What is the Star Method and why it will help you ace your next interview

For whatever reason, you have decided to make a move. Whether you are a company that doesn’t allow your career to grow, or you are burnt out of a toxic working environment, most people check off the same to-do list items to prepare for the job hunt. Though sure, you definitely should ensure your resume and LinkedIn are updated and relevant, it’s also important to prepare for interviews. Even if you feel confident in your ability to ‘wow’ a potential boss or hiring manager, there are certain strategies and tactics that will ensure you stand out from other applicants.

One of the most commonly used techniques is the ‘Star Method’, and it’s easy to master if you practice. Here, career experts explain the 101 of this traditional approach:

So, what is the Star Method?

It’s all about leaving the interviewee starry-eyed and amazed at your brilliance, right? Well, hopefully—but that’s not where ‘Star’ comes from.

As executive career coach Elizabeth Pearson explains, this method is meant to illustrate how you handle certain situations and overcome obstacles. Each letter in the acronym stands for something different, Pearson notes:

S is for Situation: An event, project, or challenge faced. Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.

T is for Task: Your responsibilities and assignments for the situation

A is for Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.

R is for Result: Share the results of the actions you took.

You can tell someone is utilizing the ‘Star’ method when they ask behavioral interview questions like this, according to Pearson:

  • Tell me about a time when…
  • What do you do when…
  • Have you ever…
  • Give me an example of…
  • Describe a time when you had to…

How to master a STAR interview

Even if it seems rather straightforward, there are ways to bomb a STAR method interview. From rambling on for too long or not getting specific enough, it’s important to be direct, yet detailed. Here, experts give their best tips for acing the STAR:

Emphasize results

With STAR interview situations, it’s easy to get caught up in the fine art of storytelling. After all, many people feel as if they need to describe everything that happened so that an interviewee understands. However, Pearson says what they are trying to take away from your past experience is usually found at the end of the monologue: the results. Instead, move the endgame to the front, and thus, you won’t bury your lead. “The main focus of your answer should always be the results you achieved and how quickly and painlessly you were able to achieve them,” she continues. “Try not to delve too much into the problem or obstacle that you were confronted with, rather focus on the action you took to remedy the situation quickly.”

Keep your story succinct

Think about the last time you were at a dinner party for a friend-of-a-friend. You somehow found yourself sitting next to someone who is rambling on-and-on about their recent trip to Disney World. You stopped listening to a long time ago, and well, you are now worrying when they’re going to take a breath. No one likes being stuck in a room with a talker who doesn’t recognize their audience, and an interview is no different. The last feeling you want someone to feel after considering you for an opening is exhausted. That’s why career expert Amanda Augustine suggests timing how long it takes you to answer a question when you practice at home. “Employers want Cliff’s Notes version of your story, not the entire novel,” she explains. “Aim for your response to last no more than two to three minutes. If your interviewer wants to know more, they’ll ask you follow-up questions.”

If you’re not sure if you’re saying too much—or worry you are saying too little—Augustine says there’s no harm in pausing during your story and ask, ‘Is this the level of detail you’re looking for?’ to better gauge the situation.

Share credit where it is due

Sure, the STAR method challenges you to reflect on an experience from your personal past. But, no one meets all of their goals and executes fully on their deliverables without help from other people. As Pearson explains, interviewing is a time to toot your horn—while also illustrating your team-player mentality. “Hiring managers are increasingly focused on creating and maintaining a thriving company culture, so express gratitude for your current or past employer and the role they played in your success,” she suggests.

Be prepared for the follow-up

Before you commute to your potential new company, consider running through various situations with trusted people in your life. Perhaps it’s your significant other, a best friend, a mentor, or someone whose opinion your value. After you deliver your speech, have them list out any questions they would think to ask. It’s recommended to have a few people quiz you since everyone will respond to a story differently. Augustine says it’s common for the interviewer to ask if there is anything you wish you would have done differently in situations. “Be prepared to discuss what you learned from the experience and how you would apply this knowledge to a similar situation in the future,” she adds.

Use the Star Method to stand out

If you are in the hot seat and you realize your interviewer isn’t using the STAR technique, there are ways to interject it to stand out from other applicants. As Augustine explains, if you are asked to talk about a success you’re proud of, use the opportunity to share a story using the STAR method. Not only will you highlight the wins, but you’ll be considered unique for your ability to tell a captivating, yet efficient tale. “This also works well if you’re asked the dreaded question, ‘Why should we hire you?’”, Augustine adds. “After reiterating your qualifications, use this chance to explain something about yourself that sets you apart from the competition, and use the STAR Method to back up your claim.”