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Tell me a story…Why I love the STAR technique for answering interview questions

If you’re job hunting, you’ve probably come across the STAR technique for answering interview questions. The format is S(situation), T(task), A(action) and R(result). This behavioural interview model is used to assess candidates’ suitability for a role based on evidence they provide in the form of examples from past experience. It’s also referred to as competency-based interviewing. In short, if you’re asked this type of question, your interviewer is asking you to tell them a story.

Some folks criticise the STAR model for being old fashioned and formulaic. I think it’s a great way for interviewers to make evidence-based decisions, and a terrific opportunity for candidates to demonstrate their skills in an engaging way. Who doesn’t love a good story?

I’ve heard there are only seven basic plots to stories. If fiction writers use a formula for novels, why can’t you use one in your interview? Most of the clients I work with find the STAR method extremely useful as a scaffold for organising their examples. Trying to say the right things in a job interview is nerve wracking. Being able to focus on the STAR model helps candidates be mindful of painting a picture for the panel, and thus takes away some of the stress. The format also assures they mention the key things that interviewers need to hear, like how they approached and solved a problem. Hearing how a candidate handled situations in the past gives interviewers a good indication about how an individual is likely to behave in the future. It’s certainly not foolproof, but it is a fairly robust process.

Stories are naturally engaging. Imagine you are catching up with your mates at the pub, and someone says they have a story to tell. Everyone instinctively goes quiet and leans in to listen. Good stories have drama and tension and a resolution at the end. Good answers to behavioural interview questions will have the same features.

I advise candidates to imagine themselves like a character in a story or movie, and simply describe what happened in the scenario they are sharing. Folks who are worried about bragging or selling themselves need not fret. When you are simply relaying the facts, there is no need to describe yourself as a “highly motivated this” or “hard-hitting that”; the evidence speaks for itself.

Lastly, good stories are memorable. When crafted well, they stick in the minds of the interviewers, and help you stand out from the other candidates. Being an interview panel member can be exhausting and trying to remember the details from multiple candidates is near impossible. Choosing memorable examples to demonstrate your experience is a great strategy for standing out from the crowd who may have similar stories of day to day events.

If you need help crafting some great stories to use as answers to behavioural interview questions, my article on writing your top ten list might help you with some ideas. Or give me a ring and make an appointment to come and see me. I’d love to help you make a lasting impression at your next interview!

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