When we really want to the position we’re interviewing for, we tend to get nervous, which activates our rambling gene. Don’t worry; it happens to the best of us. But losing the interest of the interviewer by rambling — and, more importantly, missing the point of their questions — will take you out of the running for any role.
I know, you’re special. Your accomplishments can’t be summed up succinctly. You believe you must tell the interviewer every single detail of your awesomeness. But, honestly, they don’t care to hear every single detail. In fact, the more details you share, the more they’ll lose interest and start multitasking. And multitasking is the kiss of death for your chances of getting to the next interview.
Instead of inviting the kiss of death, how about you stand out like a star instead?
How to Answer Any Interview Question Efficiently
The easiest way to ensure you’re answering interview questions effectively and efficiently is to remember the S.T.A.R. format. The S.T.A.R. format was originally used to combat behavioral-based interviewing techniques (questions that are meant to see how you would react in certain scenarios), but it can be used for just about every interview question under the moon.
Trust me, I’ve put a challenge out there to my clients to try and stump the S.T.A.R., and to date, we haven’t found a question that is un-S.T.A.R.-able.
S.T.A.R. stands for:
- Situation or Task
The premise is simple: You can answer any question in about three sentences, using each letter as a sentence guideline.
- Sentence 1 (S/T): Talk about a situation or task that will show the example you’re trying to relay.
- Sentence 2 (A): Discuss the actions that you took towards achieving the results (and answering their question).
- Sentence 3 (R): Explain the results that were achieved for that project, situation or task.
(Click here to tweet this template.)
It sounds easy on the surface, but it’s not our natural tendency to answer questions this way. Instead, we default to wanting to fill in all of the gory details about the players involved, who delivered what, the several obstacles that needed to be overcome and how the results weren’t quite what we wanted, but we’re awesome anyway.
This lengthy retelling includes superfluous details that will get the recruiter (me, in this case) off track from your own skills and qualifications for the job. If you’re talking about the different players on the team, I’m going to want to hire those people. If you’re telling me all of the obstacles in your way, I’ll think you have absolutely zero problem-solving skills. One or two to overcome is OK, but eight? Sigh. And so on…
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Let’s Break It Down with a Real-Life Example, Shall We?
Interview question: Can you tell me a time when you had to deliver a project in a time crunch?
Note: This is a behavioral-based interview question, as it’s asking you to explain an action or behavior you have taken.
One of my coworkers, Sally, wasn’t great at using computers, so I knew that when she was assigned the task of creating and sending out letters to the employees post-merger, she would run into issues. Instead of waiting for Sally to ask for help, I offered to set up a mail merge template with the various scenarios and then separated the lists accordingly. Nancy (another coworker) also helped with the printing of the letters and then double-checked Sally’s work. We ran out of toner while printing late at night, and I was able to go to Kinko’s to get some more before finalizing the printing and getting everything ready for stuffing. Then the three of us coordinated the delivery through UPS and ensured the packages were sealed and signed for upon delivery, through an Excel spreadsheet that I created and Nancy used to input the details.
Whew. That was a lot. I know it sounds silly to read — I mean, who really says that much? You do. I guarantee that you have rambled a bit like this (or worse) in an interview before. Everyone does. It’s the nerves talking; you’re trying to share as much as possible while being fully transparent and honest.
But it’s exhausting to hear. It’s also very difficult for the listener to figure out what you actually did or accomplished. So, let’s take the same scenario and answer it like a S.T.A.R.
When we were working through a merger, one of the critical elements was ensuring each employee received the correct employment information letter with their exact payout, bonus and date of employment. I created several mail merge templates to coordinate with various lists I created in Excel to efficiently create the 130 letters needed. The result was that all 130 letters were created and delivered before our deadline of 48 hours, with zero errors and a very pleased M&A committee.
In case you missed each letter in this answer, here it is broken down further:
- S/T: When we were working through a merger, one of the critical elements was ensuring each employee received the correct employment information letter with their exact payout, bonus and date of employment.
- A: I created several mail merge templates to coordinate with various lists I created in Excel to efficiently create the 130 letters needed.
- R: The result was that all 130 letters were created and delivered before our deadline of 48 hours, with zero errors and a very pleased M&A committee.
The best way to use S.T.A.R.s is through a lot of planning and practice. The great thing is that you can essentially prepare each S.T.A.R. that you have prior to any interviews. It’s a format where you don’t necessarily need to know the exact question before knowing how you’ll answer. Create your own library of S.T.A.R.s that you can “check out” when an applicable question is asked.
Instead of worrying about the potential question, concentrate instead on your accomplishments and experiences. Like you would when you’re creating your resume, think about the things you’ve done that make you stand out from other candidates. Then create S.T.A.R.s around those experiences.
You can use this template, or a stack of index cards, to keep you on track. Just write out 10 – 12 different S.T.A.R. responses highlighting your key accomplishments, and you’ll be ready to easily start answering questions like a S.T.A.R., without even thinking about it.
What ST.A.R.S. can you create to highlight your accomplishments?
Melissa Anzman is a former human resources leader and founder of LaunchYourself.co, where she helps people fall in love with their jobs and understand how Human Resources works. She is the author of two books, How to Land a Job: Secrets from an HR Insider and Stop Hating Your Job: How to Be Happy at Work Without Quitting, and can be found at @MellyMelAnz.