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Acing a job interview is all about preparation. With the STAR technique, you'll describe work or life situations using a handy acronym. First, you'll describe the "situation" you faced and the "tasks" that went along with it. You'll then describe the "actions" you completed to handle it, and finally, the "result" of your efforts. The acronym can help you prepare for common questions on job interviews. You can also recite it in your head when you're trying to answer a question for which you weren't prepared.
Behavioral Interviews Explained
Employing the STAR method is best used when an interviewer asks you a behavioral interview question. These are questions aimed at understanding how you've behaved in the past, with the thinking that your past behavior will indicate future behavior. Since your responses are rooted in things you've actually done, they give employers a better sense of what you're capable of than a hypothetical situation, suggests Penn State University's Career Services department.
Research Core Competencies
First look at the job description and the job posting to identify competencies that are going to be most important to the employer. Then try to come up with scenarios or "situations" that can demonstrate your expertise in that area, and the "tasks" that were required. These don't have to come only from work experiences; you can also talk about situations that happened in your volunteer work or even your personal life. If the employer is looking for a person with leadership skills, he might ask a question such as, "Tell me about a time you had to establish yourself as a leader." For that, you might recall, for instance, being named captain of your baseball team and how you worked to establish yourself by holding a team meeting at your home each week.
Invent Other Scenarios
Also try to anticipate other scenarios that might not be listed on the job posting. If you're in a sales job, the job posting might not discuss difficult customers -- but it's probably something you're going to deal with. For a construction job, an employer might not discuss injuries or botched work in the posting, but prepare to talk about how you've handled those common scenarios.
Think about the job at hand and the things that could go wrong, and then try to recall a time you dealt with a similar situation. For the sales job, you'd write out the actions you took to satisfy a difficult customer, so the details are fresh for interview day. If you're in construction, on the other hand, jot down the actions you took to help an injured person or clean up a botched job.
Focus on Positive Outcomes
The interviewer's questions might include positive and negative scenarios -- but that doesn't mean your responses should end on a negative note. When the interviewer asks you about whether you've ever had a poor performance review, for example, use it as a chance to show that you're capable of listening to feedback and improving your performance. In short, show the positive side of negative situations. The "R" standing for "Result," then, can cover how you made the best of what you had, says the Career Services department at Wayne State University, or a lesson you learned from a difficult scenario. Showing that can-do attitude can help you ace the interview.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.
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