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SOAR, CAR or STAR Stories–and The Lord of the Rings?

If you’ve read much about job interview preparation I’m sure you’ve come across acronyms like SOAR, CAR, PAR and STAR, frameworks to help you build compelling interview stories.

In this post I’ll review these tools and pose a useful question: which of the letters in this alphabet soup is the most crucial?

And to make it more interesting I’ll use a favorite story to illustrate my points.

PAR: Problem/Action/Results (a.k.a. CAR, where the Problem is seen as a Challenge)

Here is the heart of every good story, in an interview or in fiction.

In The Lord of the Rings. Frodo discovers he has an evil magic ring. Uh-oh, that’s a bit of a Problem/Challenge. He collaborates with a diverse team to take Action by carrying the ring to Mount Doom to destroy it. The result is the banishment of the Dark Lord, Sauron. (Think Darth Vader but invisible and even more evil.)

STAR, Situation/Task/Action/Results

This model separates the Task or Target from the Actions taken. An important distinction? I’m not convinced. But here’s a more useful version found on Wikipedia:

“Some performance development methods use ‘Target’ rather than ‘Task.’ Job interview candidates who describe a ‘Target’ they set themselves instead of an externally imposed ‘Task’ emphasize their own intrinsic motivation to perform and to develop their performance.”

Frodo took on the task willingly, plucky hobbit that he was.

SOAR, Situation/Obstacles/Action/Results

SOAR adds a useful enhancement, encouraging us to notice whether the accomplishment required extra skill to overcome some extra difficulty that got in the way.

Frodo’s task sounds pretty simple: (1) Take the ring to the Cracks of Doom. (2) Throw it in and dust off your hands. But add the Obstacles:

  • Nine terrifying ringwraiths chasing him the whole way to…
  • the most evil, dangerous place in the world, where…
  • throwing the ring into the volcano it will cause it to erupt, leaving Frodo and friend stranded, lava licking at their furry feet.

Including these Obstacles make it a much better tale, no? One that shows the true magnitude of the heroic hobbits’ achievement.

So is “O” the most crucial letter in the world of SOAR, PAR, CAR and STAR?

Useful as it is, no. The most crucial letter is “R”: Results.

The whole journey would not be worth mentioning if it hadn’t succeeded. But even saying “the ring was destroyed” isn’t enough. That’s just the means to an end. What’s the bottom line here? It’s that that the whole world suddenly became a vastly safer place, the tree that was withered grew again, “renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king”– and all was soon right with the world.

And, were Frodo interviewing for a new quest, he could add that he was honored at a special ceremony and praised by all the most important people. Of course, Frodo would never want a new quest. As every hobbit knows, adventures are horribly uncomfortable.

The moral of the story is, whether you tell a CAR story, a STAR story or a SOAR story, point out your Obstacles and how you overcame them, and above all make sure you say a lot about the outstanding Results. And then go home, tidy up a bit, and have a nice cup of tea.

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