This post was originally published on Career Step Up and has been republished with permission.
Interviews come naturally to some people who can string together the perfect answers right off the cuff and build rapport with any interviewer.
But if you’re a mere mortal, don’t despair — you may be able to reverse-engineer your path to interview success by following the STAR method.
If you’ve ever researched how to answer interview questions correctly, chances are that you’ve come across the framework already.
Whether you’re entirely new to the framework or an old-timer, here are seven things you must know about the STAR method to take your interviewing skills to the next level.
What is the STAR method?
If you’re clear on what the STAR method is already, feel free to skip this section — but if you’d like a refresher, hold on a second while we give you a quick breakdown.
STAR is an acronym that outlines the template you should follow when answering behavioral questions in an interview. It dictates that every answer should be structured as follows:
- Situation: The situation you found yourself in. Where were you working, who with, and when?
- Task: The task you were carrying out and the challenges you faced. Your challenges are tied to the next part.
- Action: The actions you took to overcome your challenges, including skills used, the approach you took, or how you interacted with others.
- Result: The impact your actions had. Were you successful at reaching your aim, and how did your activities contribute to that?
7 Things to Know About the STAR Method
Now that’s clear, let’s move on to how to make this tool as effective as possible and wield it to your advantage. Here are seven things that many job candidates miss when trying to use STAR.
You Don’t Need to Use it to Answer Every Question
The STAR method is crucial, but that doesn’t mean you must apply it whenever the interviewer asks a question.
Suppose your interviewer asks you what excites you about the company or your career journey so far.
In that case, you don’t need to form some mental gymnastics to get in an example of a time you demonstrated your communication skills in a teamwork project.
As mentioned, the STAR method applies to behavioral interview questions (sometimes called situational questions) — these focus on your actions in specific scenarios. They often start with phrases like:
- “Talk about a time when…”
- “Give an example of…”
- “Describe a situation in which…”
However, there’s no need to overthink things. It’s generally evident when you need to use the STAR method because the question will force you to hone in on a specific situation, which is your queue to use STAR.
The process isn’t about completely changing your typical answers.
It’s about framing your answers correctly, which is why skilled interviewees tend to apply the framework intuitively.
You May be Able to Predict the Questions Ahead of Time
Every candidate has the same worries before an interview: What questions will the interviewer ask?
While you’re unlikely to make a 100% perfect prediction, when it comes to situational questions, you can make an educated guess about what’s likely to come up.
That’s because companies tend to base situational questions on their values or a job’s requirements.
For instance, if a job description mentions that it’s looking for a self-starter to fill the role, there’s a reasonable chance you will need to name a time you’ve taken the initiative in a work environment.
Or maybe a company will say one of its core values is collaboration and ask you about a time you’ve worked with others to reach an outcome.
Just because a certain quality is mentioned, it’s no guarantee that you’ll be asked a question on the same topic.
However, it’s more likely to come up than something random with zero relation to the job description.
You Can Use the Same Stories for Different Questions
Based on what we’ve just said, you can make some reasonably serious headway toward prepping your interview answers by mapping out the values and qualities an employer is looking for and the experiences you have that demonstrate them.
Even better, you may be able to come up with some broad examples that would fit various similar questions.
For example, if there was a time you worked in a team could also be tweaked to become a STAR answer; It would be an example of using communication to solve a problem or when you had to deal with a difficult colleague.
Once you come up with half a dozen versatile examples, you’ll find that you’re prepared to answer just about any question.
It’s Essential to be Specific About the Results
The STAR framework might sound foolproof enough to follow, but many people trip up over the last part, especially: Outlining the results they’ve achieved.
It can be uncomfortable to boast about your successes, and it can be tough to pinpoint the exact results of something that happened a while back.
However, it’s essential to be as specific as possible and quantify your results if possible.
Specificity will reassure the interviewer that your story is accurate and that you’re not embellishing the truth to make it fit your narrative.
Many people skim their results by saying something vague like “and then we completed the task” or “my manager was happy with the outcome.”
But this feels like an awkward ending you’ve pulled together because you couldn’t think of anything else to mention.
Wouldn’t it sound so much better to say that your suggestion in a meeting convinced your manager to introduce a new system or that your presentation helped to close a big deal?
Such an example is easier for some situations than others, so you may sometimes have to think outside the box.
Some Parts are More Important Than Others
The four letters that makeup “STAR” might bear equal weight in the word, but that doesn’t mean you should give them equal weight when you’re giving your answer.
There’s no need to give more than a sentence or two to explain your situation.
It’s helpful to paint a brief picture that you were working on a consulting project for McKinsey, but it’s unnecessary to explain which city you were working in, who the client was, or outline the brief in detail.
The same goes for the task.
In most cases, you should generally focus on your action since this is your chance to showcase your skills and what you can offer a company.
Not providing enough information makes it seem like you’re lying or were in a situation but didn’t do anything useful.
Improve Your Delivery Skills, Not Your Memory
Since we’ve advised you to prepare your answers and guess questions ahead of time if you can, it may be tempting to try and memorize your entire answers.
However, it’s best to avoid this for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, doing so risks making you sound too robotic, and the interviewer will probably cotton on to what you’re doing.
Secondly, although you may be able to make a rough guess about which topics will come up, there’s still plenty of room for variation.
Tightening your answers too much prevents you from adequately adapting to the question.
If you prepare one polished answer about a time you worked in a team and you get asked to outline how you’ve dealt with conflict in a group, there could be an issue.
But as long as you know how to deliver a good answer and prepare your primary points, you should have little reason to worry.
It’s Okay to Pause
If you’ve prepared for behavioral questions, you should have multiple stories up your sleeve, ready to roll out when asked questions.
But when we’re under pressure, we sometimes make impulsive decisions — a question might immediately make you think of a story that isn’t necessarily the most suited.
To avoid this situation, allow yourself a moment to pause and think about the example you’re going to give. It might feel unnatural at first, but it always pays off.
Ready to be a Star Method Employee?
Using the STAR method correctly won’t guarantee you the job of your dreams, but it will undoubtedly increase your chances of landing it.
However, make sure you miss out on some common misunderstandings or misapplications by following the advice outlined here.
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