How to Prepare Well for the STAR Interview?
We have all done it or perhaps are afraid we might do it. The job interview comes round. We know we deserve the job. We know we have the skills and experience to impress even the most demanding employer.
And at the interview, what do we do?
We either sit there tongue-tied or do what might even be worse, launch into a flow of unconnected sentences, or babble on without even making much sense to ourselves. And yet we have valuable stuff to tell, stuff that might well get us that job.
So what went wrong? We prepared, looked back over past experiences, remembered workplace incidents that had relevance to the question being asked, and then we failed to deliver.
Why, you might ask. The simple answer is we failed to prepare our line of answering correctly. Our answers were correct and should have won us that job, but we didn’t present them in a way that urged the interviewer to snap us up before anybody else did.
And the reason for that? We hadn’t heard of the STAR method of preparing answers to interview questions, the method that gets applicants less able than us across the line to gainful employment.
Table of Contents
What Is the STAR Method?
STAR is an acronym for:
Organizing your answer to an interview question about situations you have dealt with in the past using the STAR technique means that you give a fully rounded answer where all the important details, i.e., the ones that will get you the job, are included.
Your answer has flow and cohesion and the interviewer can readily follow the picture you are painting. And equally important, you won’t have the freedom to stray off track in your answering,
Interviewers today are taking different approaches to their style of questioning. They found they weren’t getting accurate information or profiles of applicants with the older style of questioning when they asked applicants how they would behave if a certain situation arose.
The interviewee was answering about an imaginary situation and felt free to dream up the action they might take.
That style of questioning changed and candidates are now asked questions about how they handled various situations in workplaces in the past.
In effect, they concentrate on how the candidate behaved in previous workplaces, rightly presuming they will get a fuller picture of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses and of how they were likely to behave in a future workplace.
And interviewers are looking for the best fit for the job on offer. Getting a picture of past experiences you have had they are safeguarding against employing somebody who will not work well in their business. They gave the applicant freedom to tell their story and the STAR approach to answering behavioral style questions was born.
Practice at dealing with this type of questioning is essential. You need to show yourself in the best light and if unprepared you can easily fall into the trap of saying a lot yet not giving the interviewer anything to judge you by.
How Can I Learn to Use the STAR Method?
Getting in contact with a job test preparation company is your best approach to getting ready for the behavioral interview. They will be able to advise you on how to approach the style of questioning used.
For this, we recommend Job Test Prep. They have over thirty years of experience in preparing candidates for all aspects of pre-employment testing and interviewing.
They will give you useful information, preparation videos, and exercises to practice on as you prepare for your interview. All their preparation materials come in a test prep pack that will serve as the backbone of your interview preparation and enable you to hone your skills to present the best version of yourself.
What Types of Questions are Asked at These Interviews?
There are many types of questions but imagine you may be asked to describe a challenging situation you had to deal with at work and how you dealt with it. Naturally, they will also want to hear if your action was successful.
As you can see from this example, it is not a question to be approached without preparation. To prepare for answering, take the following steps.
- Do your research on the company you are interviewing for and the particular role you want with them. Do they have any preference for a particular type of workplace personality? For example, do they require staff to be assertive, customer-oriented, or good team players?
- With notes on your research to hand go to your cv or application form. Can you find any past workplaces where you had experiences even vaguely familiar to those you are likely to have in the new workplace?
- Select an experience and jot down notes on the Situation and the Task you needed to carry out to resolve the situation. For example, would you have had to reason with a customer or take an underperforming staff member aside? Would you have had to involve fellow workers or management in resolving the situation?
- Outline your Action. What did you do?
- Make notes on the Result of your action. Was it successful? To what do you attribute its success?
Finally, lay your notes from this exercise in front of you and decide if your behavior in the situation would impress your prospective employer.
And do a double-check with the materials in your test prep pack. Remember, they are your guide to dealing with all of this. Your interviewer will, of course, be studying how you speak and present your material. So your next step is to practice giving your information in the form of a two or more minute answer.
Organize your notes and try taping your answer into a recording device. Better still, enlist a friend to ask you the question and listen to your answer.
The STAR Acronym Explained
Approach your interview preparation as you would approach any other type of pre-employment testing. See each section of the STAR acronym as a mini test in its own right.
When outlining the situation you were dealing with, you are showing the position you occupied in the company. If, for example, you observed a dissatisfied customer, you were obviously involved in dealing with the public.
Taking a colleague aside to discuss their workplace behavior would put you in a managerial or supervisory role.
The fact that you became aware of the situation shows you as observant and as someone who is committed to maintaining company standards.
By setting yourself the task of doing something about the issue, you are showing initiative and a willingness to make decisions. You are also showing a level of confidence, maturity, and a sense of responsibility.
