Some people excel at job interviews, and then there’s the rest of us. The truth is, you are being judged, and it’s normal to feel anxious when you’re under the spotlight. So, given these stressful circumstances, how can you relax and show your best self?
Well, there are many ways. First, you should be equipped with the requisite experience and a resume that sums it up. Then there was the cover letter that was attached, where you expanded on why you’re a good fit for the position and the company.
The interview is the last hurdle, but unlike those other steps, you can’t take your time composing the perfect pitch. Yes, you should have prepared yourself for what might be asked. You could even meditate before and arrive in a state of quiet preparedness, but you still can be thrown a curve. Don’t worry: there’s hope if you learn the STAR method for answering interview questions.
What Is the STAR Method?
The STAR method is a structured way to respond to behavioral interview questions that one might encounter during the interview process. It’s an acronym that stands for situation, task, action and result, which are four aspects that need to be addressed in a behavioral interview question. These behavioral questions are situational, such as, “How would you balance workload across a team?”
The STAR method is basically a process to help you take one of these questions and break down your response into a four-step answer that will satisfy the person interviewing you. It not only answers the question, but it allows you to put it in context and show your ability to respond.
- Situation: To begin, describe a related situation or task from a previous job, volunteer experience or anything that’s relevant. Describe a specific situation and establish context. Don’t generalize or offer a litany of your accomplishments, but speak directly to the question as posed. Be detailed enough that the person asking the question is informed.
- Task: Once the context is clear, then go to the specific task that you had to do. Be clear what that task was. It should relate to the question asked and whatever ability the interviewer is looking to evaluate. It’s crucial that the task is set up with clarity and relevancy, so that you can take the next step in the STAR method—action.
- Action: Describe the action you took to deal with the situation or task. Be detailed, but only so much as to answer the question. Stay on topic. Don’t use this as an opportunity to go off on tangents about your other skills. Focus on what you did in the situation to resolve the task and keep that focus on you. So, be specific about your actions and your contribution. Use first person singular, and don’t talk about we or the team. Don’t take credit for other’s work, but only talk about what you did, regardless of whether it was within a larger group or team context.
- Result: Now comes the time where you explain the outcome of the task due to your actions. Take credit for what you did. This is not the time for modesty. Explain what happened, how did the situation or task resolve itself, what did you accomplish, did you learn anything, etc.? Your answer should be positive, of course, and can speak to several positive results.
The STAR method works if you follow the steps and are specific and not overly detailed in your answers.
Prepping for Behavioral Interview Questions
Before you go into the interview, there are ways to prep, so that your answers are at the tip of your tongue. For one, think back on recent examples where your behavior or action showed leadership or resolved some problem or task.
Prep yourself by having a library of situations memorized in short, descriptive ways, so you can pick and choose which is most appropriate to the question. Make sure those descriptions are tied to a story that begins, has a middle and ends. You don’t want to find yourself at a dead end.
Remember, keep it positive even if the situation or task didn’t end that way. It’s about you and your actions, which should always be in a positive light, regardless of how things turned out. That said, don’t make up stuff. Be honest and stick to the facts. They’ll speak for themselves, and interviewers can usually tell when someone is making more of something.
Again, specifics over generalizations are going to win your case. But don’t repeat the same thing over and over again. It’s best to have a few different types of examples and ones that come from different times in your life and work experience.
Examples of the STAR Method
Now that you got the structure down, the bare bones, so to speak, it’s time to flesh it out with some practical STAR method examples.
Question: “How did you handle a stressful situation?”
- Situation: A stressful situation I handled was a company event in which all the C-level executives were there as well as customers. It was a fundraising golf tournament, put on by us to serve the customer base and raise money for the organization.
- Task: I oversaw registration, which included fielding questions about the course, game, scoring, etc. At the time of my task assignment, I knew nothing about golf but didn’t want to show my ignorance to my boss or the customers I served.
- Action: The first thing I did was cram. I learned everything about the club that was hosting the event, about the course, the gift shop and even what the restaurant served. Then I read about the game, learned the rules and how to score. For example, I found out that a mulligan allowed you an extra stroke if you didn’t like the shot you took.
- Result: I came to the event confident and was able to handle all the questions I was asked. Instead of feeling anxious, I was loose and all smiles. I had fun and helped others enjoy the event, too. It was a roaring success. Now I’m a golfer!
Question: “When you were overly tasked, how did you prioritize?”
- Situation: It was a perfect storm. I had a deadline beating down on me. There was another team member who couldn’t start his task until I finished mine, and there was a bad flu going around. A lot of people were out sick as a dog. My manager had to saddle me with their work on top of my own, and their tasks were just as critical and time-sensitive.
- Task: It was clear that if I was going to keep us on our production schedule, I had to prioritize. The first thing I did was list everything I was expected to do.
- Action: Then I looked at which of those tasks were dependent on another. They were of highest priority, because if I neglected them, I would be blocking other team members and jeopardizing the timeline for the project. There were other tasks that were not as important, so they went to the bottom of my list. I began working on the high priority ones, seeking help from others when it was available, and working through lunch, of course. I wasn’t leaving the office until those tasks were complete. I managed to finish the most important ones and even had time to get the less critical ones done.
- Result: The project didn’t suffer a setback! I was able to learn from the experience how much I need to always be prioritizing, so I have a clear path through my day about what must be done and what can wait another day.
Question: “How do you deal with conflict in the workplace?”
- Situation: At one of my first jobs, a coworker and I were always at odds. I’m not sure why. It was personality, I guess. But we had to work closely together, and I couldn’t just avoid him.
- Task: Of course, I had to deal with this. It was not something I was going to bump up to my boss. They have more important manners to deal with. If I can’t work with a diverse group, then I’m not worth having as an employee.
- Action: The first thing I did was read up on peaceful conflict resolution. There is actually a lot of literature on it. The first thing I did was talk to the person, but not talk at them. I listened. I learned that I was always using their favorite mug for my coffee in the morning; that was an easy fix. There are certainly less clear-cut examples I could bring out, but the action was always the same. Listen, emphasize, show compassion and work together to clear things up.
- Result: Not surprisingly, the two of us worked better together than ever, and the boss saw that. I can’t say we became best buds, but the tension that was felt by not just the two of us was no longer hanging over the office. I’m sure everyone was happier for it.
Did you get the job? Once you’re hired, then you continue to use the STAR method to help structure answers to questions. It works for all sorts of situations, but it’s only a start. Communication is key, but so are the tools to get the job done. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that is also a great communications platform. It keeps teams collaborating and helps managers assign and track project progress. Try it today with this free 30-day trial.