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How to leverage the STAR interview method to land your dream job

How to leverage the STAR interview method to land your dream job

Artwork by: Katya Simacheva

  • What is the STAR method and how does it impact job interviews?
  • The power of storytelling in job interviews
  • Interview questions that can be answered via the STAR method 
  • STAR interview preparation tips
  • Create a situation
  • Identify the task
  • Describe the action
  • Elaborate on the result
  • Common mistakes and how to avoid them
  • Providing insufficient details
  • Focusing on the wrong story
  • Failing to focus on the bottom line
  • Key takeaways

So, you’ve applied for a job, your resume has made it past the applicant tracking system, and you have received an interview call. Great! But how will you stand out among all other job applicants, put your best foot forward during the interview, and prove to be the rockstar new hire your (prospective) employer is looking for? Well, the answer lies in the STAR interview method.

Here’s what we’ll cover in our latest blog post:

  • A brief introduction to the STAR methodology and what it means

  • Typical job-specific behavioral questions that require the STAR technique

  • Tips on preparing for interview questions involving behavioral questions

  • Common interview mistakes and how to avoid them

What is the STAR method and how does it impact job interviews?

STAR is the abbreviation for situation, task, action, and result.

The STAR method is a widely used technique to respond to behavioral questions during a job interview. It involves a storytelling approach where you must explain the specific situation to the interviewer, your responsibilities in that situation, the course of action you took during that situation, and the results yielded by your actions.  

Over the past several years, more and more employers (think Amazon, Microsoft, and Google) have been relying on the STAR interview method to evaluate a job applicant’s aptitude and suitability for the job. The STAR technique is similar to the SOARA method (situation, objective, action, results, aftermath). Some organizations also refer to STAR as STARR, where the final letter denotes reflection.

The STAR approach helps employers learn more about candidates and how they would react in specific situations based on their previous experiences. It also enables job applicants to provide a holistic insight into their crucial soft skills, such as leadership, team building, crisis management, and strategic planning.

When responding to behavioral questions during the interview, such as Tell us about a situation where there was a conflict within your team and what did you do to mitigate the situation, here’s how you can apply the STAR method.

  • Situation: Briefly describe the situation at your existing job or a previous job.

  • Task: Explain to the employer what your key responsibilities during that situation were. What did you do? What was your role in that situation?

  • Action: Describe the actions you took to manage the situation. 

  • Result: Explain how your actions allowed you to achieve the desired (positive) results.

Your response to these questions will add some zing to your job application and make the interviewer think to themselves, “We should definitely hire this person!”  

The power of storytelling in job interviews

According to research at Stanford University, people are likely to remember compelling stories 22 times more than facts and statistics. When a story is combined with data, it is likely to influence the listener and move them both emotionally and intellectually. 

Think about it, you’re more likely to remember a scary campfire story from your childhood than your company’s overall growth during last year’s Q4!

Whenever you share a story, your objective is to take the listener on a journey and reshape their perspective along the way. In this manner, storytelling is one of the best tools for building confidence in your abilities and convincing the listener of your viewpoint. 

 The STAR interview method allows you to connect with the interviewer and organization by sharing stories in a systematic manner. Clean and concise anecdotes from your professional life are sure to convince the interviewer that you’re the right candidate for the job. These stories also help you interact with the interviewer on a more personal level, which makes them at ease during the interview process.

Interview questions that can be answered via the STAR method 

During a job interview, you’re likely to apply the STAR method to the following questions:

  • Have you faced an ethical dilemma, and what did you do to manage it?

  • Did you ever have to complete multiple projects on a tight deadline?

  • What would you do if one of your team members does not perform well?

  • How would you handle insubordination (or a stressful situation) at work?

  • When disagreeing with your supervisor on a critical task, what would you do?

  • Can you describe a situation at work that best showcases your leadership skills?

  • If a co-worker is being hostile , how would you handle the situation?

The above-mentioned list is not comprehensive, but it does provide insight into the type of behavioral questions your interviewer might ask you. Generally, these questions focus on transferable skills.

STAR interview preparation tips

Now that you have a clear idea of what the STAR interview method is all about, let’s look at some of the ways you can leverage this technique to your advantage.

Create a situation

Begin your answer to the question by providing the interviewer with some context around the situation you encountered. Make sure not to delve too much into the detail and keep your sentences short. When applying the STAR approach to an interview, the bulk of your answer should focus on the action and result.

The situation you select must clearly demonstrate the capability the interviewer is looking for, and it must be complex enough to create a case in your favor. For instance, if you’re interviewing for a senior management position, you should consider talking about a high-risk situation that best demonstrated your skills.

