Shine in your next job interview with the STAR approach.
If a prospective employer has invited you for an interview, it means that the skill set you presented on your CV matched the requirements of the role – great! Now it’s your job to expand on your CV and explain to the employer exactly why you’re the best fit for the position.
But do you know how to talk about your accomplishments and abilities convincingly?
The STAR approach is the ultimate interview-response technique that will help you craft strong, concise and persuasive answers. Its four-step method allows you to address the crux of the question and bolster your response with supporting evidence that proves your ability.
In this guide, we’ll break down the STAR approach so you know how to provide solid answers in your next job interview.
What is the STAR approach?
The STAR technique is a systematic method for answering interview questions. The acronym stands for:
Each of the four concepts refers to a discussion point in your answer. The idea is that by addressing all four points systematically, you’ll provide a thorough response. Let’s take a deep dive and review what each step entails.
In this first section, set the scene. Describe the situation you were in and be as specific as you can. You don’t want the interviewer to misunderstand the context of the task you’re about to expand on.
Next, tell the interviewer what you were tasked with, whether that be a goal you were working towards or your responsibility in the situation. Remember to explain what was required of you individually, rather than your team.
This section is the most important, and it should be the bulk of your answer. It is your chance to explain exactly what you did in response to the situation and task. Focus on what you did, referencing the skills you used along the way. In theory, they should be in line with the skills the interviewer is looking for.
The final step is where you wrap up your response and explain how the situation played out. Zoom in on the results you generated and what you accomplished. Even if your task wasn’t a success, you might find there are benefits to explaining what you learned and what you’d do differently next time.
When to use the STAR approach during a job interview
While you can use the STAR method for all forms of interview questions, it really shines when used in a competency-based interview.
A competency-based interview, or a structured interview, is designed to assess specific skills required for the role. For example, if you’ve applied for a sales-executive role, the interviewer may ask about your negotiation skills. As a result, interviewers tend to ask all candidates the same questions to keep the process as objective as possible.
While it can be difficult to build rapport in competency interviews due to their straight-forwardness, they tend to work in your favour as you know you’ll be assessed against a definitive competency framework.
Competency-based interview questions often start with ‘Tell me about a time when…’ or ‘Describe a time you…’, followed by a skill or responsibility listed in the job description.
Here are a few examples:
Teamwork skills: ‘Describe a time you helped a co-worker succeed.’
Adaptability skills: ‘Tell me about a time a project didn’t go to plan.’
Communication skills: ‘How do you encourage your team to share ideas?’
How to prepare for an interview using the STAR approach
Interview preparation is essential if you want to provide seamless and accurate answers. While you won’t know for sure what the interviewer will ask you, you can predict questions using the job spec.
Familiarise yourself with the abilities and qualities required for the role, and then pair them with your own experiences. Choose solid examples of your skills to demonstrate effective use of your competency.
Map out your mock responses using the STAR method and practise saying them aloud. Each answer should last anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Remember, most of your response should address the ‘action’ step.
An example of using the STAR approach in a job interview
To help you with your interview preparation, here’s an example of a competency-based interview question and a response that uses the STAR approach.
Tell me about a time you successfully negotiated with a prospect.
Situation: I had interest from a warm lead off the back of a whitepaper download. They were particularly interested in our platinum package, but they only had the budget for the gold.
Task: Rather than let the lead walk away and seek business from a competitor, I had to negotiate on a price and package to ensure the business and the prospect received a good deal.
Action: I started by assessing the prospect’s goals and strategy to confirm what they needed in a package. I also adopted a very human, real approach to build rapport. As a result, I was able to find out what they were currently paying elsewhere. I then leveraged our case by comparing our prices and services to our nearest competitors to prove why we stood out above the rest.
Result: Understanding that the lead could not afford the premium package but needed it, we negotiated on a one-off month-long premium contract with a 25 percent discount. This was only 7 percent more than the gold package. The prospect was so impressed with the results after one month that they increased their spend with the business and are now loyal customers.
Final thoughts on using the STAR approach
You should now have a comprehensive overview of the STAR approach and how to apply it to an interview question. While best used for competency-based interview questions, you can easily use it to structure your behavioural-interview responses too. Just make sure you prepare thoroughly beforehand if you want to give a stellar performance on the big day.
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