FEMA even publicly singled out KatrinaHousing.org and the emergency efforts we were doing.
EVIDENCE SUPPORTING MY RESULTS
Here are a few news articles showing my involvement and Katrina Housing significantly helping with the hurricane relief effort:
- NBC News: How to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina
- NBC News: Katrina evacuees redefine ‘full house’
- Salt Lake Tribune: Web links people, homes
- WHIR News: Web Host Verio Adds to Hurricane Relief
- MarketingSherpa: Guerrilla Marketing to Aid Katrina Victims
- The Daily Universe: Centers connect refugees
- Meridian Magazine: Katrinahousing.org – Three LDS Programmers Team Up to Help
- The Baltimore Sun: Aiding victims of storm has proved a tough task
- Hartford Courant: Keeping Relief Flowing South
That wraps up my real-world case study. It was a whirlwind (pun intended) of a ride. And something that helped me with future endeavors. I just wish I had created a case study for it back when it happened.
Problems With My Personal Case Study
Above is an example of how I used the STAR case study approach in showing my efforts in the 2005 Katrina hurricane.
Several important things to note about this example. First, due to it happening so long ago, I don’t have the ample data and proof I’d want in a solid personal case study such as this one.
I do have a lot of media sources that covered us, but if I had a mindset for STAR case studies back then, I would have collected the exact number of people we placed, the total website listings we achieved, screenshots of the traffic to our website, lots of photos of our volunteer team, emails of partnerships, footage of my local and national televised interviews, and anything else to strengthen what I had accomplished.
Also, I’d go out and get testimonials from the people I worked with. This isn’t necessarily required to have a strong personal case study, but it helps when someone else praises your efforts. Studies show that third-party testimonials establish deeper credibility than you just saying. More significance is placed on your claims when someone else is touting your praises!
Advanced Tip: Get Linkedin Recommendations whenever you work somewhere, do a project, and/or do something amazing. My own resume has a testimonial column that correlates with every job I’ve ever done. Testimonials are a lot easier to get when you’re at the job or just finished the project.
Your Own STAR Case Study
If there hadn’t been so much publicity about this particular experience I had, I wouldn’t have been able to provide important details that showcased just how much I did during this time. Honestly, I wish I could go back to my 21-year-old self and tell him to track everything in my career and collect data on anything noteworthy I did.
So many areas of our life can have a STAR Method case study done. To prove my point, here is a great list that can be used to find case studies to develop:
- What courses did I take?
- What skills did I gain from these courses?
- What projects did I do in school? What was the outcome?
- What unique experiences have I been a part of? What did I contribute
- What books did I read? What did I learn?
- What tools did I use, and how did I use them?
- What professional memberships/sites/groups do I use or am I a part of?
- What new skills did I learn last year(s)? How did I learn them?
- Who did I work for?
- What did I do for them?
- Who have I impressed and why?
- Do I have Linkedin testimonials?
- What challenges did I face this year at work? How did I overcome them?
- What processes did I improve or make more efficient?
- What did I do that was above and beyond my normal job duties?
- How did I stand out among other employees?
- Was I ever recognized by a supervisor for a job well done? When and why?
- Did I win any awards or accolades?
- What new processes did I implement to improve things?
- What problems did I solve?
- Did I ever consistently meet or exceed goals or quotas?
- Did I save the company money?
- What made me really great at my job?
- How was my performance measured, and did I reach/exceed any performance targets?
- What did my boss say he/she wanted me to achieve when I was hired?
- Have I done something that got better results than my employer had been getting before?
- What would I say if asked what made or makes me great at my job?
That is a long list, and some suggestions are better than others. If anything, it should show you that there are many, many opportunities to create a personal case study. The more you track your performance in these areas, the better you’ll be able to present yourself professionally to the world.
Using the STAR Method can be invaluable for crafting powerful personal and data-rich case studies. By breaking down your experience into clear statements about accomplishments, you can highlight key skills while staying focused on relevant information that will clearly depict what you achieved. So if you’re looking for an easy way to construct compelling case studies about why you’re amazing, give this acronym a try!
- The STAR Method: The Secret to Acing Your Next Job Interview
- STAR Resume and Examples
- How I Keep Track of My Achievements