For example, if the interviewer wants to know about a situation where you achieved a challenging goal, your situation could be something along the lines of “In my previous role as a Sales Executive, our company decided to cold call leads in a new territory as part of their expansion efforts.”

Identify the task

After setting a tone for your story, the next phase of the STAR interview method is to make yourself the protagonist. You’ll need to explain to the interviewer how you fit into the situation and why this story is about you.

Unlike the action portion of the STAR method, the task portion focuses on your specific responsibilities with respect to the situation under discussion. It’s like when you’re drafting your resume for a particular job role, and you want your job duties and achievements to align with that job role.

Continuing the example from above, for the task portion, you could say, “As a Sales Executive, my target was to close 25% of the leads during the first two quarters of the previous fiscal year.”

Describe the action

After explaining the situation and your responsibilities, you’re now ready to explain the steps you took to address the challenge. When explaining the action, try to be as detailed as possible and avoid using cliched sentences. For example, “I worked really hard to close the deal.” Talk about your strategy: What skills and resources did you use? What was your game plan here?

An example could be, “I helped the marketing department create a buyer persona, and then design a sales playbook. Next, I cold-called the leads and leveraged a consultative selling approach to identify their pain points and explain how our services would benefit them. Based on their responses, I recommended the appropriate services and identified any opportunities to upsell add-ons. Finally, I designed a ticket triage system that allowed our Senior Account Executives to keep track of conversions and perform quality assurance on all sales calls to ensure we’re complying with our organization’s mission and values.”

Elaborate on the result

Now that you’ve moved to the final aspect of storytelling, it’s time to talk numbers. Share the results of your actions with the interviewer and how they made a significant impact on your organization. Focus on the positives and describe the long-term impact of your actions. 

To conclude our example, “As a result of the new sales and email scripts I designed, we were able to convert 150 leads into customers during the first quarter, which enabled the organization to achieve 140% of its projected revenue for that time period.” 

Common mistakes and how to avoid them

Since the STAR interview method relies on storytelling and effective communication, there’s a risk that your story isn’t relevant or convincing enough or there are other barriers to communication. When preparing for behavioral questions for an interview, try to avoid the following mistakes:

Providing insufficient details

The interview process can be stressful, and this is one of the biggest reasons why several job applicants rush into the story without thinking about how the story will end. When this happens, they often fail to mention details that establish their core competencies for the job. In this case, the interviewer will have to spend extra time corroborating your story, which can be quite irksome for them.

The best way to avoid this mistake is to spend more time preparing for the interview. Research the company, think of the different scenario-based questions they’re likely to ask and write and practice your answers to those questions before the interview. Remember, the key is to keep the situation and task short, and the action and results detailed. 

Focusing on the wrong story

Not every story goes on to become a bestseller, and the same holds true for the STAR method. When creating a situation, spend some time performing a quality check. Pay close attention to the relevance of the story and its outcome and compare them with the behavioral question on hand.

In many cases, job applicants add irrelevant facts to a story or go on a separate tangent that does not add any value to the outcome. To avoid this pitfall, make sure the story you want to share relates to the behavioral question and is backed by provable results. 

Failing to focus on the bottom line

The objective of behavior-based interview questions is to assess whether the job applicant can make an impact on the business. This holds true for all types of jobs, ranging from entry-level administrative work to C-suite roles. In the absence of concrete results, even a well-rounded story is likely to fall flat on its face and reduce your chances of landing your dream job.

When you approach the results part of the STAR method, try to talk about how your actions impacted the organization, not just your specific department or job role. Again, it doesn’t have to be grand, but it should be realistic with respect to the job role you’re interested in. After all, if you’re applying for a mid-level managerial position, the interviewer is not expecting you to list achievements at par with the CEO of a company!

Key takeaways

Preparing for STAR interview questions involves lots of consideration and practice, but it pays off in the long run (since you have a workable template every single time). When it comes to harnessing the power of storytelling for interviews, your stories should be clear, relatable, impressive, believable, and backed by facts and statistics. 

Here’s what you need to do for your next job interview:

  1. Review the job description in detail, focus on the transferable skills, and think of the different behavioral questions that can be prepared based on those skills.

  2. Create short descriptions for all situations and make sure your stories have an introduction, main body, and favorable outcome.

  3. Focus on your previous achievements and talk about verifiable and believable results that align with the job role you’re applying to.

  4. Practice your answers as much as you can so that the interview experience does not overwhelm you and make you go off track with your story.

  5. Be honest during your conversations, remove any vagueness and ambiguity from your content, and try to cliche statements as much as possible.

If you have an upcoming job interview, best of luck! Make sure to incorporate the STAR interview method in your interview practice for a favorable outcome.

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