Getting to the interview stage in your job search is exciting after weeks or months of networking, reviewing job listings, and submitting resumes. Now, you’re that much closer to landing the job you want, but there are still a few crucial steps left.
To ensure you put your best foot forward during the interview and maximize your odds of getting a job offer, it’s imperative to prepare well for your interview. Using the STAR interview method can set you up for success, whether it’s your first interview or your tenth. In this article we describe what the STAR method is, when and how to use it in an interview, and provide useful examples to get you started with your own preparation.
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The STAR method is a job interview technique that helps you structure responses clearly and succinctly in a storytelling format. It neatly packages each response in a compelling way using personal examples to showcase your skills, professional experience, and qualifications. The storytelling component is important because people find stories more engaging and memorable than simple explanations or sharing of facts. This helps keep your interviewers engaged and increases the odds that they’ll remember you (and your responses) in a positive light.
There are a few variations of the STAR method, including STARS (situation, task, action, result, skills) or START (situation, task, action, result, takeaway) or CAR (context/challenge, action, result).
The STAR method offers several advantages in how you prepare for a job interview, and perform in one. Here we outline the main benefits:
The STAR method is used to answer behavioural questions, which are common in interviews. They are designed to ask about your past actions in a certain situation.
Some common behavioural questions asked in interviews are:
Tip: You can even use the STAR method to showcase achievements when you craft your resume. Use the four steps to define what you want to write for each bullet point, then incorporate into one powerful sentence or point.
Although it may initially seem daunting to come up with real life examples for every answer, the formula is actually quite simple once you get used to it. The entire response should be no longer than two to three minutes, so keep that in mind while practicing. Here’s how it all comes together:
In one or two sentences, set the scene for your story. Describe the situation with a little bit of background so the interviewer understands the context of the example you’re about to share. Don’t provide too much detail—get to the point quickly. As a recent grad, you may have little or no work experience yet, so you can use examples from school, part-time work, volunteering, or internships.
During the summer, I worked as an office assistant at a tech start-up that developed apps for small businesses. I noticed their social media accounts were rarely updated because the staff were too busy to do it.
Describe your task—whether it was allocated to you or you took the initiative—in one or two sentences.
I offered to take on the task of posting on their social media channels to help drive traffic to their website and increase their followers.
Showcase what you did to fulfill the task, including the skills you used to achieve your goal.
I devised a well thought out social media plan that outlined the company’s brand and target audience, then researched social media scheduling apps and selected the best one for the company based on price and usage requirements. I then set up a weekly publishing schedule that included their blog posts, design tips, testimonials from existing clients, as well as behind-the-scenes photos from the office.
Highlight how you created a positive impact and, where possible, provide measurable results.
By the end of summer, the company’s followers increased by 25 per cent on Instagram and 20 per cent on Facebook and were getting regular comments and shares. In that two-month period, almost 10 per cent of their website traffic came through social media, up from almost zero. I was also asked to continue working part-time as a social media coordinator through the school year because they were so happy with my work.
Here are some additional examples of STAR responses:
Describe a time you failed at something and how you handled it.
In my first year of university, I really struggled academically. I barely scraped by in two courses and if I did not make some changes immediately, I would fail. That summer, I reflected on how I was going to move forward in the fall. Did I want to give up and drop out of the engineering program? Or was I ready to really commit to school? I realized I truly wanted to become an engineer but had to take my studies more seriously to succeed. I knew I could do better. My second year, I developed an effective method for taking notes and studying. I resigned from two of the four student clubs I had been part of and, instead, joined study groups for my toughest courses. I wrote down my goal at the start of the year to achieve at least 80 in every course. That year, I earned an 84 average, and my marks increased each subsequent year. I graduated from my engineering program this year with a 4.1 GPA, which is a 90 average.
Give me an example of a situation in which you had a conflict with someone.
For two summers, I ran a paint business where I quoted on and fulfilled jobs painting house exteriors. One customer was irate because he claimed the paint job was poorly done, and refused to pay for the work. I had already inspected my crew’s work and found it was done well, but I knew arguing with the customer would not change his mind. I explained that I would do whatever was necessary to ensure he was satisfied with the work and asked him to show me exactly where he was dissatisfied with the job. This response immediately decreased his frustration, and it turned out he was unhappy with only two parts of the home, not the entire paint job. I offered to send a new crew out to repaint those sections. He agreed and was happy with the results once it was done. He even sent me two referrals that summer!
The STAR method can help simplify your interview prep thanks to its consistent structure. Be sure you have a good idea of what common interview questions may be asked and plan a response for each. Here are some useful tips to get started, and prepare answers using the STAR method.
As you grow more comfortable coming up with answers using the STAR method, you’ll likely discover there are ways to help ensure you really excel in your interview responses. Here are some useful tips that you can put to use immediately to flatten your learning curve on using the STAR method:
Talk in a conversational manner: During an interview, you don’t want to sound too rehearsed. Not only does this make it harder for you to prepare (because you need to memorize your responses), it can come across as awkward and inauthentic. Try to get your points across in a conversational way. This is one of the balancing acts of job interviews—not too formal, but not too casual, either.
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