Are you prepared for every likely question in your next interview? Do you know how to provide detailed, correct answers to situational and behavioral questions?
You’ve not crossed the finish line when you get to the interview phase. Employers normally interview 6 to 10 candidates and those candidates have to go through multiple assessment rounds. They’ll go on to interview more candidates if they don’t find the ideal employee.
So, you must ace every stage of the interview process to get a clear shot at the job.
Job interviews can suddenly go sideways and turn you to a deer in headlights.
You may be scoring multiple touchdowns with your answers only to be tackled by a question about how you dealt with a specific type of situation.
Regaining your composure after being blindsided can be a serious challenge if you’re not properly prepared.
So how do you come up with the right answer on the spot?
That’s where the STAR technique comes in.
It’s a methodology that helps you navigate those competency-based questions. It provides the right structure and approach to answering the questions in a detailed and effective manner.
Table of Contents
What is the STAR Method?
It’s a technique that helps you follow a structured pattern to handle competency-based and behavioral questions.
For a bit of context, let’s talk about behavioral, competence-based, and situational interview questions.
They are questions interviewers use to assess your competence in real-life situations. They help the interviewer to determine if you’re the right fit for the position.
Here are some examples:
- Talk about a situation where you had to complete a project with limited resources.
- Explain how you handled staff shortage in the face of multiple project deadlines.
- Have you ever had to convince a client to stay after they decided to leave?
- Tell us about a time you had to break the news of an unpopular policy and how you handled the situation.
- Talk about an occasion where you disagreed with your boss and how did you prove your case?
- Have you ever managed a workplace conflict?
There are more examples, but these should give you an idea of what these questions are about. They basically ask you to describe a situation in your past and how you handled it.
But it is not just about describing the problem. Instead, it’s about explaining the problem, how you tackled it, and the outcome. Still, you must follow a definite pattern.
While most of these questions focus on the past, situational questions can come in the form of hypotheticals that talk about challenges that could come up in the future. This way, the interviewer will be able to assess your strengths and weaknesses.
- What would you do if our project management platform reviewed their pricing and we decided to shift to a different platform in the middle of a critical project?
- How would you deal with our expansion to another country if you’re short a staff on your business transformation team?
So, how does the STAR technique help you answer these kinds of questions correctly?
The series of concepts that make up the STAR acronym guides how you approach and answer any behavioral question. The concepts include:
Let’s break them down.
Jumping into the problem without providing a background or context is not a great idea. The interviewer won’t understand your approach and solution without the problem’s foundations.
That’s why the situation stage is the starting point.
Once you understand the question, begin by narrating the background of the incident. Ensure you pick a situation that’s closely related to the job you’re interviewing for.
In clear and concise terms, describe how the issue unfolded and how you discovered the problem.
While it’s a great idea to narrate events leading to the problem, you must ensure you start from the relevant part of the story.
Interviewers are more interested about how you solved the problem, so you have to make this part of your answer quick.
You might be tempted to jump straight to how you tackled the problem, but don’t do that just yet.
The next step is explaining the problem. To an extent, doing that shows the interviewer that you’re level-headed and always take your time to assess the situation before acting. It’s a great way to flex your detail-oriented thinking and analytical thinking skills.
So, after explaining what brought about the problem and how it started, explain your observation and what you made of the entire situation.
The task stage defines the problem and explains what you have to do.
Ensure you don’t spend much time during this stage, just like in the situation stage. Outline your goals in plain and concise terms and go straight to the point.
This stage is the main component of your answer. It is where you explain how you pursued the goals you listed in the task stage.
You must explain, in relevant details, how you tackled and overcame the problem or handled the situation. Make sure you don’t leave out the important bits, such as:
- How you approached the situation
- Specific actions and steps you took
- How you identified and interacted with the involved parties in the case
- The facts and figures you presented or worked with to achieve your goals
These details will show the recruiter that you’re fit for the role.
Even if you worked within a team to deal with a situation, it’s important that you focus your answer on what you did.
It’s okay to point out that you assisted your team to achieve the goal as this would paint you as a good team player.
However, you should avoid using the word “we” when narrating how the issue was resolved. Instead, point out the specific steps you took that proved vital. Always use the word “I,” even if you led the team’s effort.
You’re not being selfish by focusing on your input. That’s because the interviewer is only interested in assessing your capacity.
There are situations where you can use the word “we,” though. For example, if you’re talking about how you convinced your boss about an idea or how you negotiated a deal with a client, you can use wording like “we agreed to…” and “we decided that…”
How productive were your actions? Did you succeed in resolving the problem? What other outcomes did you reach and how did you learn from them?
The result stage is where you share your success and the impact it had. You should spend almost as much time outlining the results as you did describing your actions. That’s because the interviewer wants to know how effective you are in handling the situation you narrated.
Ensure you explain the results in clear and concise terms. Avoid vagueness and make sure your story tallies with the context you built during the situation stage.
