Navigating job interviews is taxing for all of us, and while it gets easier with experience, we can still slip into bad habits if we don’t go in with a plan of action.
That’s where the STAR method comes in hand, particularly for fielding the behavioral questions that interviewers love to ask. So what is it, and how can you use it to your advantage?
Understanding the STAR method
The aim of the STAR method is to give you a structure for telling a story which ensures that it stays focused, and delivers key information in an engaging way. It’s a way of proving that as well as having the right skills, you’re a well-rounded prospect.
As you’d expect, it’s broken down into the following four segments:
- Situation – Describe the setting of the workplace anecdote you’re about to tell.
- Task – Explain your role in this scenario.
- Action – Outline the things you did to deal with the challenge in question.
- Result – Talk about the conclusion that you brought about with your intervention.
The upshot should be that you can walk an interview through an episode from your job history without rambling or glossing over the main point you want to make.
Knowing when to deploy this approach
One challenge you’ll need to overcome is appreciating the best context in which to put the STAR method into practice. Behavioral interview questions fit the bill, and it’s straightforward to know when an interviewer is asking them.
Usually they’ll be couched as a request for an example of an event you experienced in a professional capacity. You could be asked to talk about a particular type of incident, whether that’s how you dealt with a tricky customer or a conflict between colleagues. The question might also be more general in tone, but you’ll be expected to give a specific example.
Some employers focus more heavily on behavioral questions than others; for example, Amazon emphasises on these questions, as do many of the other tech giants. Knowing this in advance can help you to prepare to answer them more thoroughly, rather than being sideswiped.
Following the steps like a pro
Now you know the basics, and when to put the STAR method to use, let’s break down each of its four facets to explore their implications in more detail.
Simplicity is key here. You don’t want to overdo it on detailing the circumstances surrounding the event you’re describing. Instead, aim to be as clear as possible, while using a couple of sentences at most to set the scene.
Let’s say you’re asked about an achievement that you reached, having originally seen it as unattainable. You’d need to explain the nature of the business you worked for, or the particular team you were part of, to give the interviewer a sense of the setup.
Now you can move onto discussing the part you played, or rather the one you were supposed to fulfill. This often involves mentioning the basic responsibilities of your job, so that we understand what was expected of you, giving a base level against which your efforts above and beyond this can be measured.
Here’s where you need to get specific. The interviewer should know what challenge you were faced with, and you now need to talk about your approach to overcoming it.
This can include not only discussions of how you tackled this with individual effort, but also what you did with the wider team to address this. Remember that in most cases, employers are looking for candidates who are both self-starters as well as team players.
Don’t be afraid to be honest about your successes here, and again you should aim to be specific with what you tell the interviewer. Perhaps your actions resulted in a spike in new customers, a leap in sales, a spike in mailing list subscribers, a marketing clip that went viral, or anything else with definitive data attached to it.
Making your preparations
The STAR method isn’t enough on its own to help you boss behavioral questions at a job interview. You need to apply it to your preparations so you know what types of examples you’ll have to give on the day.
This can be done by drilling down into the job description, thinking back on your prior roles and rehearsing anecdotes that are suitable as answers. Then you’ll be ready to face the music.
Cover Photo by Edmond Dantès