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Interview Prep Tips

STAR method: The job interview cheat code

Introduction – Why the STAR method matters

It is easier than ever to land a job interview invitation these days due to the massive labor shortages just about every industry faces. So why does the STAR method even matter? Simply because the most desirable companies and organizations are still incredibly difficult to get into. 

You need to ace all steps of the recruiting and vetting process until an offer lands in your inbox. The STAR method is an easy to learn and incredibly effective way to organize your job interview responses. Not using it is a handicapping yourself versus the competition – the best of which will definitively use the STAR method.

Once you are finished with this article, take a look at Voomer, a place where you can practice for your interview for free, get used to the STAR method and get AI-powered feedback on your answers so you can land that dream job.

When do I use the STAR method?

Whenever you are being interviewed – seriously! And that applies to all types of interviews:

  • Phone screens
  • Text message interviews
  • One-way interviews (like HireVue, Sonru, Pymetrics, etc)
  • Face-to-face interviews (either in person or through something like Zoom)
  • Panel interviews

 

The trick is to know what questions are the best to deploy this method. You’ll face several types of questions in an interview – such as motivational, technical, attitude, and behavioral questions – but not all require using the STAR method.

In fact, for some of those question types, it is better not to use the STAR method at all – use this method mostly on behavioral questions for maximum impact.

Behavioral questions are what most recruiters and hiring managers at top organizations use to assess job applicants.

What is a behavioral question?

A behavioral question is one that tries to understand how you’ve handled certain situations or circumstances. They should be based on past events and therefore completely grounded in facts.

If you’ve been through an interview before, behavioral questions are the ones that typically begin with “tell me about a time…”. Below are a few behavioral question examples:

  • Tell me about a time you improved something
  • Describe a time you took a risk
  • Tell me about a time you were overwhelmed with responsibilities

Do not even think of making up something on the spot or stretching the facts of your answer. A well-trained recruiter or hiring manager can easily pick out inconsistencies across your entire application. Probing questions are bound to uncover exaggerations.

The STAR method is the best method to approach those questions since the STAR method structure helps to keep you on track and answer everything that the recruiter is looking for.

What is the STAR method?

The STAR method is a framework that breaks down your answer into four steps:

  • S – Situation
  • T – Task
  • A – Action
  • R – Results

Situation – The first section of your answer should describe the situation you faced. Usually, this is a sub-optimal situation, either with angry customers, declining numbers, a disorganized workspace, low productivity, etc.

Task – Here you’ll explain what tasks you were assigned to resolve the above situation. Keep in mind that you could have thought up and assigned the task yourself if you were unhappy with the above situation – that helps to show initiative!

Action – Describe the actions you took to achieve the tasks and resolve the situation. If you had to do several things, focus only on the most important, most impactful, and most interesting actions.

Results – In the final section of the STAR method, wrap up your answer by talking about the results of your actions. Did you achieve the results you set out to accomplish? If not, what would you have done differently? Let’s take a look at some example questions and answers that use the STAR method effectively:

Answer example 1:

Let’s take a look at some example questions and answers that use the STAR method effectively:

Question 1: Tell me about a time you improved something.

Situation: I was transferred to a new department where sales had been stagnant for years. Management did not believe in the product anymore. To make matters worse, that department wasn’t well funded.

Task: My director tasked me with figuring out a way to increase sales – without using any new investment.

Action: I set up meetings with our largest distributors to understand what their concerns were. After talking to them, it was clear that our promotional strategy was completely out of synch with the market. I re-balanced our existing promotional budget.

Result: Our numbers immediately started going up. Our distributors were so happy that they brought forward more initiatives they believed would improve sales. Those are currently being worked on!

Answer example 2:

Let’s take a look at some example questions and answers that use the STAR method effectively:

Question 2: Describe a time you took a risk

Situation: At the private equity fund I worked at, returns were low since we only invested in very mature businesses. My department was in a particularly perilous situation after a technological change had sent one of our portfolio companies into bankruptcy.

