Advertisements for mutual funds and other investment products usually include the legal boilerplate statement that “past performance is not a guarantee of future results.” When it comes to interviewing and hiring new employees, the opposite is true. The candidate’s past experiences and the insight derived from them are key evidence of the future contributions that the employee will make. Contemporary interviewing practices increasingly include the use of the behavioral interview technique. A wise job candidate will prepare for the likelihood of such an interview by employing the STAR method.
[READ: How to Interview Your New Boss.]
What Is the STAR Interview Method?
The STAR method is described by an acronym to organize an answer to open-ended behavioral interview questions. The letters stand for situation, task, action and results.
Most of these behavioral questions begin with a statement like:
— “Tell me about a time when you had to manage a team.”
— “Describe a time when you had to discipline an employee.”
— “Tell me about an analytical project where you made a difference.”
These questions refer to the candidate’s professional past but only as far as the answer sheds light on future actions. An unprepared applicant will have trouble thinking of an effective situation that can be used as an answer on the spot. A smart job seeker will have anticipated the questions and prepared accordingly. Then, using the STAR method, the candidate can give an answer that is responsive, persuasive and impressive.
How Do I Prepare for a STAR Interview?
Every job candidate should know their professional background inside and out. The candidate must also know what is required for the job and how and why they are a good fit. This is called a job fit thesis. The best preparation is to review one’s background and anticipate questions and answers for each position and transition. Mock interviews with family or friends can help reveal these narrative themes.
For example, if the position is a staff accountant, one may determine that the keys to success are attention to detail, accounting skills, work ethic and affability. The applicant for that job must be prepared — using the STAR method — to provide answers to questions that highlight each of those prerequisites for the job.
From this preparation, you should have good answers to questions like:
— Why did you seek this position?
— What did you learn?
— What would you have done differently?
— How were you effective?
The list of questions seems infinite, but proper preparation will expose the obvious questions in the context of what the hiring organization seeks.
How to Answer Interview Questions Using the STAR Method
The STAR method allows applicants to focus and organize their responses clearly and consistently.
The elements of the STAR interview method response are:
By speaking like a journalist or a storyteller, you can set the stage and grab the interviewer’s attention. The who-what-when-where framework is a good starting point for describing the situation. Where were you working, at what point in your career did this take place and who were the key people involved? Avoid unrelated detail but speak in such a way that the listener can relate and find you interesting.
“My first job out of college was managing social media for a large hospital. The company had recently experienced a series of bad publicity events and was eager to show improvement to the community.”
“I had just started with XYZ Corporation in Chicago. We were a leading manufacturer of after-market car mufflers. I was hired as director of digital media, and it was my second job after college and the first where I was responsible for supervising a team of three.”
“About five years ago, a former boss of mine asked if I would join the sales force she was building at a new CRM software company. She needed someone who could rapidly build an enterprise practice in the health care space.”
The task is your understanding of your mission or purpose. What was the problem you were trying to solve in your role or in this example? Pick a story that will underscore one of your current abilities or skills.
“My task overall was to modernize the digital marketing activity at this 80-year-old family business. One vital component was social media marketing. In this case, I designed, deployed and measured the success of the company’s first social media campaign.
“As a sales development representative, my task was to make 80 phone calls per day and answer any number of emails. At the end of the day, I was bringing in qualified leads for our product.”
“The company had determined that it was underperforming in Latin America. My task was to design Spanish and Portuguese language versions of the product and then plan for the relaunch in 12 new markets within six months of my starting.”
This section is where you describe in detail what you did to accomplish the task. This is not the time to use passive voice or too much “we.” Explain your approach to teamwork, but don’t be afraid to take credit for your work.
“I planned and executed a program that included car enthusiast influencer marketing, articles in the automotive press, participation in online car chat groups and traditional SEO/SEM activity.”
“My launch plan included three components. I planned each, acquired buy-in from other key stakeholders and recruited the team that would execute my plan.”
“I was successful in qualifying 5% of my outbound outreach as good prospects for our product. I did this by old-fashioned arduous work and lighting fast follow-up to inquiries.”
The final part of the STAR interview response method is the result, where the applicant can offer a summary of the lesson learned from the experience. Ideally, this insight should clearly point to a piece of wisdom, data or capability that would be applied in the future.
“The campaign was amazingly effective, and we saw revenue growth that quarter 13.5% higher than the prior period. The overall return on investment was 3.6x, and we made the program part of our regular marketing plan for the next three years. I learned the importance of coordinating multiple efforts, careful measurement, creativity and adjusting on the go. In fact, the next four projects I led enjoyed similar excellent outcomes based on my adherence to those disciplines.”
“The key to our success was stress-testing the campaign message against several diverse cultural and market segment perspectives. We realized that we were favoring urban millennials to the alienation of our core traditional rural supporter.”
[READ: Best Job Search Sites]
Tell a Story
People relate to each other by telling stories. Behavioral questions and responses organized with the STAR method provide the job applicant with the opportunity to connect with the interviewer and the organization by telling stories in an organized manner that underscores their fit for the position. Clean and concise responses will impress the interviewer both in content and delivery.
Self-knowledge is a key element of job search success. The best way to convey ability, willingness and fit is to use the STAR method to tell professional and personal anecdotes that support and clearly communicate your job fit thesis.
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Update 07/29/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.