When you feel under pressure during a job interview, it helps to have a framework to structure your story. The STAR interview technique is an effective way to answer any competency question in a personal and impactful way.
Saying ‘I am a tough negotiator’ is a statement that any candidate can utter. It won’t live long in the memory. It is not a story.
When they ask a behavioural question, employers expect so much more detail. The STAR technique may be common knowledge for most candidates, but sometimes you need to go with what works. It is the content of your STAR response that will set you apart.
In this blog, we will investigate
- What is the STAR interview technique?
- Why is the STAR method required?
- What are the four steps in this interview technique?
- How to use the STAR technique during a job search.
What is the STAR interview technique?
The STAR technique offers a framework to answer some of the trickiest behavioural questions in the white heat of a competency interview. For example:
- Tell me about a time when you had to deliver under pressure?
- Describe an occasion when you achieved an impossible goal.
- Have you ever had to break some bad news? How did it go?
- When have you used data to change someone’s mind?
A satisfactory answer to many such behavioural questions should contain the following:
Share the circumstances of the situation, detail the task to be accomplished, outline the action you undertook and finish with the result. We will explore in more detail how to make the most of this technique.
An efficient STAR response should not take more than 30-40 seconds of your interview time and ideally will contain enough information for an interviewer to feel that follow-up questions are not required. You are in control.
Why is the STAR technique needed?
Competency-based questions will take up 80% of any job interview. Employers want to explore the behaviours that were involved in your accomplishments. How you went about your work is as important as describing what you did. The STAR technique offers a compact framework to give a potential employer the maximum amount of information.
Most STAR technique responses will come after behavioural questions that start with:
- Tell me about a time when….
- Have you ever….
- Give me an example of….
- Describe when you….
Make the answers all about you. Employers aren’t interested in the contributions of those around you, so share your unique input that made a difference. The last two steps of action and result are particularly important to give the employer a sense of your impact.
Behavioural questions are intended for real life experiences – that is when the STAR response comes into its own. Situational questions, on the other hand, are more theoretical and involve speculation about what might happen in the future.
You shouldn’t offer a STAR response to a question starting ‘how would you act if…’ Use your imagination and don’t fully ground a situational answer in what you did in the past.
What are the four steps in the STAR method?
The four steps of the STAR interview technique take your potential employer on a journey of discovery. You allow them inside your head to understand exactly how you go about solving some of the most challenging work issues.
Leave them in no doubt that you have what it takes to handle a similar situation in the future, and they will move on to the next question. Answer in enough detail to satisfy their curiosity, but concisely enough so that their mind doesn’t start to wander.
Step 1: Describe the situation
Picking the right kind of situation is critical to the success of a STAR interview technique response. Is this the sort of thing that you will be doing in the future role? Was your personal contribution significant? Outline the broad strokes of the situation and general background. Be specific — the relevance for your future role should be obvious.
My logistics employer needed to run a tender for a new outsourced warehouse provider as we had increased our client base by 48% over two years.
Step 2: Outline the task
Many STAR examples will involve multiple contributors, so what was your specific task? Explaining your impact on a broader team demonstrates that this is always at the front of your mind. What was your responsibility? Share some challenging tasks alongside more mundane examples. When the stakes are high, you have what it takes to deliver.
I was tasked with creating a short-list of three providers with a full cost benefit and operational analysis. We needed to find a warehouse with cold-chain facilities as well as a track record of being able to handle 150% fluctuations in seasonal demand.
Step 3: Explain the action
We are all active at work. It is the nature of our activity that sets us apart. Sharing the actions that you undertook will help the interviewer to imagine you in a similar situation with them. Not every action needs to be world-beating — sometimes solid and sensible is exactly what is required. Some actions will be amazing and some adequate. That is okay.
I visited all providers and created a SWOT analysis after researching their operations. A survey of their current clients proved revealing. I led the commercial negotiations and modelled the financial and operational outcomes.
Step 4: Quantify the result
If you have been too verbose in your answer, the interviewer may already be pushing for this final part. What was the outcome of your involvement? You have already offered the context of the situation and task — now it is time to quantify the achievement (ideally with numbers and percentages). Include how you developed from the experience if relevant.
We selected the eventual provider after the competitive tender and realised a 15% cost saving. We initiated multiple operational improvements, including a 6% reduction in product shrinkage and optimised OTIF delivery from 98.2% to 99.1%.
How to use the STAR interview technique
You will only use the STAR technique in a behavioural interview effectively if you have put the work in to prepare in advance. Giving a concise STAR response is a big ask if you are making it up on the spot. Employers will expect you to have practised many of your stories.
While you want to seem natural, launch right into the answer and try to get the response out in full before the interviewer gets a chance to interrupt you. Hopefully they will wait for the result that comes at the end, so don’t be too long-winded.
Make sure that you focus on the behaviours that show you going the extra mile and doing things that aren’t on the job description. You will only seem extraordinary if you tell a unique story. A STAR interview technique response gives you the chance to break down just how special your contribution was, while at the same time sharing an objective account.
Look at the demands of the job description and think about the examples that you might take about. Maybe write brief notes on flashcards for each STAR step. When you have told a story a few times in your mind previously, it flows so much better when the pressure is on.
Needless to say, when you are telling your STAR stories during an interview (you will likely do this multiple times), you don’t need to signpost each part of the story with the relevant STAR word i.e. the situation/task/result was. That will seem inauthentic and forced. Let your career stories flow within the tried-and-tested framework.
Having praised the effectiveness of the STAR technique, remember that not every answer needs to follow this pattern. Interviews should be a natural conversation, so save the STAR responses for the most complicated situations. For certain behavioural questions a few words and less detail will be fine. Use your judgement.
- Select a career story that is specific and relevant to the role
- Talk about your individual contribution and answer with enough detail
- Break your answer down into the four STAR technique parts
- Prepare several your most impactful stories in advance
- Go above and beyond the responsibilities in the job description
Most interviewers will recognise when a candidate is launching into a STAR response. They will give you a chance to tell your story.