Using the STAR Method to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

Attending an interview can be stressful and nerve-racking. This Buzzle article will elaborate on using the STAR method to answer behavioral interview questions, which will help you give effective answers to your interviewer.
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STAR method to answer behavioral interview questions
"Besides getting several paper cuts in the same day or receiving the news that someone in your family has betrayed you to your enemies, one of the most unpleasant experiences in life is a job interview."
― Lemony Snicket

Well, most of us might just agree with this statement, at least in the first instance. After all, each one of us might have experienced bad job interviews at some point in our lives. The fact is, every time you prepare in a particular way for an interview, the session turns out to be completely different from what you would have expected. Questions after questions are doled out at you, and you have very little time to give a perfect reply. Managers too are looking at difficult strategies to select the best employee. Well, do not panic for nowadays, managers as well as students are adopting the STAR method. This ideology provides the interviewer with clear answers and gives him a concise picture of what exactly the interviewee had done at his previous workplace. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. This article will provide you with a detailed summary about using the STAR method to answer behavioral interview questions, which are asked by the manager to ascertain if you have the qualities he is looking for in his candidate.

The Importance

Learning the STAR cycle is more vital than you can imagine. Once you get the knack of using this process, you most certainly impress your to-be employer.

The process teaches you to answer questions in a subtle, yet powerful manner.

It not only showcases your efficiency, but also your dedication in handling complicated situations on the job.

Ideally, an employer may not like to sit and listen to your elaborate speeches; however, for important and highly responsible positions, he will probe and ask you questions for which you might have to think carefully, as well as answer efficiently. Here's where learning about the STAR strategy comes into prominence.

Using this, you can effectively pass on a message to your prospective employer regarding your talents, patience, efficiency, and working style.

The STAR Interview Technique Explained

S Situation Explain the circumstance. Set the background scene in detail.
T Task Describe what tasks were required to be done.
A Action Elaborate the actions undertaken.
R Result Explain the results, the outcome, in detail.

As mentioned earlier, this technique requires communicating all about yourself to the manager in the form of a story. How to begin and end is given in detail in the paragraphs below.

Situation
This is the beginning, the background, the crux of the story. Here is where you will describe the circumstances you found yourself in. This encompasses the what, why, when, where, how, etc. For instance, if you are a software developer, you could say something like, "I found myself in a situation where two of my colleagues quit their jobs in the midst of an important project ..." Commence your reply with your backstory. Start with how the circumstances were born, how crucial they were, how people reacted, etc. Provide enough detail so that the manager gets the hang of how the situation was, yet do not go overboard revealing unnecessary details. These include focusing on extremely sensitive data involved in the project, cribbing about your colleagues (if you do this, the manager might think you are possibly one of those people who loves to blow a whistle on fellow employees), or over-exaggerating. Be crisp in presenting your detail.

Task
This stems from the previous point, of course. Here is where you need to describe the actual problem―what happened that led to that situation? You need to describe the challenges, objectives, work to be done, etc. You need to specifically elaborate on what role you had to play, what goal you were supposed to achieve, and what was expected out of you. Here, you can go into a bit of the technical part, mentioning in detail about the task. Again, do not overdo it. You could say something like, "Since the code was only half-developed, I took over the reins of finishing the code development. I was already handling another module in this process; however, I now had the opportunity to develop this part in a more user-friendly way. Meeting the deadline was one of the most important goals at that juncture." Make sure you mention the tasks first and then the actions you took. Sometimes, people get diverted, and keep mentioning the problems and the corresponding solutions one after the other, confusing themselves as well as their employer.

Action
Certainly, this has to be the next step. Here is where you primarily come into focus. The manager will be interested to know how efficiently you handled the tasks. So, roll up your sleeves and get to work, for the ball is in your court now. You have to explain what you did, what actions you took, what changes you brought about, what queries you resolved, etc. If it was a financial crisis you were stuck in, you would need to mention if you did anything that affected the budget of the project. Describe beautifully, one by one, the steps you took to solve the problem at hand. Explain the technical know-how, the roadblocks faced by you and your team, any out-of-the-box ideas you used (if any), etc. This part is often the toughest. However, it has to be answered most efficiently, as this is what helps paint a good picture of yourself to your employer. Through this section, he will get an idea of how you utilize your resources, how you meet deadlines, how you handle pressure ... in other words, your talent and efficiency. Thus, here is where you need to beautifully gift-wrap and present yourself to your potential boss. You can say something like, "Since we had to meet deadlines, I immediately divided the responsibilities. I sent some modules for redesigning, and sent the completed ones for the testing phase, which sped up the process. I organized daily meetings so that everyone is kept abreast regarding the progress of the work."

Result
In this part, you need to explain the results of your actions. What happened after you executed your task? What was the staff response? How were you benefited? Did you accomplish what you were looking out for? What did you learn? Did the higher order management congratulate you on your success? Or were you reprimanded if your actions did not bear the expected fruits? You need a proper reply framed for every such question. State the benefits, savings, accomplishments, rewards (if any), acknowledgements, etc. Even if your efforts have brought about a minute change in the organization, do mention it. You can say something like, "My boss was very impressed with how I handled the situation", or "Some of my colleagues enjoyed working with me as their team leader", etc.

Factors to be Considered While Replying

Listen
Listen carefully to what you have been asked. Sometimes, candidates do not even pay attention to the question, and just ramble on. Doing so not only wastes time, but this might irritate your employer as well. Always keep your ears wide open.

Understand
Make sure you have clearly understood the question, and frame your reply according to what you have been asked. If need be, ask the manager to repeat the question. Analyze it well, and then go about replying. For instance, if he has asked you, "Have you ever led a team?", understand that this is your chance to showcase your leadership skills. The manager wants to know how well you can lead a team, if the need arises. Therefore, think of a situation where you have done so, and then go ahead. Do not choose a situation where something like this did not occur, because then you wouldn't be telling the employer what he wants to know.

Organize
Give yourself a few seconds to think carefully, and then compose a reply. Organize your thoughts in a proper order. Your reply needs to be logical, meaningful, and structured.

Reply
Put forth your reply confidently. Do not stammer, and do not panic. Keep a cool head, and make sure you cover all the points in the required time frame. Conclude your reply in a comprehensive manner. Do not go on talking and deviate from your thought process. Some people get carried away and go on speaking, which is impolite and irritating. Quickly mention your action and corresponding results in a crisp manner.

Time Frame
Although the above strategy is almost synonymous with storytelling, your employer does not have to sit and listen to you raving about yourself. So remember, your answer should not exceed more than two to three minutes. Of course, you will need about 5 - 10 seconds to think over. Then, the next 20 - 30 seconds can be spent in describing the situation. The tasks and actions can be given some more time, given their importance. Each of them could be assigned about 40 - 60 seconds. Finally, the results could take about 15 - 20 seconds.

Remember that this is just a random calculation; there is no hard-and-fast rule. You just have to make sure that you do not take up too much of your employer's time. We mean, at that crucial juncture of replying, how on earth are you going to sit and calculate how many seconds it takes for each phase? This is just a general time frame you can look up to for practicing so that the next time you attend an interview, you will be well prepared.

Do practice this method at home, and when the time comes for the big jump, you will be completely ready. All the best!
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Published: July 22, 2014
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