A Model Approach to Nail Your Next Interview
"Can you tell me about a time when you…" is a phrase that can strike fear into interviewees. Your mind goes blank, you get flustered and blurt out the first ill-thought-out example that comes to mind.
Fortunately, the STAR Method can prepare you to answer this type of tricky interview question effectively. And, as we'll see, you can also use the framework beyond interviews to help you identify, reflect on, and demonstrate positive behaviors in other areas of your work life.
What is the STAR Method for Interviews?
STAR stands for: Situation, Task, Action and Result. It's a framework developed to prepare for and answer competency-based questions in interviews.
Employers ask behavioral-based questions to understand how you've dealt with issues and challenges in the past – and to predict how you'll likely react to situations in their workplace. They're also used to assess whether you have the skills and knowledge needed for the role.
When you use the STAR Method, you draw from real-life work experiences, and communicate them clearly to your interviewer. Let's look at each step in turn.
The Four-Step STAR Interview Method
Competency-based interviews ask open-ended questions designed to reveal how you approach and overcome workplace challenges. Think of the STAR technique as the structure to tell a story that demonstrates your skills.
- Situation: start by setting the scene for your example. Here, you outline a specific challenge you faced and give the interviewer some context. For example, you could name a project you worked on, where it took place, and the size of your team.
- Task: this is where you explain your role in the situation. Again, give a few brief details. For example, were you the leader? What was your goal? What were you tasked to do?
- Action: now you explain what you did. Be specific and explain how you overcame the challenge. Outline the steps you took to resolve the situation. Even if it was a team effort, explain what you did and lead with "I" instead of "we" to detail your approach.
- Result: finally, summarize the effects of your actions. Mention specific results in your answer, and, if possible, talk about facts, figures and stats that quantify your success. You can also discuss what you learned and share insights that you can apply to future challenges.
How to Answer STAR Interview Questions
Let's look at a STAR Method example, and answer a classic interview question: "Describe a problem that you faced at work – and how you dealt with it."
Situation: "in my last job as a studio manager, two of my designers left just after we landed new business with a big client. Our first deadline was in four weeks!"
Task: "I didn't have time to recruit new designers, given the tight timescale. So, as well as manage the studio, I had to step in and do some of the design work and hold weekly progress updates with the client."
Action: "first, I revised my task list and delegated as many jobs as possible to my studio assistant. For example, they set up job descriptions for the new roles and liaised with recruitment agencies. I also reached out to freelancers I knew, to plug the gaps until we found new hires. With that, and a few late nights, we hit the deadline for our first campaign. It brought in a much-needed $15,000 for that quarter."
Result: "the client loved our work. Now, they account for 40 percent of our business. The situation also taught me to keep a bank of freelancers. I looked into our work culture, too. Exit interviews with the employees who left revealed that they wanted more learning opportunities. So I now take a greater role in making learning and development part of our company culture."
At each stage of the STAR model, career coach Michael Higgins  recommends that you:
- Be specific to engage and convince your interviewers
- Be concise to hold their attention for every question
- Finish on a positive note to leave a strong impression.
Prepping for Behavioral Interview Questions
Recruiters want to see beyond your resumé to understand how you have behaved in work situations. They're looking for a combination of knowledge, skills, and attributes. These usually fall under common competencies such as teamwork, leadership and decision-making.
You can use the STAR approach to turn your experiences into answers for almost any question that comes your way.
Following the tips below will give you a bank of answers you can turn to.
You'll find examples of typical questions in our article How to Answer Interview Questions.
- Update your CV/resumé using the STAR Method as a guide. This will enable you to create more compelling applications for future jobs, and then better articulate past achievements in an interview. Tell a story that illustrates how you put your training and experience to practical and effective use in the workplace
- Review the job description and match up your skill sets using the STAR framework, so that you can later illustrate them in the interview. You should also research the company and industry to which you're applying, to help predict the types of challenges they face. Where have you experienced and resolved similar issues?
- Look for the similarities between behavioral interview questions. The wording of questions may be different, but they will be looking for evidence of the same behaviors. For example, with some tweaking, you can apply the same STAR answer to: "Tell me about a time when you had to rely on a team to get things done," and "Think of a time when you worked effectively in a team situation."
- Practice your answers in front of a mirror or get a friend to interview you. That way, talking about your achievements will come more naturally. And you'll learn how to flex and adapt your bank of answers to fit almost any competency-based question.
- Be honest. Don't be tempted to use the STAR Technique dishonestly or to exaggerate your skill level. You'll come unstuck if you're hired and later called on to put those skills into practice.
The STAR Technique for Hiring Managers
Use the following tips to make best use of the STAR method if you are interviewing candidates:
- Match your questions to the role requirements. Spend time considering the competency level and behavioral skill set you want to see. The more specific you are, the more effective your STAR interview questions are likely to be.
- Take a balanced approach. Don't base too much of the interview around the STAR technique. Or you may end up clear about how the candidate might react in certain situations, but have little idea of who they are as an individual.
- Allow for nerves. If a candidate is struggling to answer a STAR interview question, don't be afraid to reframe it slightly. This can encourage them to get over their anxiety, and to better communicate their knowledge and experience.
Looking Beyond STAR Interviews
The ability to reflect on – and articulate – your successes is also useful outside of the interview room. For example:
- Self-reflection. Use the STAR method to help recognize your strengths and weaknesses anytime, to build your confidence and aid in plotting your career. Similarly, a Personal SWOT Analysis identifies opportunities and obstacles in your life, based on your talents. This can point your career in a direction that plays to your strengths and away from your weaknesses.
- Reframing negative thoughts into positive ones. The STAR approach can also be used to create affirmations. And studies by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the U.S.  support the idea that repeating positive statements about your successes will improve your outlook and build your resilience.
- Giving feedback. If you're a manager, coach or mentor, you can use the STAR technique to support people so they can recognize their strengths, boost their confidence and develop themselves.
Click on the image below to check out our STAR Treatment infographic:
The STAR Method (Situation, Task, Action and Result) is a framework to help you to prepare, reflect on, and answer behavioral interview questions effectively. It's not a tool to memorize "perfect answers." Rather, it's a skeleton key to unlock your strengths and experiences.
If you're a recruiter, understanding the method enables you to uncover the skills, behaviors and knowledge required for a particular role.
Use the STAR Technique at any time to help yourself (and others) to recognize strengths, build confidence and think more positively.
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