Interview Tip: How to be a STAR
The next time you find yourself in a behavioral interview, draw a little star across the top of your paper. No, I’m serious. STAR is my favorite acronym. It’s a formula for job applicants to use when they’re answering interview questions. STAR stands for Situation, Tasks, Actions & Results. It is well-known by Human Resources and hiring managers, but we’ve found that a lot of our clients haven’t heard of this interview tip before. Let’s break it down:
Anytime you are telling a story to someone; you have to give them a little bit of context, so they understand what’s going on. Imagine you’re telling your friend about an experience at a restaurant. If you dive into the conversation saying “The food was awesome, we had crab cakes and pasta.” Your friend is going to be caught pretty off guard. The same goes for an interview. The situation helps set the scene. Instead of jumping right into what you had for dinner, you should mention the restaurant name, when you went, who you were with and even a little bit of info on the restaurant.
It’s important to set the scene when answering interview questions, especially if you aren’t currently working at the company. Help the interviewers understand the circumstances surrounding your example and more context. Just recently I coached a client who was telling me about a story leading a team. The example was okay but not incredibly impressive. Once I started asking more questions, I learned his role, the team size, and the budget associated with it. These three things (Director, 150+ employees, and a lot of $) added significant weight to the example.
The task is the assignment you are given. In most cases, the situation and task run pretty close together in your significant. In the restaurant example, the task becomes pretty simple, to eat food. However, maybe your friend wanted seafood, or you had to find a gluten-free restaurant that could accommodate dietary needs.
As an applicant, you want to be very clear and concise about what the assignment is. Share where the task came from (boss, owner, co-worker asking for help) and what it was. Explain the scale of the project – how big was the team, what was the timeline, what were some of the significant challenges that you needed to overcome. You want to help the interview panel understand the importance of the story.
The whole reason companies use behavioral interviews is that a person’s past behavior is a good indicator of how they will behave in a similar situation in the future. The actions in the STAR format are where you get to show the hiring manager that you are capable of handling workplace situations well.
Actions should be the bulk of your story. As a hiring manager, I want to hear about what YOU did. One of the biggest errors we see in interviews is people use “we” instead of I. While this is okay when you’re explaining to your friend about your dinner, “We ate crab cakes, pasta, and ice cream” it doesn’t play well during an interview. Instead, be very clear about your role and the process you took to solve the problem. Don’t get lost in the details and be specific about your role in each example. Hiring managers are looking to hear about your process and how you resolve the story.
Results are where you get to shine. So many times people forget to discuss their results, and it hurts them in an interview. As a hiring manager, I try to ask probing questions in case the job applicant forgot, but usually, I won’t keep asking if they continue to leave out the results on more than one example.
The biggest interview tip on this topic is to avoid using a story that is currently in process. It’s incredibly hard to demonstrate results on a project that hasn’t finished, and hiring managers care about the results. They want to know if your actions were effective or not, and if not what you learned and how you would do it differently.
The next big thing to try to do is to quantify your results. A story is much stronger when you can prove it through numbers. Did sales go up by a certain percentage? Were you involved in increasing customer satisfaction? Did you reduce the number of hours it takes to perform the task? Sometimes it can be hard to put numbers to a story, especially if it’s been awhile since you were in the situation. Try your best to recall but don’t make the numbers up. Honesty is important, and hiring managers might use their networks to fact check your examples.
“What do you do if the outcome wasn’t good?” Proceed with caution. One example with a negative result isn’t necessarily going to hurt you in an interview. I only recommend using this type of story in a couple of situations.
- You can explain that the adverse outcome was to no fault of your own
- The question is about a time you failed/made a mistake etc
- As a last resort, and you can’t come up with another example
In all of these situations, you need to be able to explain what you learned from the example and how you would do things differently.