“Tell me about a time when you…” If this opening line strikes a chord, you most likely experienced a behavioral interview. And if you’re like most interviewees, you find that answering these types of questions by making a connection to the potential job can be a challenge. So to ease some stress, we will show you how to use the STAR method to give the best possible answer to the employer on the other side of the table!
What is the STAR method?
STAR is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. This is a technique that organizes your answers to questions in a behavioral interview.
We will talk in more detail about each part of the STAR method, but first let us take a look a typical behavior-based interview question:
“Tell me about a time you dealt with a stressful situation”
As you start to think about the answer to this question, begin with the end in mind. In other words, make a mental note of what personal skill(s) you would like to showcase in your answer. The employer is asking about a stressful time, so you may want to demonstrate skills like time management, prioritization, and diligence. Now let’s break down the STAR acronym.
You will want to open your story with a brief description of the situation and the relevant background information that the employer will need to know in order to understand why this experience is worth talking about.
Let’s go back to our example question and begin applying the STAR method.
In our example the employer says, “Tell me about a time you dealt with a stressful situation”.
A good description of the situation is the basic premise of the overall plot of your story. It typically answers the questions “Who? What? When? Where? Why?” Here’s an example of a good description of the situation:
“The first couple weeks after I started with a company for my first internship were extremely stressful. I was on a team of customer service support representatives where I felt pressure to perform well enough to make a good impression and secure a full-time position.”
After you have given the employer a little background on the situation you can move on to explaining the task that you are highlighting in your story. Tell the employer about any challenges that you faced with this particular task.
Tip: If possible, make a connection with the challenges that you faced with the task to the potential challenges you may encounter in the position that you are applying for.
“My first task was to develop a questionnaire to evaluate the effectiveness of a new marketing campaign that the company had released 6 months prior. A couple of things made this task a challenge. First, I was a brand new employee with little knowledge of the marketing campaign. In order to come up with effective questions for the survey I had a lot of learning to do in a short period of time. My second challenge was that many of the customers were not aware of the marketing campaign because it was so new. This made my pool of potential survey takers much smaller, reducing the likelihood that I would get a healthy sample.”
Next, you will want to talk about the actions that you took to complete the task. This is your opportunity to exhibit traits like resourcefulness, initiative, creativity, leadership, etc. This will also give the employer an idea of how you approach problems.
“The first week on the job I took initiative by connecting with seasoned specialists to gain insight on how the company operated and how this new marketing campaign fit into the company’s goals. I also researched customers to include on the contact list in the questionnaire. I segmented customers based on various demographics and buying patterns, and then organized each segment in a color-coordinated Excel file. The next week, I developed a 10-question survey before the deadline.”
Last but not least, you will want to conclude your story with a happy (or at least positive) ending. Closing your story with the results of your efforts gives it meaning or purpose. If all failed and no one gained anything from the experience then why mention it? Not all stories are success stories, yet it is important to highlight a learned lesson, an acquired skill, or something of value gained from the experience you chose to talk about.
Tip: Quantify the results whenever possible.
“All the customers on the contact list, that I developed, received the survey. By segmenting the customers I customized the distribution methods for each group in order to maximize the sample. The survey received a response rate of 43%. Management used the data collected from the survey to gain insights into how to improve the marketing campaign’s reach. Over the following 6 months the campaign’s awareness score increased from 15% to 35%. In the end, I harnessed the stress of the situation to propel myself forward and finish the task at hand.”
Remember that there is no right or wrong answer. It is all in the way that you communicate your experiences. And then there you have it, a great answer to a hard question!
Article Contributions By: Tyla McClain