For the uninitiated, STAR method is a popular way of answering a behavioral question in an interview. STAR is an acronym to Situation, Task, Activity, Result.
So, for example, if you are asked to tell me a situation where you displayed your problem-solving skills, you can use this method to structure your response.
Situation: There was a client presentation to be delivered, and the key presenter got caught up in a situation. The company’s reputation and the contract were at stake.
Task: As the project manager I had to find a workaround to salvage our relationship with the client.
Action: I had worked as a team for preparing the presentation, and I had the backup of all the notes. I arranged for another knowledgeable person in the team to be the presenter, and we revised all the key data points. I was transparent with the client and explained the situation, and also put our key presenter on call for questions.
Result: The client understood, and they were happy with the presentation.
This is an excellent answer if you can deliver it with confidence, and if you have done all of the above in real life. But, what if you have not memorized all of the above before your interview, and you just cannot recollect this particular incident during the interview? Or, maybe you know what you need to do, but just cannot get the right format of the answer at that time. You lose the offer. This is why I feel the STAR method of behavioral interviews may not always be a very good idea when adopted universally.
Here is a personal story.
My friend is a technical writer. His forte is converting random functional specification documents, emails, meeting notes, into a documentation format. He is excellent at his job. His English is impeccable, and he has a quick grasp. But, he got rejected by an organization on this exact job role – twice.
His interview was in two parts: one was presenting and explaining an existing project. Now, he is not necessarily the best public speaker. He is decent. And, his job role does not require him to speak in front of numerous people. But he could explain his work well to the interviewers. The second part of the interview was behavioral. He was specifically asked to answer in a STAR format. He was asked about various situations, a lot of which he had not exactly encountered, and being not so strong at objective speaking, he faltered. And that cost him the job offer.
After hearing his story, I researched in various interview preparation websites. Most of them list different kind of questions one may be asked in a STAR format of the interview, and they clearly advise a candidate to memorize the answers!
“Write down the answers and rehearse them before you go.”
Because it seems even for great presenters, and people with excellent communication skills, when an interviewer specifies one to speak in a STAR format, it is an added pressure. That causes people to falter and appear shaky.
In my opinion, an interview is a meeting where the job of the interviewer is to determine the key strengths of the applicant. There may be people who have memorized and delivered a perfect answer, but it is not a given that person will be better than the individual who did not quite respond to the question at the spur of the moment. For many job roles, that is just what you need. And it is perfect. But generalizing an interview format, just because it happens to be popular, is not an ideal way to select candidates.
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