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Answering Questions Using the STAR and More

Lesson 16 Module 6

What is the STAR Method?

No matter how the interview is structured, you can generally break it down into the the four key areas below. Each one can have multiple dimensions, but typically most interview content can be grouped into one of these four areas.

  1. Job Scope, Environment and Professional Growth
  2. Leadership and Teamwork
  3. Your Core Subject Matter Expertise
  4. Your Future

Remember to frame your answers to interview questions with a STAR type response as described below.

STAR stands for Situation, Time frame, Action taken, Results achieved. This provides a structure for your answers, especially when responding to a behavioral or performance-based question.

Remember, writing tends to crystallize thought. If you elect to write them out, I recommend using Microsoft Word and use a table format and actually write your stories and responses to key questions. Practice giving them verbally - then, practice and practice some more.

Key STAR Concepts

Here are the relevant details that further explain the STAR method.

Situation: The interviewer wants to know the context within a certain set of circumstances. This usually involves how you performed a particular task, project or handled a challenging situation. This include working as part of a project team and how you may have handled a conflict with a coworker. You need to be as specific as possible, yet get straight to the point.

Task: Next, talk about your responsibility in that specific situation. This could include your role within a project team working on a tight deadline, resolve a conflict with a coworker, interacting with a customer or hitting a sales target. 

Action: This is the time to use action verbs whenever possible. Describe how you completed the task or worked to meet the specific challenge. Focus on what you did, rather than what your team, boss, or coworker did. (Language Tip: Instead of saying, "We did abc," say "I did abc.") 

Result: Finally, explain the outcomes and/or results produced by the action taken. It may be helpful to emphasize what you accomplished, or what you learned. Look for opportunities to describe what you did in measurable language, what I call the "mental yardstick." This means incorporating percentages, time frames, budget numbers, dollars etc.

Is Your Interviewer's Style More of a 'Clock Watcher' or 'Clock Builder'?

One of the most common mistakes is to ramble when giving answers to interview questions.This can also include not giving enough information, or doing so in an unstructured manner. I like to use the illustration of a clock.

A clock watcher only wants to know "what time is it." A clock builder wants to know "how to build the clock."

If you are an analytical person (a clock builder) with tendencies to provide a lot of detail and your interviewer (a clock watcher) only wanting a high level answer, you can be viewed as a rambler!

On the other hand, if you are prone to give only high level answers or general answers (the clock watcher) and the interviewer (a clock builder) is looking for a lot of detail, then miscommunication can occur. 

Be sensitive to your personality and that of your interviewer.

The safest approach is to give a well done elevator pitch (STAR approach) and let the interviewer ask detailed follow up questions.

Most interviewers are not looking for your life history. They are looking for your bottom line. Develop a level of comfort in your personal presentation of who you are and what you are looking for by rehearsing and practicing delivery of a one to two minute STAR response. Do it over and over again until you get it right. 

Example of a STAR Answer

Situation

My employer found themselves in trouble with an important customer. A major project involving our new widget line being developed for a key customer was three months behind and also 11% over budget. The customer was about ready to cancel their contract. This was even more critical because there was multi-million dollars of new future business if we performed well.

Task

I was given the responsibility to take over the product development and turn the project around. I had 4 weeks to formulate and execute a plan to bring project back into budget constraints and make up for lost time to meet the original project delivery committments.

Action

I took two weeks to become immersed in the project and then began to immediately implement some much needed changes.

I began by re-organizing the project teams, which required replacement of four key project team leaders, and implementation of new and more effective project management tools.

I changed the project team reporting metrics and set up a meeting schedule from once per week, to a daily project review briefing in order to proactively spot problems before they became serious.

I also included the customer's key project team leader in these meetings and set up a special 30 minute progress meeting each day with the customer to discuss the project details with them.

Result

Within the first four weeks, the project began to smooth out, the whole team had a clear idea of the status of the project and troublesome issues were typically solved before they became serious.

The customer quickly became convinced that the project was back on track and those pressures went away.

 We finished the project 12% under budget and on time. The success of this project led to a new $3 million contract with the customer.

After delivering your one to two minute STAR answer, it's a good idea to say, "I'd be happy to go into more details about this situation if you'd like."

My example above is intentionally a little brief to help you get the idea. However, since you may not know early in the interview if you're talking with a clock watcher or clock builder, the above question that follows a brief, but complete answer opens up the discussion so if you happen to be talking with a clock builder they will appreciate the fact that you offer to provide more detail.


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