Using the STAR framework to ace tech interviews


The most common bad habit we see while interviewing job candidates is a lack of answer structure and clarity. Without taking a moment to stop and think, the word vomit has begun.

They may eventually come around to a suitable answer but this type of response is hard for the interviewer to follow and the candidate comes across as scatterbrained.

You want to make it as easy for the interviewer as possible. The less mental effort an interviewer needs to spend to get the information they're looking for, the better.

The solution lies in the STAR framework for structuring interview answers.

Introducing the STAR method

STAR stands for Situation/Task, Action, and Results. The STAR method is best for answering questions where you are asked about specific examples of past professional experience. Let's see how the STAR method works in action with an example.

Let’s say an interviewer asks the following:

What was the most significant contribution you made in your last role?

Our hypothetical candidate works as an Insurance Claim Specialist at a medical devices company and is looking to transition into a startup by interviewing for a Customer Success Role. Her current role is fast-paced and customer facing so she has a relevant example to answer this question.

Here’s how she might present that experience using the STAR method.

Situation/Task

First off, she’ll lay the groundwork by describing the situation or task she encountered.

This will answer the questions:

  • Where did this occur?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why is it important?

"In my current role, my main responsibility is to process insurance claims for the medical devices my company makes. My performance is measured by the number of claims I can process each day and we have expected daily quotas. Six months ago we implemented a new software to process claims. This new software started to increase the number of error messages that often halted the claims process and resulted in us needing to escalate more claims than usual. This slowed the number of claims we were able to process and we started to miss our quotas. "

Here we are setting the scene. The interviewer knows that this took place about six months ago in our interviewee's current role. They understand why it's important that the number of claims was slowing down and what the cause of the issue was.


Action

Next up, she’ll walk through what she did in response to the situation.

This will answer the questions:

  • What did you personally do?
  • How did you do it?
  • Who else was involved?

"Upon further review, nearly all of these errors were edge cases that could be resolved with a specific procedure. I decided to start documenting each issue as they came up and the procedure to resolve them. I shared this with the team so they could contribute and this became our shared knowledge base to refer to in the event of an error. We no longer had to escalate every issue to our managers, which was time intensive. "

The interviewee saw the problem and took the initiative to step up and find a better way to operate. On top of resolving the issue for herself, this solution also helped make the entire team more productive.

The interviewer is thinking this candidate is not only a self-starter, but a team player as well. Notice that in this answer the interviewee is referencing herself using "I" when talking about her individual contributions. She also notes how the rest of the team was involved.

Results

Finally, she will describe the results she achieved after taking action.

This will answer the questions:

  • What was the impact?
  • How did you measure success?

Ideally she will answer these questions in terms of something quantifiable, like money, number, or percent change.

  • Money (Cost savings, revenue generation)
  • Number (Volume, size, scale)
  • Percent (Year over year improvements)

"As a result, the number of claims the team could resolve grew by 25% in the month after the documentation was introduced. We actually ended up not only hitting our quotas again but exceeding them because of the more efficient way we could share knowledge across the team."

Now our interviewee ends strong by sharing how her results affected the entire team in a quantifiable format (percent change). There was a 25% increase in claims, which she put in context of the initial problem of missing their quotas to show how she had "exceeded expectations", which is exactly what the interview question was asking.

Remember, always use the STAR method when answering interview questions that reference examples of your past experience. You may feel like it is repetitive to use the same answer format every time but really you're doing yourself and your interviewer a favor.

Improving the clarity of your narratives with a structured format is one of the most impactful things you can do to set yourself apart from other candidates.