You've scored an interview for a great job, and you know you have what it takes to perform in the role. Now you just need to prove it to the interviewer! If you tend to waffle when under pressure or freeze up when faced with an unexpected question, the STAR method can help. Even if you already perform well in interviews, STAR is a handy method to be aware of and to ensure your responses are tightly focused.
What Is the STAR Method?
STAR is a method to plan your responses to behavioural interview questions. These questions are now the norm in job interviews and are a way for the employer to work out how your previous experience has prepared you for the role on offer. They tend to start with something like:
"Tell me about a time when..."
"Describe a situation where you..."
"Can you give me an example of a time you..."
They're challenging, but they are your opportunity to shine and stand out from the other candidates when answered well. The STAR method helps you stay on point. It is one of the simplest and most effective ways to communicate in a behavioural interview, based on three simple components:
Why Is It an Effective Way to Answer a Question?
The STAR acronym is easy to remember, and keeping it in mind can help you give a well-structured and comprehensive answer every time. Under nerve-wracking circumstances, it's common to start rambling and not know when to stop. Having a clear structure to follow in your mind can avoid this issue, and make your responses concise and informative, helping both you and the interviewer.
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How Can I Prepare My STAR Responses if I Don't Know the Questions in Advance?
You don't know your interviewer's exact questions, and there might be an odd curveball. However, it's possible to work out some likely themes and prepare with a few solid responses.
Take a close look at the job description and the list of skills required. Then, think of times in your current or past roles where you have demonstrated these skills. Put a STAR response together for each of these examples – what the situation or task was, what actions you took, and the result. Once you have these responses prepared, you'd be surprised how flexible they can be. For example, if you've prepared a STAR response to demonstrate leadership skills and get a question about a time when you've shown initiative, your prepared response could likely work well for either.
That said, don't try to force a prepared response in if it doesn't address what you're being asked. An interviewer could see this as a lack of flexible thinking. If a question comes up that you weren't expecting, don't be afraid to take your time and think before responding, keeping your STAR structure in mind. Interviewers would far rather you take a bit longer to give a thoughtful response than rush to present a meaningless answer. Take a breath and gather your thoughts!
What if They Ask About a Time I've Failed?
"Tell me about a time you failed" is a common interview question, and it's wise to have an example up your sleeve for this one. Luckily the STAR method takes this into account with the STAR/AR method. STAR/AR repeats the action and result process, so you can talk about a time that your activity led to an unsuccessful result, but how you turned this around by taking an alternative action with better results. This way, you are honest about what went wrong but keep the answer positive and show that things worked out in the end.
STAR Response Examples
Here are a couple of examples of STAR responses to common behavioural questions:
"Tell me about a time you had to have a challenging conversation."
Situation/Task: In my last role, I had to take over a project that was not going well. The previous project manager had walked, and there was no in-person handover, so I had to pick things up as best I could. In my first meeting with the client, she was angry and told me in detail about all the project's failings so far.
Action: I stayed calm and listened carefully to the client, asking further questions about each issue she raised so I could get a detailed picture of what had gone wrong and how it could be put right.
Result: The client calmed down, and we could have a productive conversation about the best way forward. We put together a plan of action to solve the issues and get the project back on track. I committed to carrying out this plan and kept the client well informed at every stage, winning back her trust.
"Tell me about a time you had to make a decision quickly."
Situation/Task: My boss was out of the office on a retreat. While he was absent, a piece of software the company was reliant on broke, and I had to decide whether to fix the existing software or build something new from scratch.
Action: I discussed this with my colleagues, and we agreed that a quick fix would still leave us vulnerable to future problems. Since building something new would only take a day or two longer, we decided to spend that extra time getting a good, future-proof result.
Result: The new piece of software was a significant improvement, and the functionality issues were resolved. When my boss returned, he was delighted with the initiative I'd shown and the positive result.
Where Can I Go to Find Out More?
Here's a great video explaining the STAR method further. Careers New Zealand's Job Hunters ToolKit also includes some valuable tips on using the STAR method, in addition to other handy resources.