Your actions and results define who you are in other people’s eyes, and being able to tell people about yourself through stories which put you in a good light is an extremely powerful way to show your value. Becoming an expert in short structured story telling is the best way to answer competency based and behavioral interview questions. The STAR Method is the easiest way to get it right under pressure.
Level 1 – The Basics of the STAR Model
Then STAR Story model contains these parts in order.
- Situation: Open with a brief description of the Situation and context of the story (who, what, where, when, how).
- Task: Explain the Task you had to complete highlighting any specific challenges or constraint (eg deadlines, costs, other issues).
- Action: Describe the specific Actions that you took to complete the task. These should highlight desirable traits without needing to state them (initiative, intelligence, dedication, leadership, understanding, etc.)
- Result: Close with the result of your efforts. Include figures to quantify the result if possible.
Level 2 – When to use the STAR Method.
The STAR method is perfect for answering certain behavioral and competency based interview questions. Some companies even tell you that they use the STAR interview process so you can prepare. Typically the STAR interview questions will be open questions (Ie. requiring more than just a ‘Yes’, ‘No’, numerical or single word response) where the interviewer indicates that a description of an event would be a good way to answer. Common interview questions asking for a STAR answer will start …
STAR Interview question: Possible STAR answer:
Give me an example where you … Yes, one time I …
Describe a time/project where … On project XYZ, I …
Tell me about a time/situation/project when … Recently I …
Describe the most interesting/difficult/rewarding … I was … when
Sometimes, closed interview questions which could be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are good to answer using the STAR technique. For example questions starting “Did you ever …” are also often good to answer using the STAR process especially if you feel the interviewer is not just looking for a yes or no answer or if there is a level of skill that you can demonstrate better by describing a situation or problem you solved.
Level 3 – Constructing the Story
Think of a situation which have highlighted your skills and good qualities. Usually these will be situations where you achieved something special and ideally where the result was significant and measurable. The following questions may help:
- Have you ever helped meet a tight deadline?
- Have you ever received an award for your efforts?
- Have you ever over-achieved a special target of some kind (sales/production/etc.)?
- Have you ever helped someone get through a problem?
- Have you ever helped increase/decrease a desirable business metric (eg increase sales/profit/production/customer retention or decrease costs/errors/etc)?
Now describe what happened in the situation going through each of the STAR sections in order of Situation, Task, Action and Resultt. If it helps, you might like to start by using the following prompts to keep the structure.
One time I …
Just last month I had a situation where …
It was … and …
Tip: Just tell the relevant facts around when it was, who was there, where it happened, how it had come to this point.
So what we had to do was …
In order to fix … we had to …
We wanted to achieve … so we needed to ….
Tip: People like measurable things, so include anything which is measurable like size of an order, beating a deadline, etc. Any kind of special issue or constraint is good to include here.
What I did was …
So I …
Tip: Describe your actions. You don’t want to make the person you are talking to feel like they should be hiring another hero …
In the end we … [achieved great result as measured by]
We met the deadline and …
After that I received an award for …
… and reduced XYZ [eg costs/errors/rework/time required/etc.] by X [percent/dollars/hours/etc.]
… and increased XYZ [eg profit/sales/output/etc.] by X [percent/dollars/hours/etc.]
Tip: Avoid subjectivity. This is the point most people make a mistake on. The person listening wants to hear a specific, measurable result, not something which you think was good.
Level 4 – Demonstrating Value
Tying the need from the Task tightly to the Actions you took and the Results you achieved will demonstrate your value. It should also be tied together in a way which demonstrates desirable character traits in you which will fit well into the role. It comes back to clearly and quickly understanding what character traits the interviewer is looking for and highlighting them in your story.
It is also important to remain positive. Never put previous companies or other people down because your job is to position yourself in a good light. If you have weak characters in your stories, you will inadvertently be comparing yourself to weak people. It is much better to be positive about other people in your stories and when you describe your contribution, you will really shine.
STAR technique example: If the interviewer is looking for someone who is dedicated you might say -
One time, we had many requests for customer follow-ups after a conference where our company had a stand [Situation]. Because one of our team was sick, we had a large backlog and customers were complaining that we were taking too long to get back to them [Task with Issue]. What I realized was some of the customers we ok for a follow-up on the weekend, so I got one of the other team members to ring the whole list and setup appointments first requesting a weekend time if possible then worked on the weekend to clear the backlog [Action]. We cleared the list and we ended up acquiring 10 new customers and sales of $50,000 [Result-Measurable].Final word – Be yourself, be positive, be honest.
Remember, practice make perfect, but while you are practicing, don’t try to learn your story like learning lines. Do you preparation and have the possible ideas ready, then listen to the question and answer honestly. Be yourself and deliver your story professionally and positively knowing that if they are looking for your skills then you will be putting yourself in the best light possible through using the STAR Method.