September 29, 2010

Helping applicants prepare for their job interview with the STAR technique

In general, it is wise to prepare well for a job interview because it will help you communicate more effectively about your experiences and qualities. Here is a way to help job applicants prepare for their job interview (or yourself if you're the one who is applying for a job) that I have found to be very effective. This way of preparing, which can be seen as very solution-focused, is based on the so-called STAR technique.

STAR is an acronym which stands for Situation - Task - Action - Results. The interviewer asks the candidate to think of a situation that is relevant for the job. Then, the interviewer asks the applicant what his or her task was in that situation (what was expected from the applicant given his or her role). After that, the applicant is asked to describe actions, what he or she specifically did to solve the problem or accomplish the task. Finally, the candidate is asked to describe the results, outcome of his or her actions.

The STAR technique is an interviewing technique is a technique used by interviewers to gather job-relevant information about experiences, skills, styles, and other qualities the applicant has. The strength of the approach is that it enables interviewers to acquire very concrete information about the applicant. A well-prepared interviewer can contribute a lot to a useful interview but so does a well-prepared applicant.

The applicant can prepare well by using the STAR framework to communicate fluently and clearly and in a relevant way. For example, if you, as an applicant are good at negotiating, making decisions and writing proposals, you may prepare with STAR how you can explain in the interview that you're good at these things. For each of these strong points you write down a STAR example. Also, it is wise to have a good look at the job description and the job requirements. You may also use the STAR framework to prepare for each of the job requirements.

For example: Situation: "Recently I was in situation in which I had to do a tough negotiation" (provide more details). Task: "My role was to close a very good deal in such a way that the relationship with our negotiation partners would also remain very good. Actions: "I prepared the negotiation as follows (provide details). In the conversation I (describe what you did that worked). Results: Describe what the outcomes of your efforts were (for example what feedback you got).

Preparing with the STAR framework can be seen as very solution-focused. After all, the solution-focused approach is all about doing what works in specific situations. STAR helps you to develop narratives about what you did in situations that are relevant for the job you are applying for.

6 comments:

  1. Hi Coert,

    I have used STAR since 1997 and I liked to think about it as an “in-depth interview”:). In time I have added two more letters:

    - L from “learning” (what have you learned from the situation you have mentioned?)

    - A from “action after learning (what have you done different/instead of/more of...?)

    So, thank you very much for creating this insight of having in myself roots of SF, as I have wondered how come SF works so fine for me?


    George Agafitei, Coach & Trainer

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  2. Hi George, thank you for your comment! That is a nice addition to "STAR".

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  3. Hi ! Thanks for you blog post! Personally I really dislike the STAR method. I've tried to use it but I could often not quantify the work I do adequately enough (I'm a policy officer, so lots of writing and ideas, not many tangibles like budget/KPIs etc) and/or I could not remember the details of past situations, because I like concepts and tend to focus on the future.

    It is hard to gather examples at the beginning of one's career, with limited experience, and it is also hard if you are seeking a job which aligns with your natural strengths, as you might display the qualities but as "second nature" and not be aware how you achieved the result.
    What do you think?

    Do you know of any more commentary/analysis of the strengths/weaknesses/usage of the STAR method? It strikes me there is not much research into this area.
    Thanks!

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  4. Dear anonymous,

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    I sympathize with the objection that it can be difficult to develop STAR narratives in some circumstances (for example 1. when your verbal skills are not strong, 2. when you have little relevant experience, 3) when your strengths are partly automatic and your knowledge is implicit rather than explicit).

    I would argue though that, even in these circumstances it can be very useful to make explicit what you have done that worked by developing - be it with difficulty- STAR narratives because it can help interviewers to understand what you can do. By the way the STAR technique does not by definition require you to quantify your examples.

    Although I have known the STAR technique since 1990 and worked a lot with it (as an interviewer and a trainer) I don't know about any recent research or commentaries. Perhaps other readers can help out here?

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  5. Hi

    I wrote a blog post on the limitations of the STAR framework and how it may actually reinforce some of the bad habits of interviewees. http://wp.me/pCwmV-rM

    If you're interested, I've also blogged about research into interview success and ATIC ( http://wp.me/pCwmV-x2 ) and how to convey confidence in interviews ( http://wp.me/pCwmV-Aw )

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