Looking for ways to improve interviewing success? Interview confidently using the STAR method interview technique. Use this strategy for behavioral interview questions to help you structure responses by highlighting key actions and results to showcase your accomplishments.
As part of the recruiting process, many companies encourage candidates to frame responses to interview questions using the STAR method. This creates a win-win situation for both the candidate and prospective employer making the interview as effective as possible.
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What is the STAR Method?
The STAR method is an interview technique that helps frame and structure responses to interview questions. It creates a story telling approach that is a critical skill in business and enables effective communications. Naturally, it makes any candidate a better story teller and helps highlight what is most important for the employer.
STAR Method Interview Technique
Describe the situation or problem
Highlight your role for that situation
Explain the steps you took in that example
Showcase the outcome of the example
Similar to a story, the STAR method enables the interviewer to understand the plot, setting, point of view, and the ending for each scenario. Don’t be intimidated by the format and use the STAR interview method to be more confident in your responses.
What are the benefits of using the STAR Method?
Now that you know what the STAR method is, let’s talk about the benefits. In the workplace, effective communication is vital to any company’s success. This principle extends to the recruiting and hiring process. Have you ever had a coworker that takes forever to get to the point? Do they tell you every little detail that isn’t necessary?
Well, this is exactly what the STAR method is designed to address. It keeps the story teller on track and concise in answering many questions in a more effective way so that interviewers can learn everything they need to about the candidate in a short amount of time.
In summary, there are many benefits for the candidate and interviewer using the STAR method.
- Eliminates unconscious bias in interviews. Using the STAR method provides the same consistent structure for all candidates and reduces unconscious bias in the hiring process.
- Enables Effective Communications. Provides a story telling framework for candidate success and allows interviewers to focus on the candidate’s skills.
- Allows for Better Time Management. Imagine a hiring manager interviewing 5 candidates without any structure. This would be a recipe for disaster and candidates may not be able to answer all of the questions in a concise manner. It would also be very difficult to give everyone a fair chance and get it done on time.
- Helps employers differentiate candidates based on their skills and results. Using STAR puts every candidate on an equal playing field with the same set of questions. It allows the employer to differentiate each candidate based on their achievements.
When should I use the STAR Method Interview Technique?
During the interview process, it is important for the candidate to understand the type of interview that will be conducted. Generally, there are 3 main interview types with some variation. Depending on the interview type, the candidate would be given guidance to use the STAR interview method or recognize that the STAR method would be ideal.
- Job Fit Interview: Job fit is used to assess the candidate’s background and how well they align to the role, culture, and company. The focus is based on both the soft skills and technical qualifications of the candidate.
- Behavioral Interview: Behavioral interviews include scenario-based questions which are best answered using the STAR method technique. These questions are designed to gather information about the candidate’s prior experience to understand their skills in specific scenarios. Here are common examples of behavioral interview questions.
- Tell me about a time when you had to lead a project that was behind schedule.
- Describe a time when you had to manage a personal conflict on the team.
- Give me an example of a time you were able to solve a problem creatively.
- Case Interview: Case interviews provide a scenario or problem for the candidate to solve. The goal of the case interview is to assess how the candidate would perform in a real-life project or scenario. While the focus is on problem solving skills, it also pressure tests the candidate in a difficult and time-constrained situation.
Behavioral interview questions are prime examples of when to use the STAR method technique. Since these questions often rely on prior experience and examples, it enables the candidate to tell their story of what they did, how they addressed the problem, and what the outcome was to showcase their accomplishments.
How to Prepare for a STAR Method Interview?
Just like other types of interviews, practice and preparation is strongly recommended to help you confidently tell your story using the STAR method interview technique. For a behavioral interview, it is not uncommon to be asked up to 5 different scenario-based questions within a 1 hour interview. You will want to be prepared with varying examples to showcase your prior experience across each question.
First, review your resume and go through each of your recent roles to identify the most significant projects or accomplishments that you would like to convey during the interview. Remember to choose the most relevant experience based on the role and tailor the examples accordingly. Also, make sure that the examples you select had tangible results. This “Experience List” will be a key reference that you will use during the interview process.
After listing your most impactful experience examples, it’s time to build a script and frame your responses in the STAR method format. Choose several common behavioral interview questions and align your Experience List to each question. Structure your script using the STAR method and write out your response to answer the question. After finishing your first pass, review the script to determine if you’ve aligned the best example to each question and adjust if needed.
Lastly, practice your script with a friend or via mock interviews. This is the most important step to boost your confidence and help you think about ways to strengthen your story telling skills. (Tip: Make sure to use “I” instead of “we” to describe what you actually did)
How to Prepare using the STAR Method
List your most significant projects or accomplishments
Write a script in the STAR format aligned to experience list
Practice via mock interviews to boost your confidence
Common Behavioral Interview Questions
There is an endless amount of behavioral questions out there. Majority of these questions start with the same pattern and you can recognize the pattern to know when to use the STAR method.