The reason you decided to take the course of action you did needs to be explained to the interviewer. Did you take it because it was laid down in the company’s rulebook? Or was it because you felt you had a moral obligation in that situation?
If, for example, you took a fellow worker aside, did you do it in the spirit of working as part of a team to ensure the smooth running of the business?
Explain the outcome of the action you took. Be prepared to discuss how happy or otherwise you were with the outcome. If you felt you learned something from experience, tell the interviewer. Employers generally look for employees who can grow in the job.
This is quite a straightforward example of a behavior-type interview question. But to get a headstart on your interview preparation, perhaps try doing the question again, this time coming up with an experience of your own.
Other Types of Questions You may be Asked
Not all behavior-type interview questions are as easily dealt with, however. The following are examples of more complicated questions and some hints on what the questions may be asking you to reveal about yourself.
1. Describe a situation where you made a risky decision. How did your risk-taking pay off?
Some employers need risk-takers to carry out a job. Think, for example of the people who work on the floor on Wall Street.
However, not all jobs are suited to risk-takers. Determine before your interview if the job you have applied for is one where a risk-taker is needed.
Your ability to make solid decisions and assess a situation can also be judged by your answer.
2. Describe a situation where you made a decision unsupported by the rest of the team. Why did you go against the opinion of the majority?
The big question here is, are you someone who will risk losing the support of colleagues if an action that benefits the company is necessary. Are you good at decision-making?
3. Tell us about a time when other employees sabotaged the fulfillment of a project. What did you do to salvage the situation?
Obviously, here you are going to have to explain what action you took and why you took it.
You are going to have to consider this as the type of question you get on a personality test. You have broken bonds with your fellow workers. Why you did that will tell a lot about what motivates you and whether you can be trusted to show loyalty and integrity.
Did you do this to help save the company or improve your own opportunities within the company? Or did you salvage the situation discreetly but determine to have a quiet word with management when everything had returned to normal?
4. Share an example of how you resolved disagreements with your managers.
Your communication skills are being assessed here. Your prospective employer needs to know if you will go in with all guns blazing when something happens to annoy you.
Or will you engage in a calm, balanced discussion and show a willingness to compromise? Your answer here will also tell how well you are able to work with others.
5. Tell us about a time when you had to multitask at work.
Multitasking is challenging and some of our best work practices get forgotten about when we have to do several things at the same time.
However, the person who can successfully multitask is able to manage their time well and prioritize tasks. They are also able to remember the finer points of each project and pay a lot of attention to detail
6. Give an example of how you worked under pressure.
Workplace skills are being studied with this question. Working under pressure stretches most people’s abilities. But the interviewer may be looking for signs you caved under pressure. Or for signs that you were able to prioritize tasks, delegate when necessary, and show good time management.
Now look at the following two questions
First, decide what the questions may be trying to find out about you. Then try answering them using the STAR method.
- Describe a situation at work where you lead by example.
- Describe a decision that you made at work but regretted afterward.
You may have found that exercise relatively uncomplicated but bear in mind you will not have thinking time during an interview.
Preparing for the Interview
Considering how difficult interviews of this type are and the significant part they will play in your future career, it is important to begin your preparation immediately after you begin applying for jobs.
To make your preparation more effective, take the following steps:
- Review your cv and collate a list of jobs you have worked at.
- Select experiences that you may fall back on in interviews. If this is your first time on the job search, go through your experiences while in school or college. You will probably find something there that you can use when answering a question.
- With your research done, work through your test prep pack, beginning first of all with the advice and guidelines given. Apply the guidelines to the experiences you have selected.
- Using the STAR method turn your experiences into answers to possible interview questions.
As you do this work write down your answers. When we write something, we commit it to memory more easily than by simply reading over it.
Following these steps will help you equip yourself with the information you may need at the interview.
When Your Interview Invitation Arrives
Make sure you do the following:
- Review any information you have on the employer.
- Check the STAR notes you have prepared around your work history.
- Check if you need to make any adjustments to your notes to make them relevant to the job you are being interviewed for.
And finally, approach the interview confident you have done the work needed to ace it!
Written by Elizabeth O Mahony
With 25+ years’ experience as a teacher and state examinations corrector, Elizabeth now writes for the education and careers industry. Her experience preparing students for examinations and running an academy for supplementary education give her invaluable insights into what it takes for job seekers and graduates to succeed in assessments.
Sarah is an accomplished educator, researcher and author in the field of testing and assessment. She has worked with various educational institutions and organisations to develop innovative evaluation methods and enhance student learning. Sarah has published numerous articles and books on assessment and learning. Her passion for promoting equity and fairness in the education system fuels her commitment to sharing insights and best practices with educators and policymakers around the world.