Interviews are a breeze for some people. They apply for a role, turn up, impress and eventually get the job. For others, it isn’t quite as simple. There are the pre-interview nerves, the struggle to give concise answers and the difficulty of sharing accomplishments and achievements without it sounding like you’re showing off.

How do you let an interviewer or hiring manager know you’re the best person for the vacant position? That’s where the STAR interview method comes in. It’s a strategy you can use to answer tricky interview questions where you can share concrete examples of the experience you have for the advertised role. These real-life scenarios will help interviewers know you’ve handled certain situations at work and are the best fit for the company.

When you know how the STAR interview method works, you can easily use it like a pro in every interview.

What is the STAR interview method?

It’s a technique you can use to answer behavioral questions in an interview — the ones where interviewers ask you to give them a real-life example of how you handled a situation at work in the past. There isn’t just one question either as they come in various forms, such as:

  • Can you describe a time where…
  • Please can you give me an example of…
  • Have you ever…
  • Can you tell me about a time when…
  • What did you do when…

That’s what makes it so difficult to prepare for. You never know the type of behavioral question you’ll be asked and what situation the interviewer will present either. Then it’s the problem of quickly finding an explanation on the spot when the limelight is on you to give a compelling answer that’s easy to understand without speaking for too long.

The STAR interview method fixes this. It breaks the scenario down into multiple stages so you can tell a meaningful story via the framework. The acronym stands for:

Situation: Set the scene and only provide the required details of your example.

Task: Explain your responsibility in the situation.

Action: Highlight the steps you had taken to address the situation.

Results: What are the outcomes of your actions? What did you achieve?

It’s that simple. These four components will help you shape your answer, keeping you focused and on track. By keeping the STAR interview method in mind, your answer will be digestible and compelling, allowing the interviewer to know whether you’re the right fit for the job.

A step-by-step process on using the STAR interview method

The STAR method only works when you hone in on a relevant anecdote. Do this and the process becomes much easier.

Find an example

Start by finding a suitable scenario you were involved in, either at your current workplace or in a previous job. Again, the challenge is there’s no telling what question the interviewer will ask you, so it’s impossible to be 100% prepared with a clear-cut answer. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a few examples ready in your mind so you can choose the relevant one depending on what the interviewer asks.

If you can’t think of one on-demand, take a deep breath and a moment to think about your response so you can answer it well — this won’t work against you.

Explain your situation

When you have your example, it’s your time to shine and set the scene. One thing to avoid is diving into all of the minute details. It’s easy to do this when you’re nervous, but interviewers are hoping for a snapshot of your anecdote, not a play-by-play. For example, if the hiring manager asks you about a time where you missed a deadline for a website project, they don’t need to know where you did your coding courses and what got you into it in the first place.

Be succinct and straight to the point. They want to know about you missing a deadline for a website project, so start from there. Explain what happened and what the remedy was. Feel free to mention the severity of the issue so they know you aren’t brushing it under the carpet and you take deadlines, as an example, seriously. 

Everything you say here should be relevant and simple. Too many details can make answers too long, so try and keep it to a couple of sentences. Interviewers are more impressed that you can quickly deliver a strong response that tells them what they need to know rather than taking up a lot of time.

What did you do?

This is one of the main sections of the STAR interview method. You were involved in the situation and you need to make the interviewer understand what your role was. 

However, don’t get this confused with the action section of the STAR strategy. This just focuses on you sharing the specifics of your roles and responsibilities in the particular example — not what you actually did to fix the situation. If we use the same missed website project deadline example, you could say as the development manager; it was your task to develop the website and manage the team to get the website live by the agreed deadline.

Reveal the action

Once the scenario is precise, you’ve explained the situation and your role in that scenario; here’s where you outline all of the steps you took to reach the goal. This is where being vague doesn’t help and is actually counter-intuitive as it’s one of the most important things the interviewer wants to know.

Sell yourself. Be specific. Put your steps under the microscope and precisely explain what you did. It could be anything from speaking to the client to resolve a situation, working overtime, bringing in other teams to help — all of this will help the interviewer understand what your problem-solving skills are like.

Sticking with the example above, you could say you spoke to the client and agreed on a two-day extension. Then you either hired a freelancer or hired another developer, so you had more hands on the project and didn’t let the client down a second time.

Share the results

This is the one you want to share and the answer that will positively impact the interview. In this section of the STAR interview method, reveal the results of your actions. It shouldn’t be said, but make sure the result is positive. Otherwise, the interviewer won’t be impressed. You need to wow them, and to do that; your results need to be equally as impressive.

However, go ahead and discuss the roadblocks and challenges you faced. Interviewers will appreciate the honesty of the situation and how challenging you find it, but always end on what you learned from the situation and on a positive note. 

In your answer, make sure you tell the interviewer why the result was important, too. If you can come prepared with numbers, even better. Again, in the example above, you could say you hired another developer as you suffered from severe capacity issues. This meant you managed to deliver the website project a day before the amended deadline and the client was so pleased, they hired your business on a $10,000 a month retainer.

Numbers are impactful, whatever they are. If you have them, make sure you work them into your answer when using the STAR interview method.

STAR interview

Preparing for an interview using the STAR strategy

Putting that together will help you develop a clear, concise structure for using the STAR interview method the next time an interviewer asks you a behavioral question. While practising mock interviews and roleplaying in the mirror can help, here’s how else you can prepare using the STAR interview method.

  • List your qualifications: What experience or skills do you have that the role you’re applying for needs? This will let you look for other listings to identify the skills and qualities you’ll need to bring to the table.
  • Highlight examples: Next, identify specific examples of when you used those skills. For each example, utilize the STAR method — what the situation was, the task you had, the action you took and the end result.
  • Match the skills to the role: Regardless of the examples you pick, try and closely relate them to the job you’re interviewing for. This should help you identify the types of behavioral questions interviewers may ask you.

Remember, these questions won’t be entirely random when you’ve outlined the skills and the job responsibilities, so that should make it easier. They’ll tend to link with your current roles and responsibilities or what’s expected in the position you’re applying for.

It’s easier said than done, though. We understand that. Practising alone can only get you so far, but by signing up to VanHack, you’ll get all of the support you need. We do more than get you noticed — we’ll help you prepare for the selection process with mock interviews.

It’s easy to get started, too. All you need to do is create a profile and record a few short videos that will help a company get to know the person behind the digital profile. You can also show off your potential by taking on our coding challenges. The more you complete your profile, the better your chances are of landing the interview for your dream role.

Get started today and ace your next interview.

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