There are common interview techniques, or formulas, to help structure your responses during an interview. These techniques include the STAR interview technique, SCARL approach, or a mix of both.
What is the STAR method of interviewing?
The STAR method is a popular type of interview framework. It is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Results. Let’s walk through each:
- Situation: This is your starting point and when you set the context of your story or your project. This portion of your story should be concise and quickly inform your interviewer of your role and the other departments or teammates involved. For example, the interview question might be, “Tell me about a time you led with influence”. To describe the situation, you might say “I led with influence when I identified a new target audience for Acme product, but had no additional budget to spend on a campaign. I worked with the industry vertical team and the product team to have both departments contribute 50% of my requested budget.” Here you explain the situation while clearly stating how your response addresses the question asked
- Task: At this point, you would move to the second step, Task. Here it is best to articulate the job requirement you were either given or independently identified. At this stage in your story, you are informing your audience about what expectations you were set to deliver. To continue the example, you could say, “My task was to deliver 1,000 new marketing attributed leads so that I would reach my quarterly goal.” With the context set, you now easily move to action.
- Action: This section of your answer can often be the most elaborate and detailed. Be sure that as you’re preparing your stories, you spend time practicing how you will guide your audience through the steps you took to accomplish a project. When you’re done, do not forget to emphasize the results of your actions. This is a common part of the story that is often missed, forgotten about, or simply ignored as interviewees respond to questions. The results are your time to summarize your project into why the interviewer should care and what business results you delivered.
- Results: The ending of your answer can be a challenging area for some, and not every project brings in a game changing metric. If you have a story like that, be sure to tell it but, if you don’t, then try to think beyond delivering revenue. Did the impact you made help accelerate the project’s timeline, or reduce the amount of redundant, time consuming work? Did you foster a new relationship with a department? Did you remove risk from a project and avoid a potential public relations (PR) crisis? Metrics are not always hard numbers like revenue generated, leads created, or impressions made.
STAR method interview example
Below, I share a story from my own professional experience using the STAR method.
Example interview question: Tell me about a time you led with influence.
Situation: “I led with influence when I identified a new target audience for Acme product but had no additional budget to spend on a campaign. I worked with the industry vertical team and the product team to have each department contribute 50% of my requested budget.
Task: My task was to deliver 1,000 new marketing attributed leads so that I would reach my quarterly goal.
Action: To accomplish my goal, I first drafted a campaign where the vertical marketing team and the product team could see where their respective budget contributions would be allocated, what evidence I had to support why I wanted to target this new audience, and the benefits each department would experience with their financing. Once securing the budget, I then worked with an approved content agency to develop material for web, social, blogs, and video. While the content was created, I simultaneously worked with my digital marketing team to develop a content publishing strategy.
Result: I led the execution of this campaign for 10 weeks and generated over 2,500 leads. A record for the company when compared to other campaigns ran previously. I ended that quarter 1,500 leads above my goal.
STAR interview method variation: The SCARL technique
Another common interview approach is SCARL which stands for Stakes, Challenge, Action, Results, Lessons.
Similar to the STAR interview method, you can use this approach to structure your interview response. The only difference with SCARL is that the situation combines the “S” and the “T” of STAR into one where you quickly reveal your role and the critical need of the situation as related to the job environment. Challenge is an opportunity for you to describe what obstacles stood between your goal and delivering results. Actions and results remain the same between SCARL and STAR but, before you end your response, you add on what you learned. This can be a great opportunity to inform the interviewer of your takeaway from a project or how you might approach it differently next time. If we take the example from earlier and apply a learning statement, it might go as follows:
- Lessons: I learned that even though I didn’t own the budget to execute this campaign, I could ask my stakeholders for the funds so long as I could prove that there was value in it for them. I am glad I approached them, earned their trust, and learned how to work beyond my direct resources.
The STAR method and SCARL approach are great methods for structuring your interview responses. Referring back to the previous section, “Story Selection”, as you build your Story Library, apply either method to your practice. Take each story you have listed, and work through each one using the STAR or SCARL method. Neither method is better or worse. The selection often comes down to your own preference, but be sure to practice. Your goal is to tell your stories naturally, with each part seamlessly woven throughout your response. The method you choose is your guide, so if ever you feel lost in your response, you can pause, think of what step you are on, and pick right back up in your story.
In the next section, Positioning, we walk through how your Story Library can be molded to fit any behavioral question, and how you’ll be ready with a response when you’ve applied STAR or SCARL to your process.