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Answering Interview Questions with the STAR Method

A popular form of interviewing is through “behavioral-based” questions, otherwise known as “targeted selection interviewing.” The purpose of this interviewing technique is to use your past experiences to determine how you might respond to situations that are typical to the workplace. Questions could range from asking about the most important decision you’ve made in the past six months to how you’ve dealt with criticism. To help you along if you ever face this kind of interviewing, there’s a format that an interviewee can take advantage of in order to answer adequately. This is called the STAR method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.

Essentially, by using the STAR method you are telling a story with your answer. The STAR method can help you achieve the structure these stories need in order to make them worthy of an interview. These stories can be from almost any aspect of your life. While your work experience is important, other life experiences can be just as telling about your actions in specific situations. Don’t be afraid to draw from your life outside of work.

Imagine you were given this question: Give an example of when your work was criticized. What was wrong with it and how did you deal with it?

This is how the STAR method might help you answer:

First, begin by setting the scene surrounding the story, i.e. situation: My boss tasked me with presenting a brand new client to the senior team.

Then, use the “who, what, where, why” tactics you learned in third grade to give more facts about the task: My boss gave me the freedom to choose my method of presenting and asked me to set up a meeting with the senior team in two weeks time. Before then, I was told to check in after one week to show my progress and give a small preview of the project. After a few days of research and preparing with my small team, we decided to write a rap song to display the client’s avant-garde business style.

Now, using precise language, tell the interviewer what happened. This is the action portion, which benefits from detail: When I presented the opening portion of the presentation to my boss, he was skeptical about the use of a rap song to convince the senior management team that we should take on this client. He believed this was a juvenile-sounding tactic, and he asked me to scratch the entire project and begin again with the same deadline.

Finally, explain how you resolved the problem and the end result. This problem should focus on the actions you took to remedy the situation or plan for the future: Though I was disappointed by the negative feedback, I brought it back to the team and we scheduled extra brainstorming sessions to come up with a different idea. Ultimately, after we went back to the drawing board we came up with a project that represented the client much better.

Now you’ve come back around to the original question, making your example relevant. Way to go! There are numerous online resources that give behavioral based sample questions. It may be helpful to go through some and write down your answers. This way, you have stories prepared that you can use for similar questions when they appear in the job interview. Also, it’s okay if these questions take you a few minutes to answer properly. It is in your best interest to answer the question thoroughly and take a few extra minutes to do so rather than to feel you’re talking too much and rush through an answer. Most likely the interviewer is aware of the potential length of your answers, and they’ve managed their number of questions accordingly.

Are you familiar with this form of job interview and the answering style? What do you think of it? Share with us in the comments section below!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by L.Bö

Kailyn Baum

Kailyn is a recent college graduate with degrees in English and Political Science. She is currently working in the publishing industry, where she loves the fact that she is paid to immerse herself in talking and thinking about books all day long. When she isn’t working, she enjoys reading, cooking, line-dancing, and writing short stories and poetry. Her sincerest hope for contributing to Spark Hire’s job seeker blog is to provide job seekers of all ages with the tools and sense of humor necessary to stay calm and carry on.

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