You’re in the middle of the job interview and you’re feeling confident with your answers. In fact, you already have some small talk with the interviewer and in your thoughts have already built rapport with one.
But then, a surprising question pops up. “Describe a time at work when you’ve encountered a problem and how you overcame it.” Wait. You don’t have the answer for it in your mind because you’re not prepared for this type of question.
You’re not alone. Candidates who fail to prepare for the STAR interview, which we’re discussing in a bit, struggle to answer such a prompt with their mind going blank.
The STAR framework question is uneasy to answer. Some applicants do not come up with a concrete answer and instead just sort of answer it. Worry not though because you can master and ace the type of questioning and impress the hiring manager in the process.
In the following, we’re discussing about the STAR interview and tips to help you with it.
What is the STAR method? How does it work?
This type of interview involving behavioral questions is stressful because it can put you on the spotlight to think on your feet – precisely and quickly. It aims to evaluate the ways that you’ve handled past situations, commonly job-related, and tests your thinking and decision-making skills, as to how you’re going to handle the same situation if it happens again.
In short, a STAR format interview asks one to give a real-life example of how one handled a specific past situation. It’s quite easy to tell in questions that are written with the following openings –
· What do you do when…?
· Have you ever….?
· Describe a time when….?
· Can you give me an example of….?
· Tell me about a time when…?
However, coming up with a valid response to fit the question isn’t the only thing you should think about because you need to share a specific, real-life example – in the clearest and most understandable way. The STAR interview gives you an opportunity to share a meaningful work experience.
The Star interview method lets you highlight a story that’s complete with a conflict and resolution. Every part of it has an important role.
For example, in the SITUATION section, you have the chance to set the stage in order to highlight the challenge/situation you’ve faced. However, it can be tempting to discuss your general responsibilities, but you should not. Instead, you must highlight a specific instance.
But then, you must not spend too much time in this component of your answer. Take note, your interviewer is more interested to know about the action and result, as they want to find out how you’d solve the same problem if you’d face it while at work if ever you got the position. Only use up to three pieces of vital information to picture the scene.
For the TASK section, the interviewer wants to know your role in the challenge or situation, in short your responsibility. Thus, they’re looking for you to discuss the task/goal given to you. But again, don’t consume too much time on this part of your answer. The interviewer only wants to know the task and your role in it.
Now for the ACTION section, you must talk about what you did to overcome the challenge, problem, or situation. The interviewer wants to determine how fit you are for the role. Thus, in this part you must be able to highlight the most significant steps you’ve taken to succeed.
In the result section, the interviewer wants to hear about the things you’ve accomplished through the actions you’ve taken.
This is one of the most important parts of your response. But again, you must not overwhelm the hiring manager with too many results. Instead, give only up to three of the most significant results you have accomplished and discuss them.
Give concrete examples of the results you’ve accomplished. Don’t forget to discuss what you’ve learned from the experience and describe the reasons it made you a better employee.
· Situation: It sets the scene while giving the important details of the example and describes what you needed to accomplish.
· Task: In this part, you describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
· Action: You explain the steps you took to solve the problem or overcome the challenge faced. Be sure to keep the focus of the action on you and your specific contribution. When describing the actions taken, do not use WE, but I.
· Result: It shares the outcome/result of the action that you achieved.
The easily digestible answer can help a recruiter determine how well the candidate would fit in the role.
Using this method in responding to a behavioral-based question, you can share or discuss a specific S-T-A-R of the situation that you’re explaining or describing; however, ensure that you’re giving enough and specific details of the situation you’re explaining. It can be from a volunteer experience, a previous job, or a relevant event.
Explain what happened, how it ended, and what you accomplished. In this part of your response, you must also highlight several positive results. You must also be very specific without adding too much information or rambling in answering the questions. Do not add information that doesn’t add to the explanation.
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Preparing for the behavioral interview
The STAR method is a type of behavioral approach that aims to determine a candidate’s behavior when faced with a specific situation at work. It also helps the hiring manager gauge someone’s critical and logical thinking skills like thinking on one’s feet when under pressure or faced with complaints, failures, and struggles in his position. You can say it’s a problem-solving skill, too. To prepare for the behavioral interview –
Prepare a short description of every scenario but be prepared to explain the details when asked. But again, avoid details that do not add to the explanation.
Be honest and transparent. Do not change or alter any part of the story.
Account only one event, and do not generalize several of them.
Make sure your story has a beginning, middle, and end. In short, follow the STAR format. When describing the situation, check that the results or outcome are positively reflecting on you. So, again, avoid using WE; instead, use I. This will show your contribution to gain the results you have obtained.
General interview tips
Review the job description, including the required skills. This will prepare you for the interview and show that you did your homework.
Review the common behavioral questions. You might want to write them down and prepare answers. They may be rephrased by the interviewer, but they have one goal, which is to know how you handled specific scenarios.
