Behavior-based interviews are recognized as being the most valid and reliable form of interviews, at least from an organizational psychology perspective. In these types of interviews, job candidates provide an example of when they’ve demonstrated a specific behavior in the past. You probably recognize questions like, “Tell me about a time when you had to solve a complex problem.” This is a typical question, and from the employer’s perspective, the idea is: Your past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
Specifically, recruiters and hiring managers are usually looking for behavior traits like problem-solving, leadership, project management, teamwork, communication, innovation, and planning and organizing. These are all key behaviors to prepare responses for before an interview. But how can you communicate your strength in each of these behaviors? The STAR method can be a useful formula for acing your interview.
STAR, or Situation, Task, Action, and Results, is a model for responding to behavior-based questions that breaks responses into four components. It provides the opportunity to highlight the context, course of action, and results of your behaviors. It also reminds you to keep your answers as concise and clear as possible. A typical interview lasts around an hour and encompasses anywhere from five to eight behavior-based questions, as well as time for candidates to ask questions. That means approximately seven minutes should be spent on each question.
Below, I’ll take you through how to prepare a “passing” response to a behavior-based question. I’ll use the example question, “Describe a situation when you had to communicate a complex message to a diverse audience” to highlight a solid “STAR” response.
Situation: Set the scene.
In a few sentences, describe the context of your example scenario. It’s not necessary to provide every detail of the situation, but give the interviewers enough context to evaluate if the actions you took were the best for that situation.
Describe who was involved (e.g., clients, managers, co-workers, cross-functional staff, senior management) and your role at the time. If possible, choose an example from your work history that has a context similar to the job you are interviewing for. This showcases how you’ve performed in that situation in the past, and thus are likely to perform similarly in the future.
“During my time at Company X, I was asked to prepare a presentation about emergency funds to be delivered by a colleague in front of an audience of readers attending a live podcast taping. The audience was comprised mostly of English-speaking professional women aged 18 – 35.”
Task: Explain the challenge.
Now that the interviewers understand the context, provide a few sentences detailing exactly what was asked of you. What were your deliverables? What was the timeframe? What controls were in place? Who were you delivering to or servicing?
“The presentation required both a slide deck as well as speaking notes. The presentation was seven minutes long, with a question and answer session following the presentation. I was given two weeks to prepare the presentation.”
Action: Tell them what you did.
You should spend the most time during the interview describing the actions you took. Detail exactly what you did, and why you did it. A common mistake is to speak in terms of what “we” did as part of a team instead of what you did as an individual. While it may feel counterintuitive, this is the only opportunity you have to highlight your accomplishments, so take advantage.
“Using the presentation template, I put together a series of slides that included an overview of what would be discussed, the definition of what an emergency fund is, how much to save in an emergency fund, and what to use your emergency fund for. To prepare the information for the presentation, I conducted and compiled research from previous publications to ensure a consistent message. The slides featured both text and graphics to engage the audience. I created speaking notes based off of the content of each of the slides, the speaking notes were similar in content to the slides, but were not word-for-word.
I’ve found this holds the audience’s attention better. I also prepared a list of common emergency fund questions with prepared responses to be leveraged during the question and answer session. Once I prepared the deck and speaking notes, I met with my colleague one week before the deadline to review my work and make any adjustments to my deliverables. After the meeting, I made all the necessary adjustments and had the presenter review the presentation to confirm the final draft.
Results: Explain the outcome.
Now is the time to brag about your accomplishments. If you have specific metrics or numbers to support your success, use them. How much did your actions improve ROI, revenue, customer satisfaction, workflows, collaboration, or sales? What impact did your actions have on your team, department, organization, or customer base? As concisely as possible, describe the direct impact of your actions. Don’t hold back on highlighting your achievements. Remember: You are the only person who will advocate for yourself.
“As a result of my work, my colleague delivered the presentation to a group of 50+ attendees who asked over ten questions, seven of which were on the prepared list! My colleague was able to leverage the information I provided to respond to the questions in a way consistent with the company’s previous messaging. The audience was engaged in the presentation, and the company received positive reviews from the audience, saying things like, ‘The presentation was really informative — short and to the point. I took home key information without being bored by a long presentation.’”
Overall, your responses should take three to four minutes, allowing time for follow-up questions and a back and forth to clarify any details. You want to highlight exactly what you did, why you did it, and the results of your actions — it’s a simple formula and the best way to align your past experience with the expectations for your (hopefully) future position.
Kelsea is a reality TV junkie and recovering overachiever from Canada with an affinity for knitting. You can follow her plight to save struggling plant parents on Instagram by following @kelseaknits.
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