What is the STAR Method?
While interviewing for a job, Gianna Driver, chief people officer at the Silicon Valley-based fintech company BlueVine, was asked to describe a time she helped her workplace meet its goals during a difficult time. Driver guessed that this question would come up and was ready with a story to tell.
“My company was experiencing rapid growth selling a high-end seasonal Christmas product, and our current call center wasn’t able to meet quality standards, which resulted in lost revenue,” she said. She was tasked with building out a new call center — something she’d never done before.
The STAR Method Step-By-Step
- Describe the situation you were in
- Talk about the task you were expected to complete
- Explain what action you took
- Discuss the result your actions had
Even though it was a daunting challenge, she quickly sprang into action. “I used my strategic planning skills to create a business plan with costs and KPIs, and exercised communication skills to engage with the relevant stakeholders quickly,” she said. So what happened? Within four months, she’d created a 30,000-square-foot call center that was able to meet their holiday season needs.
Driver’s story is compelling because it follows the STAR method. The acronym that stands for situation, task, action and result — it’s the secret sauce that makes your accomplishments shine. Sticking to this format will keep your anecdotes concise and focused on the most impactful details.
Driver’s interview anecdote told a story that was about more than just the call center. “It showcased how I maintain focus in ambiguity and deliver beyond expectations,” she said. “By preparing a detailed anecdote that highlights a specific skill, you’re able to better explain to an interviewer why they should hire you for your unique experience.”
Anecdotes Bring Your Experience to Life
Anyone can say that they’re hardworking, responsible or adaptable — you need to back up your claims with evidence. Instead of listing your qualities and skills, tell a specific story about a time you exemplified them. Doing so will make your interview more memorable and give the employer a glimpse into how you behave in the workplace.
Keep a few stories about your past work experience in your back pocket — they’ll help you keep your interviewer’s attention.
“You actually see what someone is capable of when they walk you through a previous challenge they overcame or a successful project they led,” said Savanna Thompson, vice president of people at Seattle healthtech company 98point6.
Keep a few stories about your past work experience in your back pocket — they’ll grab your interviewer’s attention and showcase your personality. If you can share stories that make you stand out from other candidates, it’s all the more likely that you’ll get a call back with a job offer.
“The most effective anecdotes should always refer to a skillset you want the interviewer to remember you for,” said Driver. “You’ll give the interviewer the impression that you’re thoughtful about your growth as a professional and have the ability to advocate for yourself.”
The STAR Method Turns Stories Into Strategy
Stories you bring up in an interview need to accomplish two things: Demonstrate your past capabilities and show the value you’ll add in the future. The STAR format is a strategic way to focus your accomplishments into a strong narrative.
“The STAR method gives a framework on which to base your anecdote, and forces you to stick to the salient facts and keep the listener’s interest,” said James Rice, SEO team leader at London-based recruiting tech company Picked.
Implementing this method helps you avoid rambling or losing focus of the narrative you’re trying to spin. Here’s another example of how the STAR method works to help you communicate more effectively.
“The STAR method gives a framework on which to base your anecdote, and forces you to stick to the salient facts and keep the listener’s interest.”
“Our growth was a flat line,” said Alina Clark, a Beverly Hills-based co-founder of document tech company CocoDoc. “Our task was to create new ad campaigns that would help us to get more customers.”
After getting this assignment, Clark wondered whether ad campaigns were truly the most effective way to increase sales and boost growth. She discussed with her team that she thought retargeting ads would be more successful and then took action to increase brand awareness via social media. The story could have ended there, but here’s why including the result is so important: It provides essential context about whether your work was successful or not.
And the result for Clark? Sales increased by 13 percent because of her idea. By utilizing the STAR method, Clark was able to draw connections between her choices and actions and their positive impacts on her company’s growth. Her story did more than just describe a workplace experience — it painted a picture of her as a creative thinker and an adaptable team player.
While you can’t know exactly what questions you’ll be asked in your interview, it’s safe to assume you’ll be expected to share a past story of something that happened in your career. Knowing this, you should take the opportunity to pick and prepare your stories ahead of time.
“Prepare the most instructive examples in advance and loosely memorize them, so that you have them to draw upon and expand as necessary,” Rice said.
When deciding what you’ll share with your interviewer, be discerning. The STAR method doesn’t work for every workplace story, nor should it. As a strategy, it can only work if the story you want to tell is strong in the first place. Make sure you can be specific and dive into thorough detail.
“Prepare the most instructive examples in advance and loosely memorize them, so that you have them to draw upon and expand as necessary.”
Ask yourself some questions about the anecdotes you’re preparing: Is this a vague story? Does it have a beginning and end? Does it paint you or your colleagues in an unflattering way? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you might consider retooling your stories or looking for others that are more impactful.
Wait for Your Cue
As important as it is to choose the right story, it’s equally important to get the timing right. Relying too heavily on the STAR method can make it seem like you’re reading from a script and aren’t engaged in the current conversation, which is a huge turnoff for employers. Don’t jump the gun on sharing an anecdote every chance you get. Instead, listen for cues from your interviewer to pick the right moment to share.
“When an interviewer is asking you to give an example of a situation where you had to overcome major obstacles to meet your objectives, the STAR method can be a useful tool in thinking about how to frame your answers and effectively answer their questions,” said Thompson.
Don’t jump the gun on sharing an anecdote every chance you get.
Any time you’re asked to draw on previous work experiences, you can turn to the STAR method for guidance. A few examples of other questions that could prompt a STAR response are: What previous work experience do you have related to this role? What are some past projects have you worked on? What are some major challenges you’ve overcome in your career?
An effective workplace story doesn’t have to be one where everything went perfectly. Don’t be afraid to tell stories where mistakes were made or things didn’t go entirely according to plan. Ultimately, the STAR method should show how you generated a positive impact at work and give you a chance to explain what you learned.
“The more candid and honest interviewees are, the more likely they’ll wind up in a workplace environment to thrive in.”
“As an interviewer, I want to hear anecdotes that demonstrate that person’s capacity to think laterally, seek improvement, fight fires or optimize existing processes,” said Rice. “I want to hear how they can make positive change independently.” Complicated situations make for better stories, and describing how you dealt with a difficult situation shows your interviewer that you’re humble, realistic and a problem solver.
Data points and metric results bolster your case, but what’s most important is that your personality shines through. You get to choose how you’ll tell your story, so take advantage of that opportunity and be your unique self.
“My advice for interviewees is simple — be authentic and candid,” Thompson said. “At the end of the day, it’s about finding the right environment, so the more candid and honest interviewees are, the more likely they’ll wind up in a workplace environment to thrive in.”