Interview Like a STAR for Success

Dynamic communication skills are one of the keys to personal and professional success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to master three basic, but critical skills: 1) conversation; 2) writing; and 3) presenting.

Job interviews are some of the most important conversations you will ever have.  However, many people go into them woefully underprepared.  I was speaking with Bob Matts, a friend and a senior HR executive with a very large and prestigious company the other day.  Bob was telling me about the STAR method of interviewing that his company employs.  STAR is an acronym that means “Situation/Task — Activity – Result.”  The STAR model was developed by the consulting firm DDI and taught in a program called Targeted Selection. When Bob and his colleagues conduct interviews they always ask candidates to:

1. Describe a situation or task with which they were faced. (ST)
2. Describe what they did in that situation. (A)
3. Describe the result.  (R)

Bob said that he is constantly surprised by the number of people who have difficulty answering such a straightforward sequence of questions.  He and I both agreed that people typically don’t think in this manner.  Bob and I both help people prepare for job interviews.  I do it as part of my coaching work.  Bob does it because he is a nice guy who enjoys helping people.

When we do this type of work, we explain the STAR model and coach people on how to use it to their advantage in an interview.  The great thing about preparing for an interview by using the STAR model is that you will score points with the interviewer – whether or not his or her company uses it.  In some ways, you have more of an advantage providing STAR answers to questions if the interviewer is not versed in the technique.

Let’s take a look at how you can use the STAR model to answer interview questions and come across as a great conversationalist while doing so.

I was journalism major as an undergraduate student.  When I was a young guy, interviewing for my first job, I was often asked, “Why did you major in journalism?”  I would say something like, “I was the editor of my high school newspaper and yearbook.  I like to write, so I thought I would major in journalism.”

Not a bad answer, but not a great one either.  If I were answering this question using the STAR technique, I would have said something like, “I was the first person in my family to go to college.  I really didn’t know much about the world of work (Situation). 

“When it came time to choose a major (Task), I really wasn’t sure about what to do. 

“I knew I was a good writer and I liked politics and current events, so I thought I might try journalism.  I talked to a couple of juniors and seniors who were journalism majors.  I asked them why they chose journalism and what they hoped to do after graduation.  Many of them were not planning on working for a newspaper or magazine.  They were planning on going to law school or business school.  They told me that journalism school helped them become better writers and stay abreast of what was happening in the world.  They also told me that it helped them develop a sense of personal discipline.  I remember one guy saying, ‘There are no lates or incompletes in journalism.  It’s in on time and complete, or it’s an F.’  I didn’t know a lot about professional careers, but I figured that being a good writer was probably going to be important in any job I took, and I knew that I good be better organized and disciplined so journalism was a good choice for me” (Activity).  

“I’m really glad I decided to major in journalism.  My writing skills improved greatly.  I learned how to write very clearly.  And, as one of the upper classmen told me, I developed a great sense of personal discipline.  All of my journalism assignments were in on time.  And, I never took a late or incomplete the entire time I was in college.  I think that this sense of personal discipline is one of my strongest suits.  If you hire me, you can be sure that I’ll get my work done on time every time” (Result).

If the interviewer was using the STAR model, I would have scored big points for answering the question well.  If the interviewer were not using the STAR model, I would have scored even bigger points for my ability to demonstrate clear thinking and reasoning as well as my ability to show a direct line from something I did (choosing journalism as a major) to a result that most employers will value (my ability to get work done complete and on time).

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people are dynamic communicators.  Dynamic communicators are good conversationalists.  Job interviews are very important conversations when it comes to personal and professional success.  The STAR (Situation/Task, Activity, Result) model of answering questions is a great tool for preparing answers to questions you are likely to encounter in a job interview.  If you master the techniques associated with the STAR model, you will come across as a highly skilled and polished conversationalist in interviews – and get an offer for the job you really want.

That’s my take on how to use the techniques associated with the STAR model of interviewing to help you land the job you want.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading.


PS – I know that times are tough and many people are looking for work.  If you have an upcoming interview and want some coaching applying the STAR model, send an email to with the words “Interview Coaching” in the subject line.  Give me a few dates and times that work for you, and I’ll give you a free coaching session that will help you apply the STAR model when you are in the interview. How’s that for an offer?

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