Congratulations! Your initial job application was successful and you’ve been called in for a first stage interview. This is no mean feat considering that on average 118 candidates apply for a single role of whom just 20% get called for an interview. So, well done for getting this far! Now for the actual interview. No matter what stage of your career you’re in – whether a recent graduate or a seasoned professional – job interviews can be daunting for most people.
Most interview questions typically require you to draw on your previous experiences – this is to both understand the kind of responsibilities you had in your last role as well as to get an idea of the way you respond to different situations. But as a recent graduate, possibly applying to their first job how do you answer these questions?
First, don’t panic! Hiring managers interviewing recent graduates don’t expect them to cite instances of leading teams and managing largescale projects. But they still want to get an idea of how you respond in a crisis situation and how you apply other soft skills like teamwork, communication and time management.
You could cite any volunteering work you did, or any college clubs or societies you were a part of as examples of how you handled a situation. You want to tell a story; build a narrative that showcases all your strengths in a real-case scenario. The best way to do this is through the STAR method.
In this blog we’ll cover:
- What is the STAR method?
- When to use the STAR method of interviewing?
- How to use the STAR technique to answer interview questions?
- Pros and cons of the STAR method
What is the STAR method?
STAR is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. The STAR method has become an increasingly popular way of answering interview questions. The clear four-pronged format of the STAR technique provides a structured and logical way to describe how you responded to specific situations in the past and the results of your actions.
When to use the STAR method of interviewing?
The STAR method is commonly used to answer competency-based questions and behavioural questions. For example:
- ‘Tell us about a time when you disagreed with a colleague’
- ‘Describe a time when you had to juggle multiple projects at once’
- ‘Tell us how you deal with criticism’
Preparing a few standard STAR interview questions before hand is a great way to prepare for an interview. It builds your confidence and prevents you being caught off-guard. Interviews can be stressful as they are. Here’s how to prepare for an interview so you can put your best foot forward, every time.
But the STAR method is not just for interviews. You can use the STAR technique to draft your CV and cover letter. Admittedly, a CV has space constraints so you may have to summarise your STAR examples – focusing on the Actions and Results.
However, with a cover letter you have the perfect opportunity to use the STAR method to explain how you handled a previous job or function. For example – if one of the criteria listed in the job description is ‘good time management skills’, you want to describe a situation where you were required to use your time management skills and what that resulted in. Read our top tips on how to write a cover letter.
How to use the STAR technique to answer interview questions
The way to use the STAR technique to answer interview questions is to identify and separate each section –
- Situation – to provide a context for the issue. This includes background information about the organisation, the people involved, time of the issue, etc.
- Task – to provide an overview of what was required to address the situation
- Action – to describe what you specifically did i.e. your role
- Result – to describe the outcome of your actions
Remember the examples you provide using the STAR method would vary in their levels of detail between CVs, cover letters and the actual interview.
Let us consider a previous example of a competency-based question: Tell us about a time when you disagreed with a colleague. How can you use the STAR method to answer this?
In this first step you have to provide background information. For example –
I was involved in fundraising for our university’s theatre club. But just before the annual show the college had an outbreak of Covid cases and had to restrict the number of people allowed in enclosed places at any given time. The head of the theatre club wanted to cancel the show. But doing that would mean losing the majority of our funds from ticket sales. I didn’t agree with this and wanted to find an alternative solution.
The Head of the theatre club had to comply with the university’s decision but recognised our need for funds and the effort that had gone into fundraising.
In some cases you can combine the Situation and Task segments.
I suggested we stage the production with only the actors and backstage players needed – in an empty auditorium and live stream the production on our university’s internal network. This would restrict the number of people to the Uni’s stipulated number.
I worked with the AV and IT departments to film and stream the event. We also lowered ticket prices which while raising lesser money that we’d hoped – proved a better option than cancelling the show.
The result should highlight exactly what you achieved as a result of your actions.
We managed to raise X amount for the theatre club and paved the way for more live streaming options going forward.
You can use the STAR method to explain most situations where your key competencies and core skills have been tested. As in the above example, the experiences you draw from don’t strictly have to be ‘professional work-related’. You could just as easily cite examples of any volunteering work or campus gigs. The STAR method is just a useful blueprint for organising and structuring your narrative.
Pros and Cons of the STAR interview technique
Now that we’ve covered what the STAR method is and how to use it to answer interview questions, let’s consider some of the main pros and cons of the technique.
Makes you confident
Rehearsing a few common STAR example questions beforehand makes you more confident going into the interview.
Stops you from rambling
One of the most common signs of nervousness is rambling and something that applicants often find themselves doing when asked a difficult question at an interview. Practising the STAR technique allows you to structure your responses in a clear, logical way.
Responses can seem unauthentic
Over-rehearsing your responses can make you sound robotic and unauthentic and prevent interviewers from seeing the ‘real’ you.
Risk of giving too much info
Using the STAR method can lead you to inadvertently provide too much information. Sometimes applicants can get stuck on providing too much context while explaining the Situation – resulting in losing the attention of the interviewer.
To Sum Up
The STAR method can be a really useful way to structure and audit your responses to questions both in and out of an interview. Hiring managers in fact encourage applicants to use the STAR technique. Used correctly it makes you sound confident and professional and helps you sell yourself as a worthy candidate.
Are you a recent graduate looking for your first role? Apply to FDM’s award-winning Graduate Careers Programme today.