What do I do with this reflection?
Your experience bank
The obvious question once you have done your reflection is – what do I do with it now?
The short answer is ‘keep it somewhere safe’.
The long answer is that the situations that you have reflected on and the capabilities that you have identified through your reflection can be used to substantiate your employability development. Keeping your reflections together with other evidence of your employability means that you can easily refer to them when you are putting together job applications or preparing for an interview.
At The University of Queensland, we talk about creating an ‘experience bank’ – one place where you can keep artefacts and evidence which can be used to demonstrate skill or capability acquisition when applying for graduate roles, pitching to stakeholders, or applying for further study.
Your experience bank may contain:
- Reflections on your experiences (SEAL or other reflective models)
- Letters of recommendation
- Your best coursework
- Personal goals
- Awards and achievements
These artefacts are evidence of your employability development. They can be drawn on when talking about the value of your learning experiences, and how they relate to each other. They weave into and through your personal employability story.
Many universities provide students with access to an ePortfolio to collate employability artefacts and to showcase them to potential employers but you can just as easily create a basic experience bank through WordPress or a simple folder on your computer.
Communicating your employability
- The capabilities and attributes that you have identified in your self-reflection are often skills that employers are actively looking for in new graduates. You now need to consider how you will talk about these capabilities in a way that is meaningful to an employer, and effectively communicates your potential.
There are several ways that we communicate our employability to potential employers. The most common of these are:
- Application documentation such as resumes, cover letters, online applications and responses to selection criteria.
- Pitching to stakeholders
- Informally through our professional networks
In almost all of these situations (regardless of the differences in formality and structure) you will be trying to convey the benefit that you could bring to an organisation or start-up through your unique combination of knowledge, experience and capabilities.
The most effective way to demonstrate that you have a particular competency is by providing evidence – much like you would provide your academic transcript if you were asked for verification of your GPA. This is more difficult with intangible qualities such as perseverance or empathy. However, your reflections provide you with examples by which you can demonstrate the development of these attributes.
A useful activity to understand your unique knowledge, experiences and capabilities is to create your own Value Proposition. A value proposition articulates the value that you promise to bring to a particular situation or role. Your value proposition is a useful starting point for the preparation of other documentation such as your resume, cover letter or responses to selection criteria, and is also extremely helpful in networking situations or in interviews when you are asked ‘So, tell me about yourself’.
Creating a value proposition can be difficult, but if you have developed your experience bank and have been reflecting on your learning opportunities you will find that you have all the tools you need.
The following questions will help you to start writing your value proposition:
- What do you have to offer an employer as a culmination of all your experiences and development?
- How will you talk about yourself so that an employer understands your capabilities and potential?
Look through your reflections to identify:
- Strengths – capabilities and attributes that might show up frequently in your reflections
- Defining moments – key experiences that changed the way you think about yourself or others
- Key development opportunities – experiences that provided you with the chance to put a capability or attribute into practice
- Values and passions – look through your reflections and other experience bank artefacts to see if there are any causes or interests that you are genuinely passionate about, or values that guide the way you behave.
Spend 5 minutes creating your draft value proposition of a maximum of 200 words, mentioning the four elements above. As you write make sure you:
- Are clear about why these things (especially your strengths and values) will be of benefit to the organisation that you want to work for – don’t leave it up to your audience to make the connection.
- Provide evidence that you actually do have these strengths and qualities – link back to your learning opportunities, and explain how you developed through these experiences.
Your value proposition should be dynamic and will probably need updating every 6 months or so as you engage in other experiences and gain new capabilities and perspectives.
Using reflection in application documentation and interviews
The most common way of securing work is through a recruitment process where you submit documentation with information on why you would be a good match for the position, followed up by an interview where you can explain your capabilities in greater detail in person.
In order to provide meaningful information in your application documentation and in an interview you first need to have self-reflected on your experiences to know what you have learnt from them. Once you have used self-reflection to determine what you can now do as a result of your experiences, and which attributes and capabilities you have developed, you can take this learning and use it to answer questions or address criteria during the recruitment process.
Your answers will be deeper and more detailed if you have self-reflected before you embark on the recruitment process, and you will know that your examples genuinely demonstrate your capability development.
You may be considering starting your own enterprise rather than being employed, but at some stage you are still likely to need to communicate your employability – to clients, stakeholders, or investors.
Using reflections to answer behavioural questions
Behavioural interview questions are those which ask you to provide a specific example of where you have used a particular capability. They typically use the following format:
- Tell me about a time when…
- Describe a time when you had to…
- Explain a situation where you…
The most well known and effective technique for addressing behavioural interview questions is STAR or STAR(E).
STAR (E) stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result and the E is for Evaluate.
In a recruitment situation, an employer will expect to hear you discuss your experiences with an emphasis on the results of your actions. This is because they are using the explanation you give of how you dealt with a particular situation to predict how you will react in the future if presented with a workplace challenge. They are interested in how your explanation of your behaviour demonstrates how you will perform in their workplace.
It is vital that you self-reflect on your experiences first so that you not only give a good answer but so that you know which skills and attributes you actually have!
For example, an interviewer might ask: Tell me about a time when you’ve had to use your initiative in a particular situation.
Unless you have self-reflected on your experiences you may not even know that you can show initiative and you won’t have a specific example to draw on.
Self-reflecting first makes STAR (E) a much simpler exercise. You might have noticed some similarities between the SEAL self-reflection method and STAR(E). However while your self-reflection is concerned with the effect of the situation on you, or the particular learning that you gained; STAR is more concerned with the task at hand and the result of your actions, whether positive or negative, enabling employers to make a judgment about how you behave in certain situations.
If you use the E of STAR(E) you may also evaluate the result of your actions when you talk about your experiences in an interview – in which case, you can draw on some of the learning from your self-reflection.
Basically, self-reflection is about your personal learning from an experience and STAR(E) is the technique you apply to an example to demonstrate how you can contribute to an organisation.
Your turn to use STAR(E)
- Consider a learning opportunity that you have had recently – you can use one of the learning opportunities that you identified in the ‘what counts as a learning opportunity’ section.
- Work through the process in the STAR(E) worksheet answering the following generic behavioural interview question: Tell me about a time when you have had to overcome a challenging situation.
Use STAR(E) to answer these additional common behavioural interview questions:
- Describe a situation where you had to manage competing priorities
- Can you give an example of a project that did not go to plan, and how you managed this situation?
- Describe a time you had to motivate colleagues or team members. What did you specifically do that made it effective?
- Give me an example of when you have had to be persuasive.
Using reflections to prepare application documentation
You can also draw on your reflections to provide examples for cover letters, responses to selection criteria and online applications.
Application documentation often asks for specific instances where you have demonstrated certain behaviours or capabilities and the learning opportunities that you have reflected on are excellent examples.
You can also use the STAR (E) technique for written as well as verbal responses and this format works particularly well for addressing selection criteria. You can try to answer the sample selection criteria below by drawing on your reflections on experiences:
- Ability to work in a team and in a collaborative environment
- Exceptional time management skills and ability to meet deadlines
- Demonstrated high-level problem-solving skills, displaying independent judgement, initiative and a service-orientated approach
- High-level customer services skills, interpersonal and communication skills
- Ability to quickly acquire knowledge of programs, IT systems, legislation and policy or work procedures and processes.