Task: I had to improve returns immediately as well as compensate for the shortfall of the bankrupt portfolio company. However, using the usual methods would not work.

Action: I decided to go against the fund’s usual way of doing business and found several promising crypto start-ups. Highly risky but with a high reward potential. I made small investments in those start-ups.

Result: Most of the start-ups went bankrupt, however one increased in value tremendously and helped me achieve my objectives. My boss was intrigued by what happened. Following my recommendation, we set up a venture arm that is better equipped to take on those sorts of risks.

Answer example 3:

Let’s take a look at some example questions and answers that use the STAR method effectively:

Question 3: Tell me about a time you were overwhelmed with responsibilities

Situation: I had a new research assistant at the lab who took care of critical steps in our quality assurance program. Unfortunately, that person was unable to work at the standard the lab demanded and was responsible for many careless mistakes.

Task: I took it upon myself to re-train that person up to our lab’s standards on top of my regular responsibilities.

Action: Together with the research assistant, we discussed which areas they thought should be addressed first. We designed several checklists and scheduled various training to remedy their shortcomings. Unfortunately, that person would call in sick on days we had training schedules or simply not show up. I had to take on their responsibilities as well as mine, which was overwhelming and risked affecting our delivery schedule.

Result: I decided to ask my supervisor to fire that person. I also volunteered to lead a process that would re-vamp our hiring practices so that we would only hire capable people, interested in working at our lab. My next research assistant also needed some training, but within a few weeks they were operating at an acceptable level and we were able to maintain our delivery schedules.

STAR method tips:

Use these tips to maximize your chances of acing the job interview:

  • Before the interview, think of several interesting things that happened during your career and write them down
  • For each example, break down what you did into situation, task, action, and results
  • Practice answering job interview questions with the STAR method on a free platform like Voomer
  • During the interview, keep an eye out for any question that is best answered using the STAR method!
  • Answer the questions talking about what YOU did! Not your team, not your manager, not your direct reports. You are being interviewed, not the people you used to work with!
  • Balance your answers. Don’t spend all your time describing the situation only to race through the results!

Conclusion and final tips

Follow the steps outlined above and you’ll come across to the recruiters and hiring managers as a well-prepared candidate, a cut above the rest. Make sure you do lots of practice runs to familiarize yourself with the STAR method.

You can do this using AI at any time of the day. Voomer is a great way to get that practice since it was built from the ground up with this scenario in mind.

Voomer has past and present interview questions for thousands of companies. You’ll also get AI-powered feedback on your answers to quickly improve and land that dream job!

Categories
Interview Prep Tips

STAR method for MBA interview questions

Introduction

MBA admissions season is now in full swing, with several round 1 decisions already posted and round 2 decisions coming up shortly.

You’ve picked up that GMAT or GRE score, dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” on your essays. You’ve badgered your former managers for letters of recommendation and submitted that huge packet of data to your dream school’s admissions department. If you really put in the effort, you’ll get a video interview.

Once you are finished with this article, take a look at Voomer, a place where you can practice for your interview and get AI-powered feedback on your answers.

Video interview format

Video interviews are fast becoming the norm during these crazy COVID months and it looks like for some schools this is here to stay. Stanford GSB for example only uses video interviews for some of its programs.

MBA video interviews typically involve a mix of questions. Some of them are very limited in scope, where, for example, admissions wants to understand something that isn’t clear on your CV. Or they can be extremely broad behavioral questions which give you a lot of leeway in how to answer – up to a certain point. When discussing software-based video interviews, like the ones hosted by Kira, you’ll typically get a lot of behavioral questions.

What is a behavioral question?

A behavioral question is one that tries to understand how you’ve handled (or how you behaved – surprise, surprise) certain situations or circumstances. They should be based on past events and therefore completely grounded in facts.

