Let’s face it – no matter how many lists of interview questions you memorize, there are always going to be a few questions that come out of nowhere at you. While you should have answers ready to fly for the more common behavioral questions….”walk me through your resume,” or “tell me about a time you acted as a leader”….. but what about the questions you didn’t memorize, predict, or prepare for?
A great technique for answering questions like these is using the “STAR” framework. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, & Result.
Once you master the art of framing your answers using the STAR technique, you’ll be able to tackle those unexpected behavioral questions like a pro.
First, you explain the circumstances and setting that you’re in. Be sure to
- Describe the situation clearly – is it a personal situation or an academic one?
- Set the stage for your answer and include appropriate details.
- Include the conflict here. It will be difficult to address later.
“For group projects, sometimes we choose our own groups, but other times professors assign groups randomly. There was a project where we were randomly assigned our groups, and we were all very different from each other. Some people lived on campus, and some commuted from thirty minutes away. The main conflict was we were not getting along well. People were reluctant to be flexible in their schedule and communication was minimal. We all had had different experiences, interests, and priorities, and as a result our group got off to a rocky start with our assignments.
After you describe the situation and set context, identify the task. This is where you describe the problem or what you have to do. Once again, make sure this is clear to your interviewer. You will have to make a later connection to your task, so it is crucial to explicitly state your intentions.
“As a team, we were preparing a presentation on how Uber functions in different cities. We were tasked with determining the main issues relating to government regulation, inconsistent ride quality, and pricing differences.
Your interviewer needs to know what steps you took to solve your task.
- How did you accomplish your goal
- Were there any obstacles? If so address those as well. Also, remember, this will reflect highly on who you are to your recruiter.
- Address something along the lines of you being a leader, supportive, or significantly impactful in the situation.
- Do not worry about sounding arrogant or “too good”. If you truly lead the group then say so, that is what they need to know.
- In the same instance, do not over exaggerate so that they believe your capabilities are far greater. It can be difficult to find the balance of honest and modest, but simply try different word choices.
“We began the project by dividing up the research content. Every time we worked on the project, we were working remotely and communication was minimal. After receiving two unsatisfying grades, I took it upon myself to reach out to my group to brainstorm solutions to our communication difficulties. After class, I pulled them aside and strongly recommended that we have more in-person communication, and revisit the rubric to make sure we are meeting the criteria.
I created a schedule for times we were all available, reviewed our past work and compared it to the rubric to see our weaknesses, and then finally communicated with our professor about how we can do better.”
Finally, close your answer with the result. This is the most important part… it’s the “so what?” What was the impact of your experience, and how did it shape you? Here, you should:
- Describe the outcomes of your actions.
- Did you accomplish your task?
- To what satisfaction?
- What did you learn from this?
- Apply this result and action to the job you are applying for.
Make sure the interviewer sees the connections you are trying to make between your capabilities and how you can be an asset to the firm.
“We went from talking only after class to meeting up twice a week. We also went from one person revising their work, to conducting extensive peer – reviews of each other’s work before submitting. As a result, we received more positive feedback in our final deliverables. At the end we received a B+ on the assignment. Although we were hoping for an A, this was still satisfying because we were in jeopardy of getting a C or lower.
In this situation I was just a member of the team in the beginning, doing what everyone else had agreed upon. Later I transitioned into more of a leadership role as I realized we needed a firm direction. I learned that just because I wasn’t designated “president”, “captain”, or “manager” I could still influence others and take on a leadership role. I also gained confidence in my ability to proactively “step up” and take action when needed.”
Your example won’t have the same specifics as mine, but the key is to understand the structure of this response and seamlessly flow to each step of the STAR method.