Examples of Behavioral Questions and Responses Using the STAR Method
There’s no way to know the specific questions you’ll be answering during the interview. But like I mentioned, behavioral interview questions focus on real-life events and challenges. They aim to assess your critical and analytical thinking skills and how you handle practical situations using your problem-solving and leadership skills.
Let’s go through some examples.
Question: Talk about a time when you had little time to complete a project. How did you beat the deadline?
Situation: I managed a team of remote developers at Company X for two years. One of my team members, our test-driven development expert, had an emergency during the critical testing phase of the software development life cycle of a project. The client was already sending reminders that we had to deploy in less than two months.
Task: I had to find a way to delegate the team member’s tasks while making sure everyone efficiently managed their individual roles to meet the deadline.
Action: Having been a testing manager myself, I took on most of the team member’s work and delegated what I could to create time in my schedule. I explained to other developers that they’d have to take on extra work to cover the gap created by their colleague’s absence. Then I distributed work efficiently to ensure the workflow is not affected. I also briefed the client every step of the way to reassure them we’re still on schedule.
Result: We deployed right on schedule and the client, being satisfied with the outcome, recommended us to their parent company for three new projects.
Question: Tell us about a situation when you had to convince your boss to follow a different approach.
Situation: I was a digital marketing intern at Company X in 2019. We were creating quarterly goals and looking to diversify our digital marketing campaigns to expand our SEO funnel. I proposed video marketing, but my supervisor pressed more for social media campaigns alone citing that our budget could not handle hiring a video editor and script writer alongside social media managers.
Task: I realized I had to convince her with facts and devise a way to hire the right professionals without going over the digital marketing budget for the quarter.
Actions: I showed her a study that reported that more than 90% of consumers wanted to see more videos from online businesses and brands and 96% watched more online videos in 2020. By 2022, online videos will dominate 82% of consumer traffic on the Internet. I also told him that YouTube remains the second biggest search engine in the world after Google.
To allay her budget concerns, I pointed out that we could go for a freelance video editor and script writer rather than hiring in-house. The plan will significantly reduce cost and not drive the budget too high. It also meant that we didn’t have to discard social media marketing.
And since the videos would also be used across our social media pages, it’s a welcome investment and can boost our SEO funnel.
Results: Seeing the potential benefits of video marketing and budget feasibility, she decided to test run video marketing for the brand. We ended up boosting our SEO funnel by 230% that quarter and the video marketing campaign brought in 70% of the new leads.
Tips on Preparing for an Interview Using the STAR Method
It would have been easier if you knew the interviewer’s line of questions. All you’d have to do is find the right stories and rehearse them.
Since that’s not the case, you’re left with the option of mastering the STAR method and remembering professional work challenges you overcame that are relevant to the job you’re interviewing for.
Review and Understand the Job Description
Your understanding of the nature of the job you’re trying to land will help you figure out the type of likely questions that would pop up.
Look at the skills the interviewer is focusing on and try to remember challenges in the past that required those skills to solve problems.
For example, if the recruiter lists leadership, detail-oriented thinking, and analytical thinking skills, remember situations where you needed these skills to resolve problems.
Review and Practice with Common Behavioral Questions
While you don’t know the specific questions that will pop up in the interview, practicing helps you master the STAR technique and get you comfortable with answering behavioral questions. Once you have practiced enough, albeit with different situational questions, you’ll be comfortable whenever one suddenly comes up during the interview.
Mind Your Timing
So, while you practice, you have to master how much time you spend on each stage. Since the interviewers want to know how you resolved the problem, you should spend more time in the Actions and Results stages and less time talking about the Situation and the Tasks.
Keep Things Relevant
Use only relevant bits of information to explain the problem, your actions, and the results. Even when you’re providing background information, don’t add things that are irrelevant and redundant.
Always Provide Proper Context
While you have to keep your answers on point, the interviewer should get a bit of context to properly appraise and appreciate your story. For example, if you prevented a client from leaving your company, starting with the reason they wanted to leave helps the interviewer to understand the actions you took to convince the client against leaving.
Don’t be Afraid to Praise Your Work
If there are extra details about the results, outline them. For example, if your actions yielded a better outcome than expected, emphasize that. Also, talk about how an experience with a problem helped you achieve great results in other situations, if that’s the case.
Maintain Your Composure
From your outfit to your mannerisms, how you appear and present yourself are critical to your success.
Sounding confident about your story makes you come off as authentic and convinces the interviewer about your narration.
Behavioral questions are among the most critical aspects of any interview. They show the interviewer how you managed real-world challenges and help them assess your critical thinking, leadership, detail-oriented thinking, problem-solving, and analytical thinking skills.
Your answers also help them decide if you’re the right fit for the job and whether their feedback will be positive.
With the STAR interview method, you’ll be fully prepared for these questions and won’t be caught off-guard.