How to Use the STAR Method
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Quite often, recruiters will draw their questions from behavioural interview questions to determine whether you are the right candidate for the vacancy and their company. You might be stumped when you get those questions but you need not be. A technique has been developed over the years to help job seekers come out on top when faced with behavioural questions. The technique is the STAR method. This method will help you prepare clear and concise responses using real-life examples.
In this article, we discuss what you need to know about the method.
What is the STAR method?
The STAR method is a structured manner of responding to an interview question by discussing the specific situation, task, action, and result of the situation you are describing. Thus in a STAR method, you have four components:
- Situation: Set the scene, you describe the situation, example or task that you want to use. For best results, your example must be a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from your education, previous job, a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.
Task: Here you describe the goal you were working toward or your responsibility/duty
- Action: This involves you describing the steps or actions that you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail. The star of the story is you so you must keep the focus on your actions. Thus you should be careful that you don’t describe what the team or group did when talking about a project, but what you did. Use the word “I,” not “we” when describing actions.
- Result: Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be too humble about taking credit for your behaviour. Shining light on your achieved outcomes may be the difference between you getting the job and not getting the job. Tell the interviewer what happened, how the event ended, what you accomplished and what you learnt. Even when the outcome was negative put a positive spin to it by telling the interviewer what you learnt or will change when faced with a similar task in the future.
By using these four components to tell your story, it’s much easier to share a focused answer, winning the interviewer over to your side – everyone loves a story, it just depends on if it’s a good story. Applying the STAR method will help the interviewer to get a glimpse into your past experiences and make it easier for them to determine if and how well you’ll fit into the role and company.
What Questions is the STAR method used for?
The STAR method can be used to answer pretty much any question in life where you need to tell a story but in the employment world, it’s used for mainly behavioural interview questions. But you might ask what behavioural interview questions are. Behavioural interview questions are questions based on how you acted in a specific situation. They’re meant to gauge how you react to stress, what’s your skill level, and how you conduct yourself in a professional environment.
Thus to know when you need to use the STAR method you’ll have to listen to questions that call you to provide a real-life example of how you handled a certain kind of situation in the past. Examples of behavioural-based questions might be:
- Can you tell us of a time when you went above and beyond the line of duty?
- Give me an example of a goal you failed to meet,
- How do you handle failure
- What do you do when
- Tell us of a time when you took a risky decision and it didn’t pay off.
- Give me an example of
- Describe a situation
- How do you handle pressure at work or school?
- Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.
When faced with these questions, the STAR method calls you to think of a great framework/story that you can apply to the question. Think about the question like an exam question and the STAR method as the best answer you’d provide to an exam question.
How do you use the STAR method?
Here we offer a step-by-step process to give the best STAR interview answers.
Provide the Situation
When facing a question about a job that you want it is understandable to get nervous but you must overcome these nerves to take the important first step to success. The first step is to describe a specific situation without including irrelevant information or rambling on and on.
Thus your goal here is to paint a clear picture of the situation you were in, so the interviewer can easily follow anything that comes after you have set the situation. Consequently, if you find the interviewer nodding off because of your answer your situation might be too long. Aim to keep things concise and focus on what’s undeniably relevant to your story and the interview question you’re answering. Just keep it simple. Three sentences can be spent setting up your situation. You can draw your answers from academic projects, work experience or volunteer work. Examples:
- “Advertising revenue was falling off for my college newspaper, The Review, and large numbers of long-term advertisers were not renewing contracts.”
- “In my previous digital marketing role, my company decided to focus primarily on email marketing and was looking to increase their list of email subscribers pretty aggressively.”
A lot of the time students may get confused between the story and the task. The task section of STAR is where you describe your duty, responsibility, involvement or role in the situation you have set earlier on. This is where the interviewer can start seeing your involvement in the picture you are painting. Do not describe your actions yet. Examples:
- “As the email marketing manager, my target was to increase the size of our email list by at least 50% in just one quarter.”
- “My goal was to generate new ideas, materials and incentives that would result in at least a 15% increase in advertisers from the year before.”
Provide your Actions
This section should always come after the task section and such should not be confused with the earlier step. This portion has to do with you explaining what you did, and the steps that you took to accomplish the role assigned to you in the task part. This is the meat of the STAR method. This is where your answer could either be made or marred.
Your answer must be specific; you must resist the urge to give vague answers. Here you are free to provide as many relevant details as possible because your answer will determine if you are fit for the role. Identify and discuss a few of the most impactful steps you took to find success.
Furthermore, do not be dragged into the trap of using “we”, even if the situation was a team effort, use “I”. Your answer should be all about you here. Your team is not the one being interviewed. If you think your situation is leaning towards your team choose a different example. Example:
- “I started by going back through our old blog posts and adding in content upgrades that incentivized email subscriptions—which immediately gave our list a boost. Next, I worked with the rest of the marketing team to plan and host a webinar that required an email address to register, which funnelled more interested users into our list.”
Give the Results
This last part has to do with you sharing the outcome of your actions. This is also an important part of your response to focus on. This is your time to shine and explain how you made a difference in the situation you gave. Some believe that this is the most important portion of the method.
Provide the most powerful results that came about your actions. If there were long-term effects as a result of your brilliant actions include them. If your actions can be quantified, do not hesitate to quantify them – as numbers always make an impact on a recruiter. In addition, discuss what you learned, how you grew and why you’re a stronger employee because of the experience. This will be useful when the results have resulted in a negative outcome. Examples:
- “As a result, the transfer was completed two weeks ahead of the deadline and I finished the quarter 10% ahead of my sales goal. The new CRM has also helped us get more organized as a team, and overall our department sales are up 25% year over year.”
- “We signed contracts with 15 former advertisers for daily ads and five for special supplements. We increased our new advertisers by 20 per cent over the same period last year.”
Tips on how to get good at using the STAR method to answer questions
Ahead of your interview, use the following tips to get comfortable with being able to apply the STAR method to any question that calls for it.
- Review the job description that you have applied for. One of the purposes of a job description is to show you what skills the recruiter is looking for in an ideal candidate. As a result, you’ll be able to have an idea of stories in your life that emphasize them.
- Review common behavioural interview questions that you’ll be asked. In most interviews that you’ll face, behavioural questions will be asked so why not have an idea of them?
- As a result of going through the job description, you should be able to identify situations that show favourable behaviours or actions, especially involving coursework, projects, work experience, leadership, teamwork, initiative, planning, and so on.
- When you have identified them you should prepare short descriptions of each situation – you can even take them to the site of the interview.
- Practice how to tell a story. Before the interview, you should practice your stories.
- Endeavour to make sure that the story you pick has a beginning, middle, and end. That is, the situation, the task, your action, and the outcome or result must all be present.
- The outcome or result should reflect positively on you even if the result itself was not favourable.
8 Be honest. Don’t embellish or omit any part of the story. The interviewer will find out if your story is built on a weak foundation.
9 Be specific. Don’t generalize about several events; give a detailed accounting of one event. • Vary your examples; don’t take them all from just one area of your life.
- During the interview don’t rush yourself, take your time, calm down and deliver your responses.
The STAR interview method might seem a bit difficult at first but with practice, it can become second nature.
Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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