How to master the STAR interview technique?

According to recruitment experts (or anyone who has ever sat in an interview), past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. 

This means that most interviewers will ask behavioural (AKA competency or skills based) questions. 

In short, they want to hear an example of something that happened to determine how you’d act in a similar situation in your next job.

Here are some examples of those types of questions. 

  • Give me an example of a time when you had to lead a group of people to deliver to a strict timeline.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to analyse complex data.
  • When did you have to adapt to new ways of working?

The list is endless…

Answering those questions can be difficult if you’re not prepared as you can either give them a one word answer or keep rambling on for far too long.

An experienced interviewer may probe or help you get back on track but a novice will just take your answer for what it is and fail you for not fully answering the question.

You don’t want that, do you?

To avoid giving answers that will cost you the job, you need to tell your story in a structured way by using the STAR technique.

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. 

It’s a method you can use to build your answer to make it easy for the interviewer to visualise and understand what you’re talking about.

It’s not a miracle technique, the content of the answer is up to you but the answer will give them the information they need to make an informed decision about you. 

How does it work?

You have to construct your example and deliver your story in this order:

  1. Situation: Describe the context briefly. When was it? Where were you working? With who?
  2. Task: What was your job? What did you have to deliver? Clearly explain your objective by using active words (I was responsible for, I was in charge of, I managed…)
  3. Action: What specific steps did you take to achieve your goal? They don’t want to hear everything so focus on the most important things you did. As a rule of thumbs I’d say about three to five actions is good.
  4. Result: What was the outcome? What happened at the end? If the outcome was positive, great! Quantify it if you can or talk about the feedback you received. If not, it’s ok. Talk about what you’ve learnt and what you’d do differently next time.

Want an example?

Ok. Let’s say you’re applying for a Project Manager type role and the interviewer asks you:

Can you describe a time when you were under a lot of pressure to deliver?

Now, you’ve got 3 options:

Give A One Word Answer Go On A TangentUse The STAR Model
Yes, in my role I always work under a lot of pressure.

[Awkward silence]
When I worked on the implementation of the new financial approval process everyone was too busy to attend my meetings.
One of my stakeholders even decided to take an impromptu holiday in the middle of the project.
They went to Thailand for two weeks.
I heard it’s very nice there but it was not a good time to go.

[Start talking about the best time of the year to go on holiday to Thailand]

And then the sponsor decided to implement the new Expenses system a week earlier.
The new approval process was supposed to be launched in time for the new system so I had to re plan everything.

[Talk about every project task and when it was re scheduled to]

In the end we managed but it put me under a lot of pressure.
This happened a lot when I worked for ABC. 
[Situation] I worked as a project executive for ABC and was responsible for the putting in place of a new financial approval process.It  had to be ready for the implementation of the new Expenses system. Half way through the project, the sponsor brought the system implementation forward by one week. 
[Task] I had less than a month to get the new process signed off and functional in time for the new system.
[Action] So I replanned all the key activities and engaged with project stakeholders. Everyone was too busy with the system implementation to spend time on the approval process so I reached out to the project’s sponsor to get his support. We agreed with the sponsor and each project member that we would dedicate one hour per day to get the process in place.
[Result] Thanks to the new approach, I managed to get the approval process signed off 2 weeks before the system arrived. 

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