No matter what academic institution a student attends, or a graduate attended, it is exceedingly rare for their curriculum to prepare students for an integral part of the job-search process: developing interview skills. If someone is eager to improve or refresh their interviewing skills, one needs to have fundamental skills to begin with. We kick off this skill-building journey with clients by teaching the “STAR” technique of managing responses to behavioral questions. It is a simple framework that is time-tested and easy to learn.

Mastering the STAR Model

The STAR model is a paradigm for interview success. From working with early careerists, we’ve learned that there are four steps to master it.

  • Learn the conceptual model, described below, by its acronym: STAR = Situation/Task/Action/Result

  • Apply it to your personal story-board, use your resume, and form draft responses.

  • Refine those answers.

  • Practice for topics NOT found on your resume, possibly an experience that had a bad outcome.

The STAR Model

STAR is an acronym for the facets of a well-rounded short personal story. Your goal is to use your own experience to respond to behavioral questions posed to you. These are not hypotheticals, but rather personal anecdotes.

Be specific as you explain and demonstrate your accomplishments. Below, we’ve outlined an example response to the question, “Tell me about a time when you had trouble working with a team?”

Situation - Provide the context within which you performed a job or faced a challenge at work. Describe the place, the setting, who else was involved, and your stage in life at the time. Set the stage for your audience, the interviewer. Paint a picture using interesting words for both the setting and the actors.

Example: “Last semester, I was assigned to a team project building a mobile phone application with six other people, and we were working under a very tight deadline before the final contest.”

Task - Describe your responsibility in that situation. Provide your desired outcome, your objective or target. Perhaps you were helping your group meet a tight deadline, or resolve a conflict with a coworker?

Example: “I realized that two team members were not working constructively and I had to get them on the same page. Team meetings were no longer productive and everyone was frustrated.”

Action – Address what you specifically did to complete the task or meet the challenge. Focus on what you did, rather than what your team, boss, or coworker did.

Example: “I met with those team members individually to determine what strengths they each brought to the project, and proposed a new aspect of the project that allowed them both to shine, which quickly got them partnering like old friends.”

Result - Explain the outcomes or results generated by your actions, emphasizing what you accomplished. It does not have to be a significant award or accolade, but if it is, mention that. You can demonstrate a value-added contribution to a situation in smaller, meaningful ways.

Example: “Because of my actions, the team used its remaining time constructively. We submitted our innovative project and it led to our team winning first place in the contest.”

Going beyond the Model for Early Careerists

For anyone who finds interviewing a new experience, consider these additional aspects to make this model part of your training.

Identify behavioral questions, by ear, for the rest of your life. They sound different depending on the context, professional or personal. Examples might include . . .

  • “Describe a situation when …”/ “Did you ever do something like this…?”

  • “Talk about your…” / “So, tell me about your experience at …?”

  • “Explain a circumstance when…?”/ “Did you have something similar happen?”

Add an extra “R” for REFLECTION: STARR. Describe what you learned; what if the situation happens again – how would you act differently?

Create confidence. Practice on every question you can find so that when the need arises, you will confidently think to yourself, “That’s a great question and I have a thoughtful answer to it!”

The value of mastering this model will have a lifelong impact. Your thoughtful answers will make interactions more interesting with everyone you meet, whether it be on a line at a store, while attending a party meeting new people, or when interviewing for a new job.New people don’t know your story, so take time to tell it properly to open new doors leading to opportunities.