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Job interviews are tough.
Oftentimes, they’re the hardest part of the job search process. Between the stresses of presenting yourself well, giving good answers, and not letting the nervousness get in your way, there’s a lot to pay attention to in order to have a great interview.
It can become especially difficult when your interviewer transitions from questions about your work experience to questions about your behavior. Behavioral questions can be the trickiest part of an interview, but with a little bit of practice, you can perfect your interview performance.
We’re going to break down the STAR method, a crucial way to approach an interview, to help you sharpen your skills and land your dream job.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. This acronym is meant to help you answer questions about specific times you demonstrated a skill or got an important result in your professional work.
The STAR method can help you stay on-track and answer behavioral interview questions quickly and thoroughly.
The STAR method is best for answering behavioral questions, so make sure to stop and think about what is being asked of you before referring to the STAR steps.
Behavioral questions are easy to identify since they are meant to gather specific information about a task you performed or goal you achieved in a previous job. If the question starts with something along the lines of “tell me about a time you…” or “describe an experience where…” then the interviewer is looking to get concrete examples of how you complete tasks and achieve goals.
Answering these types of questions with the STAR method will help you keep your responses focused and give the interviewer the information they’re looking for in a concise way. Think of STAR as a framework that you can use to stay on track and ease the nervousness of not knowing what to say in an interview.
The first part of answering a question with the STAR method is determining if that question is in fact a STAR question.
The STAR method works best for behavioral questions, so let’s take a look at some of the interviewer’s favorite questions you can answer with the STAR method.
Tell me about a time you had to complete a project with a short deadline.
Can you tell me about a time you disagreed with a coworker? How did you resolve it?
Is there a time where you had to set a goal and meet it?
Tell me about a situation where you failed to meet a specific goal. How did you deal with it?
Have you had to make an unpopular decision?
Can you explain a time when you were under a lot of pressure at work? How did you handle it?
Have you ever worked with multiple departments to complete a project? How did it go?
What do you do when you need to motivate your coworkers?
Have you been in a situation where one of your coworkers refused to complete their work?
Tell me about a time you showed initiative in a professional setting.
Once you’re able to recognize these types of questions, you can use the STAR method to help you frame and guide your answer.
During the interview, remember the four steps- situation, task, action, and result. These will help you focus your response and give the interviewer a sense of your capabilities.
Tell me about a time you made a mistake. How did you fix the situation?
Situation. In the beginning of my career I was responsible for collecting the week’s sales figures from sales team leaders and compiling them for my supervisor. One week, I forgot to get figures from a few of the teams, resulting in skewed data to present to my supervisor.
Task. I had to fix the situation quickly before my supervisor’s big monthly meeting so she could accurately present the company’s sales figures.
Action. I quickly called, emailed, and checked in on all the sales team leaders to make sure I had all of the correct information. I had to track down one team leader who was out of office for the day, but luckily his assistant knew the figures for the week.
Result. I was able to remedy my mistake within an hour and provide my supervisor with all the correct data in time for her meeting.
Can you tell me about a time when you boosted monthly sales figures for your team?
Situation. I led a sales team at my previous company and I was responsible for making sure we reached the sales goals my supervisor set.
Task. We were meeting our goals, but I wanted to surpass the expectation so I implemented a “check back” policy.
Action. I asked everyone on my team to begin checking back with leads that went cold. We began reaching back out to people who asked for more information about our services, but never followed up.
Result. We were able to convert 50% of those dead leads just by checking back in and seeing if the customer wanted to resume our conversation, bringing us $15,000 above our usual sales goal for the month.
When have you demonstrated leadership skills?
Situation. As a consultant, I worked on various different teams to complete projects. One time, our designated team leader was suddenly reassigned to a new project so I stepped up and offered to lead our team.
Task. We had a few days to research, compile, and present our recommendations to a client so I had to manage the team to make sure we were all completing our work and staying within the guidelines the client provided.
