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How to Answer Interview Questions With the Star Method

Virtual interviews are now the new normal, but with the flattening of interaction, making a lasting impression on your hiring manager may become a challenge. However, there’s a useful strategy that can make your interview stand out among competitors: the STAR method.

This technique is also used by interviewers at many top global firms, so overlooking this method could prove costly.

What is the STAR interview method?

Why does any company invite you to a job interview? It’s solely because they want to determine if you are the most qualified for the role. In evaluating your fitness for the position effectively, interviewers may use the STAR method (Behavioral-style interview), which is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. By asking you to talk about your experiences at work as a story with specific examples from your past, your future boss can predict how you would handle the similar situations again in the future. So, using the technique correctly will help you deliver the perfect responses that your interviewer would expect for the questions. 

How to use the star method for interview questions

For perfect answers, you need to build your story that includes what each STAR letter composes like below:

S - Situation: Situation, background information, setting the scene, challenges faced

T - Task: Task or Target, specifics of what was required, when, where, with who to solve the issue

A - Action: What you did, skills used, behaviors, characteristics  

R - Result: Outcome, achievement, what you delivered, what you learned

Now let’s take a look at a sample of great answer to one of the common behavioral interview questions by applying the STAR framework: 

Q.“Describe a time when you were under enormous pressure at work. How did you overcome the situation?” 

S - Situation:“ When I was transferred to XX sales branch at XX company as a branch manager, I felt huge pressure facing a tough situation where the annual sales target was unmet by -50% for ten years, and besides understaffed.” 

→Start with describing the situation. Do not include unnecessary information, but highlight any specific challenges you faced. Share what your role was, like you were a manager, or team leader. 

T - Task: “My responsibilities included achieving the best performance with the current limited resources, leading to consistent success in the future.”

→Describe the task you were assigned to do or what your goal was. Emphasize your initiative if you recognize the challenge and initiate the task. 

A - Action: “First, I had a 1-on-1 meeting with every sales representative to share the current issues and exchange ideas for improvement. With limited resources, for resource maximization and cost reduction, I promoted virtual sales pitches and started internal meetings online. In addition, as a result of reviewing the effectiveness of resource allocation, I decided to focus the resources on two pivotal brands for greater efficiency.”

→Explain the action or steps you took to solve the problem. Provide details on what you did, and avoid being vague like “I tried the best I could”. Your focus should be your individual role, so use “I” rather than “we” or “our team”.”

R - Result: “With these dedications, I successfully achieved reaching the annual sales target in the first year, and earned No.1 sales branch position in the Kanto area after three years of becoming a manager at XX branch. Also, within two years, I expanded the market share of XX brand to 70% from 35% in the assigned area. Moreover, as my effort to boost online sales pitches to gain leads effectively caught the eye of the head office, I was given a chance to present the successful case study at a national sales meeting,  which eventually contributed to advance the use of virtual tools in sales at XX company.”

→Round out your story with the result of your actions, what you accomplished, how you contributed to the outcome or the company you worked for, or what you learned. Make sure your answer contains concrete examples of the effects of your efforts by quantifying your success. Even if your efforts didn’t go well, you can share the lesson you learned, dedication to advance your performance, or why now you are a stronger employee because of failure. 

​Your future boss wants to learn "why you did it or how you did it", rather than" what you did", to look for your potential or qualification in determining whether you are the right fit for the role. So, you should understand what they expect from your answers and highlight the qualities that your interviewer finds desirable. 

What they want to know about your qualities falls into several specific categories: your Commitment, Initiative, Leadership, Management skills, Problem-solving skills, Communication skills, Teamwork, Flexibility, and Pressure-handling skills. 

So, it’s time to prepare your STAR answers. Find your success stories that align with those skills by going through your work experiences or background. These are the common behavioral questions that your interviewer may ask you, so pick out what skills the company is specifically looking for in each question, and choose the best example. 

Q.  What is your greatest accomplishment at work? What do you think makes you stand out the most?
Q. Give me a specific example of a time when you used your strength and succeeded at work.
Q. Tell me about a task or project that you showed initiative and took the lead.   
Q. Tell me about a time when you performed well under enormous pressure.     
Q. Describe a time when you were asked to do something you hadn’t done before and how you put it through to completion.
Q. Describe a time when you had to complete a task within a tight deadline.       
Q. Tell me about a time when you failed. How did you handle the situation?         
Q. Tell me about a challenge or conflict you faced at work. How did you handle it?
Q. Give me an example of a time when you found it hard to manage your team. 
Q. Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
Q. How did you handle the situation where you struggled to build a relationship with someone you work with? 

5 tips to build your success stories with the STAR method

For getting the most out of STAR strategy, keep these 5 tips in mind when you prepare for your success stories. 

① Be specific and quantitative: Make sure your stories are concrete and targeted. You have to protect any confidential information from your previous companies, but give your interviewer a specific example of your achievement from your past. As talking about the result, never fail to provide tangible results that include hard facts and figures to back up your abilities. 

②Vary your stories: Avoid talking about one particular experience, lest your interviewer may feel the limits of your potential. Prepare two success stories at least from a wide variety of situations, if possible, which reflect the qualities that they are looking for from your answers. 

➂Keep it short: Keep your stories concise. Wrap it up within two minutes without any irrelevant information or unnecessary details. This brings more power to your story and makes it straightforward.

④Be honest: It will be a disaster if you make things up for your story, even though you think there’s no experience that demonstrates the required skill. Your interviewer will find out you are dishonest by digging into your story. Without such relevant examples, explain your positiveness that you already analyzed why you were not able to achieve it, and how ready you are for the next chance to perform your skill. 

⑤Practice: You came up with great stories that cover all the areas, and the next step is practicing. We recommend that you have a mock interview with someone you can rely on, like family or friends. You don’t have to memorize your speech word-for-word. By doing so you can also pay attention to non-verbal communication: remind yourself to keep a pleasant smile, positive, enthusiastic, and show your engagement with proper eye-contact and nodding during your interview. Make sure one more time that your STAR stories are relevant to the behavioral questions that demonstrate the qualities your hiring manager is particularly looking for. 

Focus on how you present yourself

The economic downturn caused by the pandemic has changed Japan's job change market that favors hirers, except specific positions and industries. Competition for great jobs has become more intense, but you can be relieved that your profile is valued once you are invited to the first round of interviews. So, focus on how you present yourself during the interview, with the STAR method that can absolutely ace your next interview.

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