For example, in the question, “Have you ever been faced with stress at work and how did you handle it? The interviewer wants to find out how you managed the kind of stressful situation or worked under pressure.
While preparing for this kind of interview, you might also want to write down different situations that you’ve dealt with in your career, but be sure that they can display your strengths to help you succeed in the role you’re applying for. From these situations you have listed, prepare answers using the STAR framework.
Practice in front of the mirror. See that you’re giving a concise answer. Practicing can help you feel more confident when the big day comes. It will also help you be more natural when answering in the interview itself.
Just graduated and without a long professional history? Pause and reflect. The examples to include in your answer can be from your volunteer experience or a group project.
There are times when the interviewer would ask you non-work related questions. Thus, you should always be prepared for these. A few examples can be the struggles or challenges you’ve met along the way – can be in school or life in general.
Sample Questions Using the STAR Method of Interviewing
· Give me an example of a time when you faced a difficult work situation and how you solved it.
· Discuss a time when you’ve made a bad decision and how you solved it.
· Give me an example of a time when you had made a tough decision and ways you handled it.
· Have you ever disagreed with your boss? How did you handle it?
· Tell me about a time when you’re under so much pressure and how you handled it.
· Give me an example of a mistake committed and how you handled it.
· Tell me about a time when you have persuaded/convinced someone.
· Discuss a time when you’ve used data in making a recommendation.
· Have you ever motivated someone and how did you do it?
· Have you ever had a time when you had conflict with a peer? How did you manage it?
· Describe a time when you needed to make an unpopular decision and ways you handled it.
· What did you learn from an experience wherein you failed?
· Talk about a time you’ve worked or collaborated with other departments for a project.
Answering the STAR Question
There are some things to remember when answering this type of question. In the following are specifics you need to understand.
Think about a suitable example that fits the question, not an anecdote that barely answers it.
You won’t succeed in answering this type of behavioral question if you’re using an irrelevant anecdote that barely touches the topic and just a bunch of words that do not answer the question.
Pause and think for a relevant sample a suitable scenario from your career history. Expand it. While there is no way that you’ll know about the specific questions that the interviewer will ask, you can prepare ahead of time. Predict and prepare behavioral questions and answers. You can change any of these later as they suit a different but related question.
Ahead of time, think through several examples and explain the successes you had with the STAR framework.
Struggling to come up with a specific scenario during the interview? Don’t be afraid to pause for a while and think. It’s better to do this so that you can provide a better answer.
Set the scenario
Once you’ve selected the suitable anecdote for the question, it’s time to lay out the situation. You don’t need to tell the whole story or include all the details. In short, make wise use of your and the recruiter’s time.
For example, “Tell me about a time when you worked under pressure….” In this case, think of a particular time in your work history and lay it out. You don’t have to mention a lot of examples or details. Or else, you’ll overwhelm the interviewer with information, and that can set a weak foundation for your answer.
Remember, you need to paint a clear and understandable picture to the interviewer. It is why you need to make things focused and relevant to your story – much more with your answer.
Do not provide too much detail nor give a long answer, too. It will weaken your statement and make it less convincing.
Discuss the task
It’s now the time to highlight what your role is or where you exactly fit in the situation. In this part of the response, you must focus on the specifics of your responsibilities in that situation and include any of the objectives. Highlight these things to set a clear picture of the task on hand before discussing the details of the action you have taken.
Talk about the actions you took
This is not the portion where you add embellishments or make a wordy statement. The ACTION section is where you can highlight your contribution – and this shows you in a positive light. Add specific details to ensure you’re giving sufficient details to support your statement. You can also mention if you used software or the action taken was from a plan.
Discuss the result
This is the part where you shine and talk about the success you had or the results of the action taken. This result should be positive.
But does it mean that you can’t talk about mistakes? You can. However, you must be able to highlight the things that you’ve learned and that you’ve done to improve.
However, still, don’t skip the part where you should show the result of your action. Do not forget to mention how it has made an impact.
Examples of the STAR method of interviewing
Check out the following for a few examples on how you can answer the STAR interview questions.
Tell me about a time when you were under much pressure at work and how you solved it.
I was a store manager. A customer bought a pair of our trending shoes online and it was the last pair. However, a member of my team forgot that I told him a customer already bought it and it’s ready for delivery. Another customer bought it.
I needed to solve this to keep the good reputation of my company.
I called our other stores to ask if they have the same design, color, and style of shoes. I ordered and asked them to deliver the pair of shoes to the home of the customer as soon as possible.
The customer was very happy. She thanked us for being prompt and wrote good reviews for our website on social media.
Discuss a time when you needed to overcome a work conflict
I had a disagreement with my colleague working in the same team. We disagreed on how to handle a campaign with one of our clients. As a result, the campaign didn’t turn out well. My colleague didn’t want the client to know about it, but I thought it would be unfair and I should let him know.
I discussed matters with my colleague. I thought we had to look at the issue and see the reasons behind the motivation of each other so that we can understand each other better.
