Hack Your Job Search: Become an Interview STAR

The job search can be rough for even the most experienced job seekers, but it tends to be especially brutal for those of us just entering the job market. As a final-semester grad student, I’m right in the thick of looking, applying, and (happily) interviewing for jobs. It’s a process that can become easily overwhelming, but I’ve adopted some tricks from out there in LibraryLand that have helped me make the most of it. One technique in particular that I’ve found extremely useful for getting myself organized and ready for interviews is the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method. 

Let me just frame this by saying that I’ve had to work hard to become what I now consider a fairly competent, confident interviewee. I look back on what fragments of memories from high school job interviews I haven’t yet managed to block out and can do nothing but cringe. I remember getting flustered easily, blanking out on even my greatest accomplishments, and giving the vaguest answers when clearly the interviewer wanted more than just an “um, yeah, I really like working with people!” It wasn’t pretty. In the time that’s passed since those awkward teen years, my interview skills have thankfully improved to the point where I’m sometimes able to even enjoy interviewing–and if I can make it, you can too.

In general, I think reaching that comfort level has a lot to do with drawing from confidence and conviction toward whatever position you’re hoping to fill, but unfortunately there’s no magic bullet option there. However, if I ever find myself lacking in the confidence or conviction departments, I know there’s a final tool in my interviewee arsenal—preparation. The STAR method is a fantastic way to help yourself feel fully prepared to rock an interview. And when you feel prepared, you can stop focusing on your anxieties and start remembering how awesome of a candidate you are.

Shared under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Star” by Susanne Nilsson / CC BY-SA 2.0

I was first introduced to the STAR method in Susanne Markgren and Tiffany Eatman Allen’s Career Q&A: A Librarian’s Real-Life, Practical Guide to Managing a Successful Career. It’s a pretty simple, straightforward idea: you start by setting the scene for a scenario you’ve experienced that relates to the primary functions or desired characteristics of the position you’re interviewing for (that’s the Situation). Then you write out what needed to be done and what you were expected to do in that scenario (the Task), what you actually did (the Action), and the outcomes from your specific actions (the Result). You can organize your thoughts in a grid, like this:

star chart

Let’s get you started with an example. One question you’re bound to get during your job search is to talk about a time when you were innovative or resourceful in a work setting. A situation I draw from often to answer this question is the time I helped my library improve its platform for organizing library instruction requests. Here’s what that experience looks like in STAR form:

Situation: My library teaches hundreds of library instruction sessions a year, and these classes are taught by anywhere from 10-20 librarians and library assistants. We had a messy Google Spreadsheet as the only method of documenting class requests and allowing instructors to sign up to teach them, which was often confusing and prone to errors. The instruction coordinator had to spend hours at the beginning of each semester to make it even minimally functional, and once in a while two classes would get booked in the same room or a class would slip through the cracks and not get taken by anyone.

Task: It seemed pretty clear that the spreadsheet wasn’t the best solution for doling out instruction sessions, but no one really seemed to have the time to research a better solution. As a library assistant in a supportive environment, however, I was always encouraged to present ideas for new projects or initiatives to my supervisors.

Action: I had been introduced to Trello in a previous class, and I thought that it could work to organize our instruction request system. I set up an example Trello board and figured out a way to automatically populate the board with requests from Google Forms using Zapier, a web program similar to If This Then That. I presented the instruction coordinator with my idea, noting some of the major problems I had noticed in the Google Spreadsheet system and ways in which they could be alleviated through using Trello.

Result: My supervisor was enthusiastic about my solution and immediately started working on a plan for us to move our request system into Trello. The Trello system has been used to organize our instruction requests for almost a year now, and since using it we have had zero dropped classes and fewer room mix-ups than before. The instruction coordinator can now spend more time teaching and less time in the weeds finagling with technology.

And that’s it! It’s really simple, but the STAR method has proven itself to be an awesome tool to have during my job search. It’s helped me organize my thoughts, keep track of notable things I’ve done, and remember to back up my answers to interview questions with evidence (no super-vague responses here).

Even if you’re not yet on the job hunt, I’d encourage you to keep the STAR method in your back pocket. You don’t have to frame your chart as a set of answers to specific questions. You can use it now to make a list of significant things you’ve already done, and whenever you undertake something worth mentioning you can add it to your chart. Then whenever it’s time for you to prepare for job interviews, you’ll already have a bunch of experiences ready to talk about.

One parting piece of advice, though—don’t treat your STAR chart like a script. No one likes a canned answer. Use it to enhance and inform your responses, but try to stay away from sounding overprepared.

What do you think of this strategy? Have you tried using the STAR method? Do you have any other tips for rocking the interview? As always we’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave us a comment below. 

And if you’re looking for more tips, Brianna and Michael have some strategies for phone and Skype interviews, while Topher wrote a post on surviving the all-day interview. Check them out for even more interview goodness.

Categories: Job Searching

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4 replies

  1. I am making the transition from the corporate world to library roles and I would firmly endorse knowing and using the STAR technique for handling interviews. In fact, we expect nearly every question to be answered using the STAR format even though we don’t say it to a candidate. Behavioral interviews (what STAR measures) are the starting point, with technical skills expected and assessed separately. If you are more comfortable with story-telling, I find it similar-with the 4 required components forming the template for your story. Great post! Thank you.


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