Show, don’t tell

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Anton Chekhov

Or more prosaically, perhaps, “Don’t tell me that you have good communication skills; show me an example of when you’ve put them to good effect”.

A successful application (or interview, for that matter) is about you providing evidence that you really can do what you say you can do, and not just assume that the employer is going to take your word for it. It’s also about showing the employer that you understand why they are asking for particular skills in the first place. Let me give you an example:

In order to work as an event helper at university, I need you to be able to talk to parents and prospective students at open days, and so obviously communication skills will be high on my person specification. I need you to explain things, I need you to be able to listen and answer questions, to be clear and concise, and I need you to be able to talk to both students and parents. Ideally I need you to be someone who really enjoys communicating, and feels confident talking to a group of people. Conversely, whilst you might be great at explaining complex technical information, this probably isn’t as important for me.

So – how do you turn ‘having good communication skills’ into something that shows me that you understand? You need CARL.

CARL is a method to help you to show examples and evidence for the skills that you have gained. Used primarily in interviews, CARL is a great way to get you thinking not just about what you do, but HOW you do it, and so is an excellent tool when writing your CV. CARL stands for:

Context or the challenge, problem or issue you faced

Actions or approach that you took to meet the challenge or solve the problem

Results you obtained

Learning that you gained from the experience.

An Example of CARL

“In sixth form I worked in a small team that organised a music night to raise funds for the Red Cross.

I was primarily responsible for marketing and raising awareness of the event, and also acted as the ‘troubleshooter’ on the night” (context).

“I gave short presentations to students in assemblies and form time to promote the event, and I used these to concentrate on bite-sized bits of information, so students were interested, but not overwhelmed by lots of unnecessary detail. I communicated regularly with teachers and school staff in the run-up to the event, to ensure that everyone was clear about who was responsible for what, and responded to questions and issues on the day itself” (action).

“My presentations helped to improve the ticket sales, and we raised £500 for the charity on the night. It was so successful, the school decided to incorporate it into the school calendar. I really gained confidence, especially having to get up and talk to people, and learned the importance of clear communication when you are running an event.” (results and learning).

Using CARL in this way, you have an instant answer to the question ‘tell me about a time when you have had to use your communication skills?’ and if you want to incorporate some of this in your CV you can do it something like this:

Worked as part of a team of students to create and run an evening fundraising concert to support the International Red Cross. Main responsibilities included:

  • Giving short and engaging presentations to students to promote the event and improve ticket sales
  • Regularly communicating with school staff in the lead-up to the event to ensure that everyone was well-informed and confident about the event
  • Acting as the main point of contact on the night itself, confidently responding to questions from students and performers as required
  • Raising over £500 on the night, the concert has since become an annual event at the school.

So, like a glint of light on broken glass, your skills come shining through!




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