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Using the STAR Method

First impressions are often lasting impressions, and the interview is usually the first opportunity to make a positive impression on a potential employer. Make sure you’re prepared for interviews by practicing your responses to some of the most commonly asked interview questions. At the same time, don’t forget that you are, in a way, interviewing the employer as well to learn more about the position and organization. The interview should flow as a conversation, where both parties are trying to learn if the other is a good fit.

And, as in any good conversation, you should make an effort to be concise. We’ve all been in a group where one person keeps talking and talking and talking. You don’t want to be that person. Similarly, in the workplace, you need to demonstrate clear, concise communication. Fortunately, you can rely on the STAR method, a widely-used means of forming succinct responses to interview questions. STAR is an acronym that stands for:

Situation: Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.

Task: What goal were you working toward? What was the specific thing you were trying to accomplish?

Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail and keep the focus on YOU. What specific steps did you take and what was your particular contribution? Be careful that you don’t describe what the team or group did when talking about a project, but what you actually did. Use the word “I,” not “we” when describing actions.

Result: Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy about taking credit for your behavior. What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Make sure your answer contains multiple positive results. Also, use specific numbers if possible (e.g., my actions led to 10% growth in sales for the second quarter).

Most professional resources state that the STAR method is used primarily in “behavioral” interview questions. As the name suggests, these questions ask how you would behave in a particular work situation. For example, an interviewer might say, “tell me about a difficult decision you’ve made,” to which you would respond by discussing a specific situation, task, action, and result relating to a difficult decision.

Questions you will hear during an interview may not at first seem behavioral. How could “tell me about your strengths” possibly relate to a behavior? In fact, many questions can be answered with the STAR method because your answers should be supported with examples of how you have behaved in professional situations. So you might answer the “strengths” question by saying something like, “I consider my greatest professional strength to be my adaptability. For example, I was once in a situation where…” You get the idea!

The STAR method might seem like a lot of effort at first. However, all it takes is a bit of practice, and then you’ll be checking off the letters in your head as you form succinct responses to questions during an interview. Below, we’re going to present several common interview questions. Some allow you to consider how you might incorporate the STAR method. We’re going to call attention to these opportunities with a STAR method opportunity alert! Where you see this, take a moment and consider how you would respond by discussing a specific situation, task, action, and result relating to the question.