The ability to perform well in an interview is a skill that many people do not possess naturally, yet they are often the most important part of the hiring process.
Often candidates get caught out by questions that require them to answer with specific examples of skills, competencies and proficiencies. Knowing how to properly and thoroughly answer these sorts of questions could be the difference between you and another candidate landing the role.
Are you a good storyteller? Can you quickly and deftly explain your point with charm and charisma? Or do you get sidetracked, hung up on the small, irrelevant details? With the added stress of a job interview, most people can find themselves rambling instead of explaining their point.
This is where the Star method comes in, providing interviewees with a structured format with which to answer questions that require more detail and specific examples.
What is the STAR method?
The STAR method is an interview technique that provides you with a straightforward structure that lets you create a concise and easy-to-follow story that emphasises the difficult situation and the resolution.
Start your answer by explaining the context and background. For example, if the interviewer asks you to talk about a time you worked in a team, explain what project you worked on, who was in the team, and your location. However, be careful not to overexplain, there is no need to go over every small little detail about the company or the team; the interviewer wants to know about you.
Your goal here is to clearly explain the situation you were in, making sure the interviewer can understand the rest of your answer. Make sure your answer is clear and concise. Below is an example of a question that could be answered with the STAR method.
Example question: Can you tell us about a time you showed an ability to work as a team?
‘As part of the company’s marketing effort, me and a small team of five people were tasked with a website rebrand, hoping to increase web traffic.’
This is the part of your response where you can start to explain your own involvement, making sure that the interviewer understands what your role was in the situation. You do not need to explain exactly what you did, instead just highlight your specific responsibilities and any objectives you had.
This can often be confused with the ‘Action’ section of the STAR method. Be careful not to start explaining what you did, simply state what you aimed to do before you set out.
‘My task was to create eye-catching copy for each of the pages as well as item descriptions.’
Now that the interviewer understands the situation and what your role was within it, you can explain exactly what you did. What were the precise steps that you took to solve the problem or achieve the goal?
Make sure you resist the urge to be vague. This is the part of your story where you can give a detailed account of your actions and showcase your contribution. Don’t spare any details but also don’t exaggerate your role.
- Did you work within a team?
- What software did you use?
- Why did you choose a particular course of action?
‘I started by creating a list of pages, writing briefs for each of those pages then coordinating with a member of the team who was working on sourcing the images, making sure that the copy and images match up. Together we created a list of images to work alongside the copy I had written.’
Wrap up your answer by explaining the positive outcome of your actions, as well as any lessons you learnt along the way. Ideally, you should be able to quantify these results, e.g a 10% increase in sales, gaining a new client, or reducing workload for another team member.
Adding in any long-term effects of your actions will also reflect better on you, especially if it led to a long-term change within your company.
Remember, the person interviewing you wants to know why your actions mattered, not just what you did and how you did it. This is a crucial part of your answer that needs to be fully explained to make sure you get across your capabilities and skills.
While it is a good idea to keep the results positive, don’t be afraid to discuss any challenges or problems you encountered along the way. Make sure you focus on the lessons you learnt from these roadblocks, ending on a high note by talking about the steps you took to improve.
‘As a result of the website rebrand, web traffic increased by 10%. Upon surveying customers about the new website, one of the highlights for many was the copy.’
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What sort of questions need a STAR response?
Anyone who has ever been to a job interview will have come across questions that could be answered through the STAR Method. The STAR Method is used to answer questions that are asking about behaviours and skills, usually listed on the job description.
These questions need specific examples of your capabilities and are designed to get you thinking about how your past experience is relevant to the position you are applying for.
These questions will start with things like:
- Tell me about a time when…
- What do you do when…
- Give me an example of…
- Can you think of a time you showed…
The questions are designed to draw out your relevant experience, allowing you to demonstrate a time you showed a particular skill, ability or proficiency.
Some specific examples of questions:
- Tell me about a time when you showed an ability to handle conflicting priorities
- Give me an example of your team working skills
- Can you think of a time you showed initiative
Preparation is key
Interviews can be daunting and while the STAR method provides you with the right format, there are several other things you can do to ace your next interview.
The main thing is to properly prepare. You won’t be able to use the STAR method if you have not thought about your past experiences and how they link to the job advert. Make sure you read over the job description, keeping in mind what sort of skills they are looking for and how they link to your experiences.
After familiarising yourself with the job description, write down a few examples of your relevant experience. Having several examples to hand will allow you to answer any question no matter the phrasing, without having to panic. Be specific about the events, ensuring you don’t leave out any details. Do not embellish either, your interviewer will have done enough interviews to know when someone is lying.
When practising your answers, ensure that they have a beginning, a middle and an end. The point you are trying to make needs to be clear and easy to understand. Make sure that you describe the situation, task at hand, the action you took and the result.
As with any interview, communication is key when using the STAR method. Your answers have to be clearly understood, so talk slowly, look at your interviewer and stay focused.