OK, picture this. You sent off your very well-crafted and beautifully styled resume and cover letter with your job application and you landed a prized interview spot at a company that you would love to work for.
You are primed and ready to ace your job interview. You have done your homework on the company and have prepared yourself well.
You have practiced answering some of the most common interview questions that you could be asked, as well as some of the most tricky questions, and you arrived in plenty of time for your interview – looking fabulous and feeling confident!
All seems to be going your way in your interview too. You are cool, calm and relaxed and answering questions with great ease. However, out of the blue, you are hit with this sort of question, “Describe a situation where you…”
Suddenly your mouth goes dry and your brain empties of all sensible thoughts. You don’t know what to say! You hold your breath and wait for an answer to pop into your head ….. but nothing happens and you start to panic!
Keeping your cool when a question stumps you
While it may feel like your stomach is dropping through the floor, it doesn’t mean that your interview performance must follow it.
While these types of questions can be tough and tricky to answer succinctly, there is a way to prepare yourself for just this sort of experience.
You just need to keep your head and remember the STAR interview method.
What is the STAR method?
So, ‘STAR’ is an acronym that stands for:
- S = Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.
- T = Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
- A = Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
- R = Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved.
The STAR method interview technique is something you can use when you are faced with any ‘behavioral style’ questions that you may struggle to answer during your interview.
Behavioral interview questions are those where you are asked to give a real-life example of when you handled a tricky situation – how you resolved it using your skills.
By breaking the behavioral question down into these four components, you can more easily recall and describe the most fitting experience from your work history that will fit the bill for your answer.
Breaking it down like this means that you can focus on the important points to get across and not allow your mind to wander and remember other things that happened at the same time that are not really relevant to the question.
The STAR method allows you to target your response and explain your experience in a way that your interviewer can follow along with and understand. The interviewer wants to see that you can think on your feet and can handle yourself under pressure.
This is a common line of questioning with customer-facing roles where you may need to be able to manage unhappy or grumpy customers directly without losing your temper or feeling out of your depth.
STAR method interview questions
The types of behavioral questions that fall into this line of questioning are quite easy to recognize when they come your way. The questions will usually be phrased in these ways:
- Describe an event when …
- Give me an example of when…
- Have you ever…
- Tell me about a time when you …
- What do you do if ‘XYZ’ happens…
You will be asked a question about your actions or reaction to a specific situation. Coming up with a fitting example to give can often put you on the spot here, so it can be helpful to think back through your work history in advance of your interview to times where you used your skills to resolve a tricky or uncomfortable situation.
STAR interview technique
It is worth spending time thinking back to the times in your working career where you used your calm manner and good communication and negotiating skills. Note down the times where you may have used your skills to:
- Resolve a workplace squabble between colleagues
- Turn an angry customer into a happy customer
- Fix an issue that your boss had with you
Now you have some examples to use for your answer, you need to learn to deliver your story without rambling on endlessly, or embellishing your story with too much irrelevant information.
This is where the STAR interview method comes in to help you!
Using the STAR method during your interview
So now that you know what the STAR method is, you can now learn how to use it when under pressure during your interview.
Find a relevant example: The STAR method will only work as long as you use it with a relevant experience that suits the question being asked.
Although you will not know ahead of time exactly what question your interviewer will ask you, it would be worth remembering a few key examples that you can bring up and adapt to fit the question being asked.
If you still find it a struggle to come up with a suitable example during your interview, then don’t be afraid to ask for a minute to think back and remember one. Your interviewer will rather you provide a good answer than panic and grasp at straws to deliver an answer.
Set the scene in your head: When you remember a good example of a time you used your skills to resolve a tricky situation, then make sure you set the scene in your head. We humans are very visual creatures so it can help to paint a picture in your mind to help you remember the setting and background to the event.
When your nerves are at risk of getting the better of you, bringing up this scene in your mind will help you to focus and keep the nerves at bay. This will also help to focus your answer to the valid and relevant points. The interviewer doesn’t need to hear the life history of a disgruntled customer to understand what issues you helped to resolve for them.
Keep your mind focused on providing just one or two sentences for each letter of the STAR acronym. Giving too much detail can mean your answer becoming far too long and you risk losing the attention of your interviewer.
Explain the situation/issue: Here is where you explain to the interviewer exactly how you were involved in the situation. Whether it was you answering a call directly from a customer and handling it by yourself, or if you were brought in to assist with an issue because someone else was unable to appease an angry customer.
This is not telling the interviewer what you did to resolve an issue but to clarify your responsibilities at that time, or whether you were tasked with resolving this issue because your boss knew you were the best person to handle it.
Explain how you took action: Now that the interviewer understands the scenario, it is time to explain what actions you took to resolve the issue, and what the outcomes of your actions were.
This is the time to deliver hard facts and fine details. There is no place for wishy-washy or vague responses here, so make sure you dig around for some hard facts on what you did and how it helped. For example:
- Did the disgruntled customer change his mind and then go on to making another, much larger purchase?
- Did you give the customer a full refund and then follow up with a courtesy call two days later that resulted in another sale?
- Did you resolve a workplace issue by working with your boss or another team to find an amicable solution, and then did your workplace productivity and performance increase as a result of your intervention?
Emphasize the positive results: This is where you make sure that your answer shines and shows you in a positive light. While you can highlight what positives came from your actions, such as a grumpy customer turning into a repeat customer, or creating a new air of positivity in the workplace, emphasize how your actions impacted on you personally.
You can explain what you learned from the situation and how it enabled you to grow in your role and accept more responsibilities at work, or how your boss appreciated your actions and rewarded you with a promotion or pay rise.
Why does it matter to employers
Interviewers are interested to learn what you did, how you did it and why it mattered to you. Make sure that they understand how these experiences helped you to learn and develop useful new skills that can be of great value to them in the workplace and the role on offer.
These sorts of questions are asked by interviewers so they can see what you can bring to the job. It is a way of weeding out those job candidates that would not be able to handle stressful or awkward situations in the workplace.
They will want to recruit new members of staff that will be able to thrive in their role and contribute to the company skills that can be valuable for others to adopt and use to their best advantage.
Take some time to practice the STAR method at home, even if you sit and interview yourself in the mirror. By doing this you will be very well prepared to answer without having your feathers ruffled during your interview.