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  • Writer's pictureKath Hall

Using the STAR technique in job interviews

In the last few weeks I have discussed interview techniques with a lot of law students, and have found that quite a few don't know about the STAR technique. STAR is a structure for answering questions that require you to give an example of something you did in response to a past situation. These questions are "behaviour-based" and can be particularly difficult to answer if you don't have

  • a technique for developing your answer and

  • lots of practice.

In this article I am discussing the first part of the equation - technique. The practice part is then up to you 😊



The STAR technique in action

STAR is a structured way to develop responses to a behavioral-based interview question. It is an acronym for

  • situation,

  • task,

  • action, and

  • result.

It is a technique that needs to be prepared in advance. Our answers to questions generally don't come out in a structured way. However once you get used to preparing answers using STAR it will become more natural and easy to implement off the top of your head.


Let's take an example - working backwards from how you could answer the following question: Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation and how you coped with it.


Using this approach you would start by describing the situation that you are using as your example. Often it is good to also include the task you were involved in doing at this point.


Be specific and give enough detail for the interviewer to understand the situation - but not too long that you end up telling the whole story. Your example might come from a previous or current job (including a non-law job), a volunteer experience, from your extra-curricular activities or from law school.


Example situations:

  • Dealing with an upset client in a part-time job or volunteering role;

  • Being asked to do a time pressured task in a work context;

  • Responding to negative feedback in a work or study situation.


The next part of your answer is very important - ie the action that you took in response to the situation. In the example question above, you are asked how you coped with that situation. Again, describe the actions you took in an appropriate amount of detail but without going on for too long. Keep the focus on the steps you took. If the situation involved a team or group, you should still focus on your actions - so use the word “I,” not “we” in your response.


Example actions:

  • Listened to the client's concerns, provided suggestions to resolve the situation, asked a manager to assist if the situation can't be resolved by you alone; Broke the task into components, asked questions or clarification on any issues you are unclear on, worked systematically through each part, planned your time carefully, stayed focused and minimised distractions, kept others up to date on your progress;

  • Took time to process the feedback, set a time to discuss and understand the comments better, reflected on how you could have approached the situation differently, learnt from the feedback.


Finally, say what the outcome or result of your actions was. Be confident in your answer and clear about what you accomplished or learnt. Even if there was a negative result, focus on the positive aspects of the result for you and for the situation.


Example results:

  • The client felt their concerns have been heard and accepted a particular resolution;

  • Your part of the task was completed on time;

  • You learnt from the feedback and modified your actions in the future.


Preparation

Coming up with answers to these types of questions takes time. Start a few weeks before your interview and create a document where you write down sample questions (like those below) along with the parts of your answer. Often the situations you come up with can be used in response to different questions - but be careful to have a variety of situations you can draw upon.


Importantly be honest in your answers. People are very good at telling when others are lying or exaggerating, and honesty is an essential attribute in a work context. Use genuine examples from your life and don't be afraid if these do not all involve work contexts. Employers are asking these questions to learn more about you and your skills, and a variety of situations can be used to demonstrate this.


Finally, practice your answers in the mirror or with a friend. Try to think of each answer as being like a short story ie having a

  • beginning (the situation and task)

  • middle (what you did in response)

  • end (the outcome).

This way your answer is more likely to flow naturally and be easier to remember.



Sample behavioural questions

There are many sample interview questions online. Some of the most common are set out below. And If you are interested in discussing any of these issues more, or practicing your interview technique, don't hesitate to contact Kath here.

  • Tell us about a time you exhibited independence in your work.

  • Describe a time when you came up with an innovative solution to a problem

  • Describe a situation where you had a different opinion to a colleague and how you dealt with it.

  • Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.

  • Tell us about a time you made a mistake and how you dealt with it.

  • Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.

  • Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond in order to get a job done.

  • Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritise your tasks.

  • What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.

  • Tell me about a difficult decision you've made in the last year.

  • Give me an example of a time when something you tried to accomplish and failed.

  • Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.

  • Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.

  • Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.

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