We informed the client about the mistake and he agreed that we could provide him with a new campaign for free. The client appreciates our honesty on the matter. He signed for an annual subscription with my former digital marketing company.
Describe a mistake you committed and how you handled it
I was working for a local cake company. My primary responsibility was to check order details and pack the order for delivery. I made a mistake that the wrong cakes were delivered to two customers. I interchanged their cakes.
I knew that I needed to solve this problem fast or two customers who were delivered two wrong cakes would be upset and mad.
Upon thinking about my options on how to solve this, I talked to my superior and admitted my mistake. I told her what I planned to do. I went to the location of the two customers one by one and explained what happened. I had their cakes swapped so that each one would get the right order.
The customers accepted my apology and were happy for my honesty. They left good reviews about us on several websites and continued to be loyal customers of my former boss’ cake business.
In these examples, you’ll notice that every component of the STAR method is a part of the response. From these, you can also conclude that you need to create compelling and precise answers. But then ensure that you’re sharing positive results or outcomes.
Describe when you surpassed expectations
My team and I were on a major presentation for an important client of our advertising firm. The presenter was caught in traffic and it seemed that the presentation would be canceled.
I thought we would miss the opportunity and needed to step up for the team. I wanted to take on the responsibility to proceed and present myself.
I called my superior, who was also the presenter that day and talked about it. We went ahead with the scheduled presentation.
I presented and thankfully the client signed an advertising deal with us.
STAR Questions: Common Mistakes
The following are the common mistakes to avoid when answering behavioral questions.
Merely answering the question
Some applicants don’t really answer the question. They fail to admit that they can’t think of a particular situation from their past work that will highlight their success on how they handled it.
When you’re faced with the same situation, be honest about it. Admit that you cannot think of past success stories to apply in that situation. It will be better to be transparent than to make up stories or merely answer the question with an anecdote that does not relate to it.
Not preparing for the interview
There is nothing quite more nerve-wracking than to come unprepared for this big day. Being unprepared can lead to a lot of rambling when you need to answer even the most common behavioral questions.
To prevent this from happening, you must prepare with your success story. In this case, you can be more confident when this important day comes. Practice with the most common behavioral interview questions so that you can prepare ahead and do better in the interview.
Applicants who prepare too much in order to sound effortless end up sounding rehearsed and unnatural. You can prepare and review your success stories, but don’t over prepare. Otherwise, you’ll sound robotic when answering the questions. Be natural and light. You don’t have to practice and memorize any script anyway.
Telling an unrelated story
Attention to detail is one of the key attributes of a good prospective employee. That is why you should display your focus and specifically answer the question. Think about one or two specific details to use in your answer that are related to the question.
Not being specific
Don’t be vague with your response. The interviewer wants to hear the specifics of your story. It is why you need to prepare beforehand and practice with the most common interview questions.
Before your interview, you should identify your qualities and skills, which the company is also looking for in an ideal candidate. Highlight such behavior that the interviewer is interested in and ensures that your success story matches it.
Don’t be general or vague in your responses or else the interviewer might not be able to evaluate you properly. It will also weaken the foundation of your statement and create less impact to highlight your success story.
Not being quantitative
In the STAR format interview, the hiring manager is also interested in knowing your results, which will back up your claim in your story. Give them the figures. What results were obtained from your actions? Did the team increase performance and by how much? In short, you must be able to highlight the numbers and facts.
Not being honest
Do not make false statements. Make sure that your story is true. Otherwise, telling fake stories will just put you in a bad light and not build your credibility. It will also make you less trustworthy, and the company won’t hire someone that they do not trust.
Bonus Section: What’s your greatest weakness?
When you’re asked this question and you don’t know how to answer it, here are the tips that you can remember.
Do not mention any fake weakness
Don’t try to say that you’re a perfectionist or something similar that can be turned into a positive attribute or quality.
The recruiter or hiring manager wants to know your weakness, an area that you struggle in. They want to hear about the things that you have done in order to overcome any of the challenges or limitations.
Don’t use a faux weakness, but instead share a real weakness that you are willing to work on and improve and any of the things that you have learned along the way.
Think about something that is work-related or area related to your career or work history.
You can use the STAR method in answering this question
It is a great format to use when talking about your weakness in a thoughtful and precise manner. First, think about a situation that displays your weakness – it can be your fear of public speaking. Then, consider the actions you’ve done to highlight how you handled the shortcoming. When done, talk about the results.
For instance, if the scenario is about a skill at the office that you’re struggling with, mention how this has improved? For example, are you now better at that skill? In short, be able to explain your story by highlighting your success.
The STAR interview offers you an excellent way of answering behavioral questions in a succinct, concise manner. It can help you show off your skills and abilities in work situations, giving the employer an insight of your fitness for the role and their company culture. This method also gives you the chance to give specific responses and it offers the employer/interviewer the answers that they are looking for.