You may have heard of the S.T.A.R. model as a tried and tested way to help you tell a clearer story for your competency or behavioural questions.
You may understand how it works, and even regularly apply it in your interview answers.
Yet, you’re still getting feedback from the recruiters that your examples were not strong enough, or it just didn’t hit the mark!
When coaching my clients for their practice interviews, very often they’re not using the S.T.A.R. model to their advantage. So in this article, I’m going to highlight the top 10 common mistakes that candidates often make when answering interview questions using this recommended approach.
What is the STAR Model?
It is a structured way to explain the specific Situation, Task, Action and Result of your chosen example to a competency or behavioural question. In essence, it’s a great way to bring your career success stories to life.
SITUATION – Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. Give enough detail for the interviewer to understand the complexities of the situation. Examples can be from a previous job, project, volunteer activity or any relevant event.
TASK – What task or goal were you working towards? Keep it specific but concise. Make sure to highlight any specific challenges you faced.
ACTION – Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail. Ensure to keep the focus on you and the specific steps you took. What was your particular contribution?
RESULT – Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy about taking credit for your behaviour. What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Provide examples using metrics or data if applicable.
So what are the most common mistakes candidates make when applying the STAR model in interviews?
- Not being prepared
THE most common mistake is lack of preparation! Coming up with a story on the spot often means you end up rambling, with a high risk of going off tangent and not answering the question at all! Mapping out your best examples ahead of time means not only will you have your success story prepared, but it will be concise and targeted.
Going in with a solid set of S.T.A.R. targeted success stories will make answering them easier for you, and help highlight to the recruiting manager the specific qualities and skills that make you perfect for the position. Identify 1-2 success stories for each essential skill criteria that the post requires.
- Being too prepared
Can you be too-prepared, I hear you say? You want your story-telling to be authentic and considered rather than over-rehearsed and overly-scripted. Avoid putting pressure on yourself by trying to memorise ‘perfect answers’ (unless you have a photographic memory, or you have a list of the perfect interview questions at your disposal!!)
This can lead to sharing an example that has nothing to do with the question! Yes, you may be able to recall answers that tell a great story, but not necessarily the one related to the question being asked! This also comes down to listening closely to the question being asked in the first place!
- Telling an ‘OK’ success story
A follow -up to the previous mistake, is telling a story that has no clear, positive outcome, either from the final results or the lessons you learned. If you want to showcase what you do well, then why would you tell a story where the outcome was OK but didn’t really show how you made an impact? Or the project failed but you learnt nothing from the experience?
I know, it sounds obvious, but that’s why preparing your strongest examples beforehand and running through the STAR method as you practice, with give you an early heads-up if you need to find a stronger example!
- Not actually answering the question
If your mind goes blank, you cannot think of a single specific success story from your past experience that you can apply to the situation, then it’s much better to be honest than make something up! Flip the question – “Although I’ve not come across that scenario to date in my role, if I did encounter those circumstances, this is how I would approach it…” At least you have an opportunity to show your capability and way of working rather than going down a rabbit hole of rambling your way through it!
- Talking too generally about your experience
Being vague or overly summarising your experiences will only dilute the impact of your success story. If you’re asked to ‘give an example when…’, or ‘share your experience of …’, then you need to showcase ONE specific time that really highlights how you addressed that particular situation or demonstrated a particular skill.
This goes hand in hand with being prepared. Prior to your interview you need to have identified the skills and qualities the company is looking for, based on the job description, and ensure your stories are specific and targeted.
- Don’t provide quantifiable results
Firstly, many candidates forget to even refer to the ‘Results’ part of the S.T.A.R method. So, when you do include the ‘end of your story’, have solid, tangible results and outcomes to finish your answer with. Back up your successes with hard facts and numbers wherever possible.
Did you increase sales for your department by 58%? Did your actions make your team 85% more efficient? How does your specific example showcase your expertise and demonstrates how you’ve taken risks, succeeded, failed yet grown?
- Detail overload
Keep your stories concise and targeted. No extra info or boring details that are irrelevant to the specific question. A common downfall is spending too much time explaining the finer details of the ‘Situation’, or the practicalities of the ‘Task’. Provide enough context to make it clear for the recruiter to understand what you were dealing with. Most of your focus needs to be on the tangible ACTIONS you took and the RESULTS you achieved.
- Not choosing strategic-level examples
If you are being interviewed for a promotion, a more senior position, or a role that requires you to think more strategically, your example needs to reflect HOW you think, act and deliver at the expected strategic level. Even if you have not gained enough success stories or experience in your career to date in relation to the post (maybe that’s why you’re wanting to apply for the opportunity in the first place, right?), then remember to Flip the Question – focus on how you would approach such a situation, and highlight the expected qualities needed to do this well.
- It’s all about ‘Us’ and not ‘Me’
Be careful that you don’t describe just what the team did when talking about working with others. Use the word “I,” rather than “we,” when describing the actions YOU specifically took, and highlight qualities that are essential and desirable in relation to the post (initiative, teamwork, leadership, dedication, etc.).
- Never practise out loud!
Interviews are a verbal skill. Get used to practising out loud what to say and hearing how you say it. Writing out notes or detailed answers to possible questions can absolutely be an invaluable layer of preparation, however, it may put too much reliance on your written memory. Put that written memory to the stress test on interview day, and you’re more likely to forget, struggle to recall exactly how you wanted to start, or just freeze with panic!
Interview coaching is a really effective tool to help improve your preparation and strategy for identifying your best success stories, and also to gain invaluable practice and impartial feedback on your answers.
If you have an interview coming up and want to get a sense-check on how to best use the S.T.A.R method to elevate your answers, give me a call to book an Interview Coaching appointment.