Master STAR (and the extra ‘R’) to get the best out of interviews
If you’ve spent any time involved with interviews – on either side of the table – you’ll probably know about STAR. It is the recommended approach to responding to interview questions and, when done well, delivers concise, relevant and relatable answers. Current trends in interviewing use “competency” focused questions where the objective is to explore how the candidate would behave in particular situations. This is usually done by asking questions of the type: “Tell me about an occasion when…” If you are not well prepared, this can potentially become a stressful interview.
Let’s start with S.T.A.R.
The acronym stands for:
- S – Situation
- T – Task
- A – Actions
- R – Results
You start by describing (briefly!) the situation. Your objective here is to provide context for the Actions and Results (more on them in a moment). It’s important to be brief and succinct: interviewers are very quickly switched off by irrelevant rambling. Use no more than two sentences if you can, clearly stating the issue at hand. Such as: “Our department was over-budget by 20% due to escalating project delivery costs. The CFO was becoming concerned about cash-flow.”
Next, outline the task (or tasks) that you created or were given, that addressed the situation. Make sure these tasks DO address the situation! Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people will provide responses that seem completely unrelated. Hint: practice this with a trusted friend – they should be able to tell you if it doesn’t make sense. Taking the example we started, this might sound like: “I was asked by the CFO to address the budget over-runs – she gave me 18 months to balance the budget.”
Next you describe the actions you personally took to satisfy the tasks. Again, makes sure these are relevant and specific. Such as: “I analysed the data we had on project delivery and discovered we had incomplete data. So the first action was to gain 100% compliance on time recording.” Specific and related. You probably want to identify 2-3 actions that relate back to the job description. So if attention to detail is listed in the JD, this example would clearly relate. If stakeholder management was listed, look for an action where this features.
Now you get the chance to boast! Most of us aren’t keen to talk about our achievements, but you can’t afford to be shy in interviews. The Texan’s have a saying: “If you’ve done it, it ain’t bragging!” So don’t be reticent about promoting your achievements, just try to ensure that the language you use is appropriate. “And BOOM! I smashed it!” is unlikely to be appropriate in a senior leadership role. Something like “I explained the situation to my team – we needed the data so we could engage extra resources. They got it, and within 2 months we had 100% compliance. I could then fully analyse the data and structured it into a business case for the Board. They approved the extra headcount which resulted in a reduction in the overtime bill of 80%, fully paying for the new staff. This had the added benefit of improving the work-life balance for the whole department…” Get the idea?
BONUS: The extra ‘R’: REFLECTION
For extra points, you can add an extra R: Reflection. It’s the opportunity to pre-empt competency questions around continual improvement, something that almost all organisations seek. You can add a final statement to your story along the lines of: “On reflection, we might have been able to get compliance quicker by holding a town hall meeting where we transparently explained what we were trying to achieve. This would have allayed concerns that to address budget over-runs we’d have to reduce staff. In the end we increased staff while reducing staff costs!”
It is important to write out your STAR stories in full and practice them. It is said that for presentations (and an interview is much like a presentation) you should invest at least 20 mins preparation for every minute of presentation. Your STAR story should be no more than 3 minutes MAX (that’s 180 seconds…) So it may take 60 min of prep and practice. Do yourself a favour and keep it down to 2 minutes. And make sure you do it with another human being. You pets might listen politely, but you need meaningful feedback. Cat’s just don’t care, and dogs will always love you.
People love stories. Remember your STARRs and you’ll be a star in the interviews.
Find out How to Interview Like a Pro and What to Wear and What NOT to Wear to an Interview (coming soon)
© Make Life Exceptional 2016. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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