Be the STAR of your job interview

Even the most iron-willed job seekers can't help but feel a little hot under the collar while that spotlight is shining down and the questions begin to sizzle. Things may be going smoothly, but then the interviewer throws you a curve ball: "Tell me about a time you showed leadership skills during a crisis situation..." Your mind draws a blank. The seconds tick by. But this is no reason to panic. Instead, focus. Use this time to think carefully and construct a measured and detailed response.

As part of your job interview preparation, understanding the STAR method will help you avoid being caught off guard.

The STAR method is a basic framework that helps you tell a meaningful story about your past experiences and gives the interviewer a strong sense of how you handle yourself on the job.

STAR stands for:

Situation: Set the scene and circumstances.
Task: Explain the goal you were trying to achieve.
Action: Describe what you did in that situation.
Result: Share the outcome of your action.

By following this simple narrative thread, you will be providing the
interviewer with an easy-to-comprehend and compelling anecdote.

Let's explore each step to help you ace your next job interview.

Always wrack your brain for the most relevant situation. Listen to the interviewer's question very carefully and identify key words. For example, if they want to know about a time you displayed leadership skills under pressure, don't describe the time you had a conflict with fellow manager (unless, of course, you can find a way to link the two stories thematically). Remember that during your job interview it's okay to take a few moments to collect yourself, select the right anecdote and prepare your response. Feel free to tell the interviewer you'd like some time to consider your answer; it's better to be methodical than launch into an irrelevant example.

With your situation in mind, lay it out for the interviewer. You may find
yourself wanting to add as much detail as you can (especially if you find your nerves running away from you), try to keep your narrative as focused as possible, including only relevant information. Be clear and be concise. Try to keep your answer to one to four sentences per STAR step.

After setting up the scenario, quickly outline your responsibilities and the desired outcome of the situation. In other words, explain what you intended to do before explaining what you actually did and how the situation unfolded.

Now is your time to shine. This is your opportunity to showcase how you handled a pressure-cooker situation. Don't be vague or breeze through your contribution; this isn't a time to be overly casual or humble. Keep the focus of the story on yourself: use "I" instead of "we" when describing situations.

What did you do?
Did you learn a new skill? Defuse a conflict? Finish a project against
overwhelming odds? This is the information the interviewer wants to
hear so they can form a clear picture of your character.

The pay-off to all your endeavors. How did your actions have a positive result on the situation? (if the story has an unhappy ending, it's probably not a story you should be sharing with an interviewer). Even if you're talking about a time you failed or made a mistake, be sure to end on a high note: mention what lessons you learned and how you will carry them forward in your career.

Don't skimp on the details here; this is the crux of your story that helps the interviewer know why or how your actions mattered. If you can, give solid evidence of the impact you made, for example: "sales increased 5% due to my actions" or "we saved $1.50 on every unit produced due to my suggestion".

Here's an example of the STAR method in action which can be reviewed as part of your interview preparation:

(S) The newspaper I worked for was undergoing a redesign and many
staff members were anxious about the changes due to the strict
deadlines we operate under.

(T) It was my responsibility to build a new
library of dozens of page templates in a very short period of time, on top
all my existing managerial duties, as well as prepare the team for the
roll-out of the new design.

(A) Instead of spending days building an
entirely new database of page templates, I realized I could simply
redesign the existing templates in the library. This had two benefits:
first, I wasn't working from scratch and could work much faster; and two,
the team would be able to find all the new designs in the same places
they were accustomed to.

(R) The transition to the new designs was
much smoother than people were expecting, and because of my
adapting materials within an existing framework rather than creating and
entirely new one, I reduced a lot of potential stress among the team.

Top tips

• Keeping a bank of stories ready to go will take your Interview preparation to the next level; you can adapt them depending on the questions asked. Draw from a variety of experiences.
• Be honest at every step of the story. If you're over-embellishing, it
will come across clearly during your job interview.
• Make sure each story has a definitive arc (i.e. beginning, middle and
end). Include only the relevant details and avoid waffling.
• Focus on one story. Don't meander between different anecdotes.
• Be sure that the entire story reflects positively on you. Remember,
you're the STAR.