STEM applicants: Conveying your achievements

13 February 2018

Josh Farr is our Recruitment and Advocacy Manager for Victoria, with a background in Civil Engineering. He shares how candidates who specialise in STEM areas can best showcase their achievements and experience in their Teach For Australia application.

As scientists, technologists, engineers and designers, breaking down problems is in our DNA. Whether it’s how to study for final year exams, how to work in a group assignment or how to approach a major project in the professional world, our brains are wired to find solutions. But what we’re not always as good at is communicating the underlying reasons for our actions.

As the Recruitment and Advocacy Manager for Victoria, I meet with plenty of impressive people from all demographics, and I’m constantly blown away by their achievements. But the thing that separates a really impressive applicant from a less impressive one isn’t just the scale of their achievement.

What makes you stand out is why you took the actions you did, and how you communicate the processes, thoughts and planning that underlie it.

So whether you’re a volunteer at a local organisation, captain of a team or president of a club, you’ll have to communicate the ‘why’ and ‘how’ in an application interview.

What’s the best way to do that?


When we approach problems, whether we realise it or not, we use the S.T.A.R. method:

  1. Situation: What is occurring in the background and what variables should I be aware of?
  2. Task/Target: What is the problem I need to solve and what will ‘success’ look like?
  3. Action: What actions will I take and what skills will I utilise or develop?
  4. Result: What is the outcome of the above steps?

Afterwards, we keep iterating until we come to a satisfying end point.

Effective problem solvers use another tool as well. They set goals and focus their efforts between the Task/Target and Action steps using the S.M.A.R.T. method:

  1. Specific: What discrete variable am I trying to change?
  2. Measurable: How will I measure this variable?
  3. Attainable: Is my end point a reasonable aim given my constraints?
  4. Relevant: Is this goal worth pursuing given the opportunity cost of not pursuing other options?
  5. Timely: What time restraints will I enforce to ensure this goal contributes to the larger project?

So when sharing your experience, communicate those achievements using the S.T.(S.M.A.R.T.)A.R. combined method. Yes, it’s a method inside a method; it’s application-inception.

Using this method in an interview

Start by giving some background information (S – Situation) and describing the task at hand (T – Task/Target).

Then, as soon as you start describing the target that you wish to reach, utilise the S.M.A.R.T. method to explain your goal-setting process. This helps the interviewer to clearly understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind your actions.

Once the scene is set and you’ve outlined your plan, it’s time to confidently explain your steps (A – Actions) and the efficiency and efficacy of your outcomes (R – Results).

Too often, STEM students and professionals are quick to identify the problem and describe the results they achieved, but skip the crucial step which gives an interviewer the key insight into how they break down the problem.

This combined method recognises all of your planning, and provides a framework when talking about your past achievements. It helps focus on the important details while avoiding tangents and most importantly, requires that you reflect on how you performed at each stage of the process to identify areas for improvement in the future.

Teach For Australia assess for eight key competencies and we encourage all applicants to explore their past achievements and brainstorm evidence for all eight before finalising their application. I’ve put together a worksheet you can download to help you brainstorm.

And if you have any questions, please reach out at any time via email at

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