Do not even think of making up something on the spot or stretching the facts of your answer – admissions can easily pick out inconsistencies across your entire application package and probing questions are bound to uncover exaggerations.

How do I answer a behavioral question?

Given the above description of a behavioral question, your answer should be based on examples of things that happened to you at work or in your personal life.

There are two main methods for answering these questions, the CAR method and the STAR method. Those two methods are virtually identical.

The CAR method helps you structure your answer in three stages: Context. Action. Result.

Conversely, the STAR method helps you structure your answer in four stages: Situation. Task. Action. Result.

The only major difference is that the STAR method splits out the “task” from the “action”. Defining the task you were assigned to the interviewer is helpful especially in situations where you went way beyond the strict definition of the task and over-delivered.

 

Answering an MBA interview question using the STAR method

“Situation” is precisely that – what was the situation you faced at your job or in your personal life. This helps admissions get situated for what comes next and set expectations. Remember admissions reviews a huge amount of highly qualified applicants, so context is important – or else you’ve lost them right out of the gate and you are now at a disadvantage. Typically, the context you are giving is one of a problem at work. Either sales targets aren’t being hit, there are quality control issues, or just plain dysfunction among team members. The stage is being set for you to come in and save the day.

“Task” is the job you were given by a manager to resolve or improve the situation you described above. If the task was not assigned by a manager, you can explain how you decided on accomplishing the task yourself – which is actually a great opportunity since this will show the interviewer how you have the initiative to go beyond the discrete tasks assigned to you by a higher up.

“Action” is what you did to remedy that situation. Did you come up with a plan to turn sales around? Did you come up with some innovative manufacturing method that eliminated quality control issues? Did you talk to and motivate your team members to work constructively as a group? Make sure to tell admissions how you did all that, this is what they are really looking for.

Behavioral question prep on MBA video interviews
MBA video interview prep – make sure you don’t forget this key step!

Before moving on to the last letter in STAR, there is one word in the above paragraph that is extremely important – “you”. We’ve seen this mistake being made over and over again, even with well-prepared applicants. Admissions does not care what the “team” did – they want to know specifically what YOU did. They want to understand how much of a force for positive change you are, how you exercise your leadership skills and how you go about implementing all that.

“Results” is the conclusion to your answer. Given the above context and given what you did to remedy it – what happened? Did those sales numbers really go up? Did those quality issues really go away? Did those people really start getting along? The important thing to remember here is to add data when possible. If you are discussing recent events and you still remember the numbers, mention those in your answer. If you don’t, mention that, and give your best estimate.

Keep your best examples top of mind

When interview time comes, you’ll likely be nervous and you might even get “caught in the headlights” with a question you didn’t expect. That’s why it’s so important to keep around 5 to 7 examples of interesting things that happened in your career or personal life top of mind. A truly interesting example is also versatile and can be adapte d to answer a broad range of behavioral MBA interview questions.

Conclusion

First, make sure you are clear on the STAR response format. Think of all your answers to behavioral questions using that structure – make admissions life easy, they are looking for precisely those things in an answer.

Second, think of a handful of examples that are really compelling and keep those top of mind. When you get hit with behavioral questions you can adapt those to answer almost anything.

Last but not least in third is to remember who is doing the things in your answer. It should be YOU, not the team, not your manager. If you were a bystander in the actions you are describing, look for a better, more compelling example.

Make sure you do lots of practice runs to familiarize yourself with recording video without anybody else on the other end.

Voomer is a great way to get that practice since it was built from the ground up with this scenario in mind.

Questions on Voomer match what you’ll get on the interview of your dream school. After going through a set of questions, you’ll get an artificial intelligence-powered report on your results with specific, actionable steps you can take to improve your performance.

Your response is broken down into multiple components and analyzed individually and then as a whole. From delivery to content to body language and camera position, multiple data points are analyzed to ensure you have the best MBA video interview prep available.