- Tell me about a time … when you had to lead a project that was behind schedule.
- Describe a time … when you had to manage a personal conflict on the team.
- Give me an example … of a time you were able to solve a problem creatively.
Here is a list of behavioral interview questions that I found to be the most commonly used during the interview process. One thing to keep in mind is that there are many variations to these questions, but the example you may choose could be the same or slightly tweaked. Feel free to use this list to help you practice using the STAR Method Interview Technique.
- Tell me about a time when you had to learn something completely new.
- Tell me about a time you suggested an idea and you needed to sell it to another person.
- Tell me about a time when you led a team through a difficult situation.
- Tell me something not on your resume.
- Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a colleague or boss.
- Tell me about a time when you had to manage a team conflict.
- Tell me about your greatest accomplishment.
- Tell me about a time when you had to change someone’s mind.
- Tell me about a time when you overcame a really difficult challenge.
- Tell me about a time when you worked effectively under pressure.
- Describe a decision you made that wasn’t popular, and explain how you handled implementing it.
- Tell me about a time when you motivated a team.
- Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.
- Tell me about a time when you had to manage multiple tasks and balance priorities.
- Describe a time when you had to adapt to a rapidly changing situation or a sudden change in priorities.
- Give me an example of a time when you experienced failure on the job.
- Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer.
- Tell me about a time when you had to delegate tasks or responsibilities to others.
- Tell me about a time when you were asked to take on another project that you could not reasonably handle.
- Tell me about a time when you encountered a major obstacle. How did you overcome the challenge?
- Tell me about a time when you had to take initiative on a project.
- Tell me about a time when you had to think creatively to solve a problem.
- Tell me about a time when you created a strategy aligned with key goals to stay on track.
- Tell me about a time when you missed a deadline on a project.
- Tell me a time when you had to tell someone no.
Cybersecurity Behavioral Interview Q&A Examples
Now that you’ve learned about the STAR Method, let’s take a look at some cybersecurity specific Q&A examples to help you frame your responses. Keep in mind that these examples should be used only as a guide only and may not be comprehensive. You will also want to make sure you do not over embellish your examples and tailor them to your own experiences as well as the specific role you’re applying to.
Tell me about a time when you led a team through a difficult situation.
Situation: When I first joined Company XYZ to lead the vulnerability management program, my team faced several credibility and trust issues with our internal customers; the tech teams. Tech teams received a report of vulnerabilities found on their servers, but it was viewed as unreliable and without much metadata to demonstrate that servers were scanned on a regular cadence. As teams fixed their vulnerabilities, they were not able to see them fall off the report until much later, which also introduced time delays in a dynamic fast paced environment.
Task: In order to address these challenges, I set up a working group with my team as well as key stakeholders.
Action: During the working group sessions, I gathered feedback, ideas, and suggestions across my team and key stakeholders. I prioritized the issues and brainstormed potential approaches to improve the situation. In particular, I decided to tackle trust since it is so critical to the foundation of our service and relationship with our customers. I proposed the idea of changing our model of “scan everything” across many segments of the environment to target assets owned by specific tech teams. This was quite radical and yet innovative as it changed the way we operate.
Result: After getting consensus on the approach, I set the plan in motion to execute a pilot, which would help validate my assumptions and the benefits. The project was successful in increasing customer confidence in the vulnerability data the teams received as it reduced the scanning time required in tightly scoping the assets to get actionable vulnerability data. The number of complaints about data integrity reduced over time as we scaled the approach. In addition, teams were getting much more frequently refreshes of data to support a quicker remediation timeline.
Describe a time when you had to manage a personal conflict on the team.
Situation: In my role as manager of Company XYZ, I absorbed and managed a team of 5 direct reports as a result of attrition. I stepped up to the challenge to fill a void on top of my day-to-day responsibilities and to ensure continuity of our threat hunting and threat intelligence services. Our mission was very important to the company to provide essential information on the latest threats and identifying potential mitigation actions to minimize risks. During one of our weekly team meetings, 2 team members had a disagreement directly on the call and shared words that questioned each other’s intent on changing a process without approval. Unfortunately, I left the meeting early due to a schedule conflict and found out the next day.
Task: To resolve the conflict, I spoke with each team member individually to further understand their perspective. During that conversation, I asked both team members if they were willing to meet together so that we could address any miscommunications as a group.
Action: As I mediated the situation and had both team members on the same call, I was able to clarify each team member’s intentions.
Result: One team member had a bias for action making a change to our internal threat identification process. The second team member believed he was changing the process without the necessary approvals and assumed it was territorial in nature. In understanding both perspectives, we agreed that the change was small enough to not have a material impact on the overall approach. Despite the change, it was also agreed upon that we can use our weekly team meeting to gain consensus and share potential changes to improve communications.
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