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The Secret Is in the STARs

Learn to provide what interviewers are trained to find.

You’re on a job interview. You’re naturally a little nervous. Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what’s on your interviewer’s mind? What are the right answers? How can you be sure you’re making the right impression?

Actually, there’s a technique that many HR pros and hiring managers use — and if you know that technique, you’re way ahead of the game.

The key word to remember: STAR.

That’s an acronym for situation, task, action, result. It’s the cornerstone of a method called behavior-based interviewing. Smart companies want to make sure they hire the best people so they require managers to be trained to interview effectively and select new employees using proven methods rather than hunches or gut feelings.

Yes, there’s more of a science to job interviews than you might imagine.

The premise behind behavior-based interviewing is that past performance is indeed an indicator of future success. Smart interviewers don’t settle just for hearing your philosophy about work or descriptions of what you would or might do in particular situations. They want concrete evidence of your ability to deliver results. They want solid, real-life success stories.

You know your interviewer has been trained in behavior-based interviewing when you hear queries that start with, “Tell me about a time when …” or “Describe a situation in which you …” or other such questions. That’s your cue to tell your success stories using the following outline:

1) Situation: Provide the context, the challenge you were faced with.

2) Task: What was your goal? What were you trying to achieve?

3) Action: What did you do? What specific steps did you take? What were your alternatives, and why did you choose this course of action?

4) Result: What was the outcome of your actions? Did you meet your objectives? What did you learn from this experience? How have you applied this learning?
Be specific. Don’t ramble. Just follow the steps.

Take this approach, and you make the job easy for your interviewer. And the beauty is that even if your interviewer was not trained in behavior-based interviewing, you are still making the same positive impression. You’re coming across as someone capable of communicating your strengths clearly and objectively with an eye toward results. You’re offering something of value — experience in succeeding in challenging situations.

A good way to prepare for job interviews is to have your STAR plan ready in advance. If a job description was made available to you, see if you can develop STAR answers for each bullet point.

Vary your examples. Take them from all aspects of your life. Generally, the most recent examples are the strongest.

Are they looking for a well-organized, creative, problem-solving, customer-oriented, self-starter who communicates well? (Who isn’t?) Take the time to find the STAR responses that bring to light your organizational skills, creativity, problem-solving ability, focus on the customer, self-motivation and communication skills.

If the job description is brief or vague, ask interviewers to describe in more detail the skills and type of person they’re seeking. Then select the STAR points to match the need.

After a while, you’ll find that using the STAR approach puts you at ease during an interview. You’ll view your STAR stories as the well-practiced tools you need to shine.

The stories provide a beginning and an end to your answers, which enable you to communicate more confidently. One more thing: Stay factual. Be honest. Don’t embellish. And when discussing the result, it’s all right to share the success with “the team”; however, be sure to specify precisely what your contributions were.

That’s it. It takes a little time and preparation, but the payoff may be your next good job.



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