The STAR method: how to improve your interview technique


By Emma Serlin
September 14, 2019

How many times have you been in an interview situation and the moment you were asked a question, your mind went blank. Instead of the well-formed answer you ought to have given, a stream of panicked gibberish erupted? If this is you, we have a handy tool to help - the STAR method for answering interview questions. 

Do you wish you were one of those people who was impervious to nerves and could just ‘wing it’ in any given situation? Well, very few people are naturally able to do this and in fact, a business looking to hire doesn’t actually want to hire people who are good at ‘blagging’ their way through the interview. They want to find the best people for the job based on skills, previous experience and cultural fit.

The good news is that a bit of structured preparation is a great way to give yourself a head start and show the interviewers exactly what they want to see. The STAR method is the perfect way to help you prepare consciously and intentionally, so you can respond to the questions that come up, do yourself justice and ultimately secure the job of your dreams.

Use the STAR method interview technique

What is the STAR method for interviews?

STAR is an acronym to help you structure the answers you give to a behavioural-based interview question - those that ask you to tell a story about a real-life situation. 

Behavioural-based interview questions sound like…

  • Tell me about a time when…
  • What do you do when..?
  • Describe a situation when…
  • How did you go about..?
  • Can you give me an example of..?

In the heat of the moment, making sure you provide the right level of relevant detail to impress with every answer.

What does STAR stand for?

S stands for Situation

Step one in the STAR method is to set out the situation or background; this is about selecting something specific. Don’t talk about an abstract concept such as ‘monthly reporting’ – talk about a specific project that had objectives or key performance indicators (KPIs) all of its own. You’re trying to provide the background to the project, but only in as much detail as the interviewer needs – keep it high level and don’t be tempted to delve into the minutia.

Example:

“In my previous marketing role, we made a decision to focus on email marketing and specifically to work to increase subscriber numbers for our email newsletters.”

 

T stands for Task

 

Next, describe the specific task or challenge that you, yourself, faced: the role within the project or the objective that you personally accepted. Don’t be tempted to pretend you were responsible for more than you were. Better to provide a detailed answer about a small but valuable role rather than a fluffy answer that comes across as generic.

Example:

“As the Marketing Manager ,I agreed a target of X% over the next six months and then lead a brainstorm with the wider team to identify ways that we could make this happen.”

No more nerves before your interview. Use STAR to prepare

A stands for Action

Once you’ve outlined the extent of the challenge, talk about the specific actions you took to meet your objective. You may like to touch on your values, but focus mainly on how you showed initiative and which parts of your skillset you used – these are the qualities that the interviewer will be looking for in order to document why they should recruit you above other candidates. The trick here is to keep it personal and use “I” not “we” in your answers.

Example:

"I went back through all evergreen blog posts and added a call to action to sign up to the newsletter. Then I lead a team to create a valuable webinar that required an email address to sign up.”

 
R stands for Result

And finally, here’s your time to blow your own trumpet a little, to show the interviewer your greatness. Make sure you stick to facts and figures, don’t wander off into the realms of bluff. Quantify the outcome of your project and explain why what your specific contribution mattered and how it impacted the business.

Example:

 “During the 6-month period, email subscribers went from 10K to 20K, exceeding our KPI by 20%. Enquiries and leads generated through email were up X% at the end of the period and the sales team reported an increase of X% which they attributed in large part to the increased email list.”

STAR method helps you put your best foot forward

How to prepare so you get the best out of your interview?

 

The STAR method works brilliantly when you’re trying to structure an answer, but it’s almost impossible to come up with the right examples and recall the data precisely when you’re in the moment. That’s why interview preparation is everything.

 

We recommend you take a very detailed look at the job description. The interview questions will almost certainly mirror the precise skills and experience it asks for, which stands you in good stead when you’re trying to predict the kinds of questions you might be faced with.

 

Our advice is to choose the top 3-5 skills or qualities that are needed for the role according to job description. Pick 5-10 examples from your past work experience that demonstrate these specific skills and answer them using the STAR structure. Write them down so you can ‘revise’ in the lead up to your interview.

 

Other things to think about when it comes to Interview Technique

 

Of course, just structuring your answers using the STAR method is not enough, you’ll also need to think about making a powerful first impression, making good eye contact, using body language and how you deliver your answer.

Unfortunately, not being able to speak clearly could hold you back from getting the job. Fortunately, at London Speech Workshop we have tons of simple tools to help you do yourself and your talent justice, whether you want to stop yourself from mumbling or learn how to speak more eloquently. And if you want 1-to-1 support, check out our Interview Technique course

In any case, having a bank of polished, high-quality STAR method interview answers will go a long way to helping you come across confidently. Providing short, relevant responses will mean you come across as well prepared and demonstrate that you’ve taken the interview seriously – these are qualities that are prized by interviewers above many others. 

You may find you can also relax more, if you know you’re ready for anything that comes your way.

Interview technique tools to help you prepare to land the job of your dreams

A few quick interview technique tips from Emma, our founder

 

  • Don’t feel you have to answer every question immediately. Take the time you need to think. Ask the interviewer for a moment to consider your thoughts, if you feel you need it. They will be more impressed by a carefully considered answer than an instant, blabbered response.

 

  • Have your own back and respect the process. Know that by inviting you for interview, someone has already decided that you’re worthy of an investment of time. So give yourself every opportunity to do well by preparing well.

 

  • Brevity is key. Think about the important points of the story you’re telling and don’t include unnecessary details – the interviewers don’t need to know it all. As a rough guide, prepare 2 or 3 sentences for each Situation, Task, Action and Result.

 

  • Practise, practise and practise some more. Use a friend, spouse, pet or even the mirror and talk through your STAR scenarios until you feel comfortable with them.

 

If you prepare using the STAR method, next time you’re asked a question that starts with ‘tell me about a time when…’, you'll feel equipped. Instead of going into panic mode and saying something irrelevant, long-winded, or worse, nothing at all, you'll be able to put your best self across and do yourself justice.

 

Good luck!

 

If you’re looking for help for an upcoming interview, check out our Interview Techniques course, helping you to make the best possible impression during that all important first meeting.

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