Action. This meant that I had to balance both my own work for the proposal as well as fielding questions from teammates and overseeing the occasional disagreement. Acting as a mediator, I better understood the recommendations my teammates were proposing and helping them come to an agreement.
Result. We successfully pitched our proposal to the client, resulting in an ongoing partnership with them. I was also recognized as a strong leader and became a designated group leader for future projects.
Have you had a time when you disagreed with your boss? How did you handle it?
Situation. We were given a small budget to run paid advertising campaigns for a new product that the company was launching. My boss thought that the money would be better spent on a Google Search Ad, but I wanted to spend it on a social media campaign.
Task. I had to convince her that an ad on social media would have a higher ROI than a Google Search Ad, so I had to calculate costs and results for both campaigns to show her why a social media ad made more sense for our budget and goals.
Action. I researched and compiled information about what we could expect to gain from these two different ads with our budget. I presented the findings to my boss to convince her to start a paid social media campaign.
Result.My work convinced her that we would ultimately see more conversion from a highly targeted social media ad than a Google Search Ad, so I became the person in charge of the project. I oversaw the creation of the content, the targeting, and more, and by the end we saw a much higher conversion rate than we usually did.
Share an example of when you had to deliver bad news to a coworker.
Situation. As a sales manager, I had to make sure that everyone on my team was meeting their weekly and monthly sales goals. There was one month when a man on my team was barely meeting the goal or did not reach it for four weeks. Our company policy was that after a month of inconsistent performance, we had to have a serious talk with the employee.
Task. I had to ask this employee about his work performance and inform him that if his sales remained low for another two weeks, he would be let go.
Action. Instead of approaching the situation as a chance to blame him for low sales or scare him about his future, I wanted to understand his point of view. We had a productive conversation about his work and what he was doing to improve his performance so it became a working discussion instead of a chance for me to talk down to him for not meeting our goals.
Result. After our conversation, I saw the suggestions he made come to life and I watched his sales numbers rise. Luckily, he improved before the two weeks was up and he became one of my best sales associates after that.
The STAR method is not a specific answer or a preparation tactic, it’s a way to guide your response to an interviewer’s question during the interview. While you can practice with it before an interview, it’s just a way to help you make sure that you’re staying on-topic and presenting your best self.
Since behavioral questions are so open ended, it can be easy to get off topic and stray from the key points that you need to make. The STAR method will help you make sure that you’re giving a useful anecdote to your interviewer, and doing it with a positive spin.
Each part of the STAR method allows you to stay focused on the points you want to convey, while also helping you provide a story with full context so your interviewer understands what you’re talking about.
The first situation part gives your audience a clear context of the story you’re going to tell. Here, you can provide any details that you think are necessary to understanding the situation you were in, like other people involved, what the issue was, or anything else helpful.
In the task part, you should describe what your role in the situation you’re describing was. Talk about how you were involved and what was expected of you to reach a desired outcome.
Next is the action, where you can tell your interviewer what concrete steps you took to get a result. Talk about how completed the task and provide any extra information that will show off your skills, like leading a team or a great idea you came up with.
Finally you can talk about the result of your work. This is usually the longest part of your answer since interviewers are interested in knowing how you resolved an issue or met a goal.
Make sure to provide any concrete results, like the goal you surpassed or the positive impact you had on your team. Interviewers are looking for your accomplishments and your strengths, and this is a great opportunity to list them.
The best way to prepare for an interview with the STAR method is to look at the example questions we listed and try to answer them. The more you practice with the format of the STAR method, the better you’ll be at using it during an interview.
Start by writing out your answer to a behavioral question so you can read it back and make sure it sounds like a good answer. Seeing the method visually will also help you remember the steps so you’re ready to answer questions verbally with the STAR method.
Once you feel comfortable with the format, you should answer the questions aloud to practice how you’ll organize your thoughts on the spot. You can do this alone or ask a friend to listen to your responses and help you fine-tune them.
It’s impossible to know what an interviewer will ask, but going through a few behavioral questions on your own will help you prepare for any kind of behavioral interview question and help you sound like a pro when you answer.
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