During the hiring process, people with hiring decision-making authority speak with numerous candidates.
The question hopefully on every candidate’s mind is how to beat the competition.
Differentiate yourself in a positive way — create separation between themselves and others, from the résumé all the way through the various rounds of interviews.
A powerful technique the savvy job seeker can use is called the STAR response, which has its foundations in the behavioral interview question.
Behavioral interview questions differ from more traditional question styles because they ask the candidate to relate a specific incident from a prior professional experience.
The intention in many cases is to determine whether a candidate has demonstrated a specific desirable trait or skill, with the corollary assumption that failure to provide such an incident means that trait or skill was not in evidence.
Typical behavioral interview questions are:
- What was your greatest professional success?
- Tell us about the worst professional failure you had.
- Tell us about a time when…
- Can you tell us the single most stressful work challenge you ever had? What made it so stressful, and how did you respond?
Behavioral interview questions have been around for decades now, so there is a best practice about how to respond to them. Because the response is meant to be drawn from prior experience, it may be difficult to craft a satisfying answer extemporaneously.
The best strategy is to have a game plan for answering behavioral questions.
[More: How to Handle Behavioral Interviews.]
How to Be a STAR
Start with a list of your successes, your accomplishments, and recognition you have received in your work and in school, if appropriate.
Your success stories range from getting employee of the month award or receiving some other recognition inside the company to making a big sale or creating (or improving) a process in your job that increased efficiency or reduced something negative like cost or a poor result.
As you will see from the examples below, you don’t need to have generated millions of dollars in revenue or profit to have a good accomplishment to share.
To prepare your answers, the best practice is to structure your response to fit into a template: a response that has several connected elements which together form a satisfying whole. As with so many such things, an acronym exists to summarize this structure.
While there are several versions of the acronym for this template, one of the most common is STAR:
What is sought here is the circumstance and context around the event. Usually a sentence or phrase should be enough to set the stage.
Briefly summarize the dilemma or describe the key objective. This section should rarely exceed a single sentence.
Explain what specific course of action you (not the team) took in pursuit of the task. Although this part is important, the really key part is…
Describe what the action taken did, both in terms of the successful resolution of the situation, but also the impact on the organization. This part is essential, because it is what will explain what makes you a STAR.
To illustrate, here are a few examples:
Example 1: HelpDesk Technician
The trouble ticket described a symptom that sounded impossible.
Based upon the circumstances and environment, the reported issue should simply not occur. And the ticket mentioned this is a recurring issue, so it was reported and believed fixed a few times already, and the user was clearly frustrated and approaching irate.
With his approval, I logged in remotely to verify the circumstances and environment with the user carefully: operating system, installed software and hardware, updates and patch history, and connected devices.
In my conversation I learned a detail missed in previous efforts, and discovered he was using a flash drive periodically. I collected the flash drive and, upon testing on an isolated machine, found it was infected with malware producing the issue in question.
Example 2: Administrative Assistant
The VP I supported left the office several hours ahead of an international flight.
Before he left, I confirmed he had both ticket and passport. He called me in a panic en route saying he had neither.
Because I knew his routine, I helped him retrace his steps to the gas station he liked by the airport, where both had fallen out of his pocket.
Being on that flight helped him save a client relationship whose loss would have resulted in an extremely negative result from the director.
Example 3: Sales Engineer
My colleague and I were just about to leave for the long holiday weekend when our manager called, saying a key client had a catastrophic event, and could we stay in the office to address the critical business need?
I knew my colleague was going to a special dinner with her boyfriend at which I expected he would propose, whereas I was catching up on sleep. I agreed to stay in the office and address the client need.
I was in the office for another 4 hours, ensuring the client’s issue was completely and thoroughly addressed, waiting until they signed off.
Due to my willingness to put in a little extra time, we were able to forestall the loss of $50M in client sales over the holiday weekend, and the client, pleased with the support, referred two other clients who yielded an additional $15M in revenue. And I’ll be at the wedding in 2 weeks.
Think about your own accomplishments, and write them out as you see above. Share true stories about how you handled a situation that demonstrates your qualities as a great employee, hopefully with stories that are relevant to the job you are seeking in some way.
The Bottom Line on the STAR Method of Interviews
You can be a STAR no matter what your profession. The only question is whether you are ready to let prospective employers know how good you are.
More About Successful Interviews:
- Smart Answers to Interview Questions
- How to Handle Behavioral Interviews
- Learn More About the STAR Method of Interviewing
About the author…
Ed Han is a recruiter and wordsmith and social media fanatic. As a veteran of several industries, including publishing, financial services and fashion, Ed helps facilitate a job search group in Princeton NJ and has served as the online community manager for the regional HR networking group Whine & Dine. Connect with Ed on Twitter @ed_han where you will often find that Ed has posted a “LinkedIn tip of the day.”
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