Have you heard of the STAR Method? It is a popular tool for writing job applications and presenting interview responses, but when mastered, it can actually be used in other career-enhancing situations as well. So, let’s break it down. In this post, I am going to explain what the STAR method is, how you can become better at using it and I am also sharing four different situations where the STAR method can help you get ahead in your career.
So, what is the STAR method?
The STAR method is a four point tool that provides an outline for times when you are talking about your work. It helps you to make sure that your description is well structured and that you stay on track when delivering it (without wandering down a garden path of crazy tangents!). Each letter in STAR stands for part of your story.
The "S" stands for Situation
When you are talking about your situation, you want to give a brief overview of what was happening at the time of your story. This might include telling your audience what role you held and if there is any background they need to know to be able to understand what you are about to explain. The key there is “need to know”. You don’t want to spend too much time describing the situation – this is just an opportunity to set the scene for what is to come.
"T" is for Task
When describing your task, you are telling your audience what you needed to do. This is a good time to explain what your goal was. What were you trying to achieve? Was there a target or end-point in mind? What was the problem you were trying to solve? You don’t need to spend a lot of time describing your task, but make sure you lay a strong foundation for the remainder of your response.
"A" stands for Action
The action part of your response is one of the most important. This is where you break down exactly what you did in your work example. When you are talking about your actions, you want to be specific and give your audience enough information for them to understand what your part was in the project, but you don’t want to go into too much detail. If you feel yourself going off onto a tangent, reign it in and get back on track.
The "R" is your Result
The result is the other most important part of your story. This is where you explain to your audience what the outcome was of your actions. Sometimes people struggle with the result part of the STAR method, because it means talking about your achievements; something that a lot of us are not particularly confident in. If you don’t provide the result though, you are leaving your story unfinished and this is far less than ideal. Did you receive an award? Was the project completed on time and on budget? Did you score a new client? Did your manager commend you for your work? These are all things that you want to mention when you describe your result.
You make it sound so easy. How can I master the STAR method?
The trick to becoming more and more confident in using the STAR method is practice. I am sure you were hoping that there was going to be a quicker fix, but unfortunately practice is, as it is for most new skills, the best way to hone your craft. The good news is that you don’t need to wait until you have a job interview or a presentation in order to practice. Here’s my challenge:
- Think about something you have done in your career, that you are proud of.
- Grab a note book and write down some dot points for each section of the STAR.
- Practice talking about your event or achievement using the STAR method and note down the areas you get stuck or feel uncomfortable talking about.
- If there are parts of the STAR that feel unnatural or difficult, ask yourself what is blocking you. Is it because you don’t feel comfortable talking about your achievements? Are you having trouble describing what you have done because it is complex? Are you struggling to make your example flow through the STAR?
- Practice, practice, practice! I find that the best times for me to practice are when I’m driving and when I am in the shower – might sound a little strange, but give it a go!
Let’s start with using the STAR method in a job application
When you are preparing a written job application (responses to selection criteria or a statement of claims) the STAR method is your friend, especially if you have a word count. The STAR method, as I have mentioned, helps you to stay on track and make sure you are only including relevant information. The beauty of it is that if you follow the STAR correctly, you also won’t miss any critical steps.
One mistake I see a lot of people making when they first start using the STAR method, is using the headings, Situation, Task, Action and Result in their written response. This is not required and if anything, makes your response look a little amateur. The STAR method is your guide, but you should be able to write a response that flows naturally through the steps without having to clearly separate them.
Another mistake I often see in written responses, is spending too much time on outlining the situation and task, then not doing the action and result part of the response justice due to going over the word count. Your actions are the part of your response that you should spend the most time on as this shows what you actually did – this is where your skills and experience really shine. Your result is important as it puts the finishing touches on your response, but it doesn’t necessarily need a lot of time to be spent on it. You just need to make sure it isn’t forgotten. Here’s a rough breakdown of where you should use your word count:
- Situation – 20%
- Task – 10-20%
- Action – 40-60%
- Response – 10-20%
Think the STAR method is only good for interviews? Think again!
What about using the STAR method in an interview?
Using the STAR method in an interview is similar to using it in a written response, and the guidelines I have provided above will help you in an interview as well. The thing about interviews is that you aren’t providing a pre-prepared response, so there is more room for improvisation. This is good because it means that you can get really specific in answering the interviewer’s question. The down-side is that candidates often end up distracted and go off on tangents that aren’t helpful.
The other mistake people often make when using STAR in interviews is using a response they have pre-prepared. There are two reasons that this is not a good idea. The first is that if your response is prepared in advance, it will be unlikely to properly answer the question you are asked; as we have acknowledged, you will never be able to accurately guess the question in advance. (Being asked a question and then answering a different question is a big no-no!) Secondly, you will sound like you are delivering a pre-prepared response. Robot anyone? No thanks!
The way to solve both of this issues is (drumroll…) practice. So, if you skipped that part of this post, scroll up and read it now. The importance of practice really cannot be overlooked. Now, you might be thinking, “Won’t practice mean that my responses are pre-prepared?”. Not if you are practicing correctly. Remember that what you are repeating is the technique of talking about your experience and achievements using the STAR method; you aren’t practicing one specific response.
Could the STAR method help me when doing presentations?
Absolutely! Have you been given the opportunity to present to your team about what you have been working on? Using the STAR method will make sure that your presentation is super organised and once you have mastered it, you will be able to use this method time and time again to create and deliver structured and informative presentations with limited prep time. This can be very handy when you are asked to present at late notice or need to provide updates on your project in a team meeting.
How could the STAR method support my next performance review or salary negotiation?
One of my absolute favourite things about using the STAR method is the awareness is creates, particularly around how your actions lead to results. Sometimes it can be difficult to see how your particular actions have made a contribution to an overall project or how the work you have done has impacted your team, organisation or career. By using the STAR method, you are creating that link in your own mind, as well as in the minds of your audience. This is such a powerful skill.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, some of us are also not overly comfortable talking about our achievements and the STAR method helps to overcome that discomfort. When you know that there are four points that you need to include in your presentation (situation, task, action and result), you can step through them without really thinking about it; you minimise the awkwardness by making it a little more clinical. You aren’t blowing your own trumpet, you are just providing the detail that is required.
So, how can these things help you in your next performance review or salary negotiation? Well, the STAR method gives you a platform to demonstrate what you have done. It outlines a way for you to not only describe what has happened, but to pinpoint how you contributed and what the outcome was. This is very convincing when it comes to reviewing your performance or negotiating a pay increase.
Have you used the STAR method?
Let me know in the comments – bonus points if you use the STAR method to write your response! If you have any questions, of course, let me know and will make sure to answer them in an upcoming post.