The STAR Technique

Behavioural interviewing is an increasingly popular form of interviewing which is based on the premise that the most accurate way to quickly assess future performance is to understand past performance in a similar situation.

Behavioral questions are used by organizations because they go beyond checking that the candidate has the right technical skills, and allow an organization to ascertain how the candidate would perform/behave in certain circumstances. From a candidates perspective, behavioural interview questions allow them to differentiate themselves from their peers applying for the same role.

The STAR Technique is commonly used technique to answer behavioural interview questions. It has four steps (Situation, Target, Action, Result), each followed in turn, as described below:

Step 1: Situation

Here you describe the situation you were in. This is where you set the context for your answer by describing where, when, and how you found yourself in this situation. For example, “I was brought into the team to replace the previous program manager. The program was failing because of conflicting objectives across functional units. It was my job to rectify the situation”.

Step 2: Target

Sometimes called Task. Here you describe what your target/task was, given the situation you just described. For example, “As the new program manager I was tasked with quickly finding ways to improve the cross-functional working practices and relationships”.

Step 3: Action

Here you describe the actions you took to meet your target. Essentially you need to cover what you did to succeed at the task. For example, “This was obviously a difficult task because poor relationships are difficult to mend. I started by having meetings individually with each of the functional heads to determine their issues. From this it became apparent that the win-conditions of the different functions had not been taken into account when putting the initial plan together. No wonder the original program was failing. Once I had ascertained and validated the various win conditions I restructured the benefits realization plan to better meet the objectives of the organization as a whole. From the outset this plan had cross-functional support making it much more likely to succeed from the beginning.”

Step 4: Result

Here you describe what results were attributable to your actions. For example, “After restructuring the program to meet the different functional win conditions, the functional leaders encouraged their teams to get behind the program. With the restructured benefits realization plan, and the functional units fully supporting the program and it’s plan, the program was successfully put back on track”.

Summary

The STAR technique gives you a structure to use when answering behavioural interview questions. The letters of STAR represent Situation, Task, Action, and Result. To be able to use the STAR technique well it’s obviously a good idea to practice in advance of any interview. It can also be beneficial to think of 5-10 different problems you’ve overcome in your career in advance of the interview. If these 5-10 problems cover a broad enough range of topics you’ll probably find that with them you are able to answer the majority of behavioral interview questions. Make sure you frame these problems in your mind using the STAR technique in advance of the interview.