The Job Interview: Shine with the STAR Formula

People waiting for an interview

What is it, and why is it important?

The STAR formula is a method of structuring your answer to certain interview questions, in order to make sure that your answer is organized and properly showcases your achievements. Without this structure, your answer may be rambling, unfocused, or underwhelming. The STAR formula has become a very popular trend in interviewing. We had one client recently who was told, specifically, that she did not get a job because her interview answers did not make use of the STAR method.

When would I use it?

You should use the STAR formula to answer behavioral questions – that is, questions which ask for specific stories and examples from your past work experience. These questions include:

  • Tell us about a time you faced a tough problem at work.
  • Give me an example of a time when you handled an angry customer.
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker.
  • Give me an example of a time when you met an impossible deadline.
  • Tell us about your greatest professional accomplishment.

What does it stand for?

Situation: Give us the background information. Lay out the situation so that we’ll understand what was going on. Your English teacher would call this the exposition.

Task: Tell us what you needed to accomplish. What was the challenge that faced you? Note: this is very similar to Situation, and in fact some people combine these two categories into Situation or Task. Do not spend too much time on Situation and/or Task. Although it is crucial to give enough explanation to make your story easy to follow, be careful not to get bogged down in boring and irrelevant details. Just give the necessary facts.

Action: Talk about what you did in this situation. What actions did you take to calm the angry customer, or resolve the conflict, or meet the deadline? This is the exciting part of your story, so spend most of your time here. Be specific with the steps you took. And make sure you’re talking about what you personally did, rather than what your team did – this is no time to be modest.

Result: Let us know how everything turned out. After all, what story is complete without the happy ending?

Winning Example

Interview question

Give us an example of a time when you went above and beyond to get the job done.

Answer

Situation: My work at the credit union is very customer-service-oriented, so going above and beyond the job description is frequently necessary in order to make the customers happy. For example, last year one of our customers was approved for a home loan, but she couldn’t come in to sign her final paperwork because she was a single parent and her daughter was in the hospital.

Task: I knew that her loan approval was going to expire if I didn’t find a way to get her to sign that paperwork.

Action: So I took it upon myself to take the paperwork to her. I spent my lunch break one day driving over to the hospital, getting her to sign the paperwork, and triple-checking to make sure that she had done everything that was necessary.

Result: She was so grateful; she kept saying that it was such a load off her mind at a stressful time, and that she appreciated the personal touch. In the end, it worked out well for everyone – her daughter got better, her loan paperwork went through, and the credit union now has a loyal customer for life.”

Written by Lynnette Lee.

Practice makes perfect. Call us at 225-231-3733 to schedule an appointment for assistance with crafting your answers or for a mock interview. Alternately, you can check out our interview-related YouTube videos here: EBRPL Career Center – YouTube

 

Note: This article was originally posted in November 2016, and has been re-posted with updates to reach a new audience.

June 2022 YouTube Roundup

Here are the latest videos from our YouTube Channel:

Job Search Mastery playlist

How To ask for a raise or promotion

Even if you’ve been with your company for a while, you may not automatically get a raise or promotion – you may have to earn it and ask for it. In this video, Certified Career Coach Anne Nowak discusses how you can present your case to your boss and prove your value as an employee.

common job application tutorials playlist

How to apply for a job at Turner industries

Turner Industries is a large employer for construction workers, laborers, and skilled craftspeople. In this video, Career Specialist Cynthia Payton demonstrates the step-by-step process for completing an online job application with this company.

this month’s spotlight: the job search mastery playlist

This playlist goes beyond the basics, with advanced guidance on job-search-related topics such as salary negotiation, online job-searching, and research & preparation methods. A good fit for those who are looking to refine and polish their job-seeking skills.

Written by Lynnette Lee

3 Tech Hacks for the Job Search

Technology can definitely make the job search more complicated. . .but occasionally, technology is there to bail you out as well. Here are 3 tech-based quick fixes we recently discovered that we think you’ll find useful in your job search:

Situation 1: You need to update your PDF resume

We sometimes see patrons who need to update or revise their resume but it is in PDF format. Many computers (including library computers) do not have the software necessary to edit PDF files. What can you do?

Sometimes that resume was originally in another format such as Microsoft Word and was exported as a PDF file. If you can track down the original file and open that in Microsoft Word and update or revise it with no problem. However, if all you have is the PDF, try this:

Solutions:

  • Convert it using Word. Newer editions of MS Word (2013 and beyond) are able to open a PDF and convert it to Word format. This is the most effective and hassle-free option. Here is a step-by-step guide from Microsoft. However it will not work with a scan. This works best with files that were created in Word and exported as PDFs. If the resume was originally created as a PDF, some of the formatting (such as font size and style) will be lost, but you can restore or modify that in Word.
  • Use ILovePDF.com. This website converts PDFs to Word documents and produced excellent results when we tested it. It even does a great job converting fancy resumes formatted with tables. However it will not work with a scan.
  • Use Google Drive to convert it. Obviously this one only works if you have a Google account. Upload the PDF to your Drive and open the file as a Google Doc. Then, in the menu bar, go to File -> Download as -> Microsoft Word (docx). Again this technique does not work with scans.
  • If your resume is a scan, none of the above options will work very well. If that is the case, we have another blog post that explains what you can do.

Situation 2: Your employer sent you a packet of forms to fill out, but they are in PDF format

In the last few months we have worked with several patrons who found a new job, and their (new) employer needed them to complete several forms that are in PDF format. Some PDF forms are designed to be filled out electronically but this is uncommon. As in (1) above most computers (including library computers) do not have the software to edit PDF files and so completing these forms is inconvenient. Usually people must (a) print the forms, (b) fill them out by hand, (c) scan them, and (d) email them back to the employer. There is however a simpler way:

Solution:

You can type in PDF files electronically using the website Kami at www.kamiapp.com. To use Kami you need an account but a basic account is free. The way Kami works is, you do not fill in the PDF form electronically so much as you create text boxes and type over those spaces in the form where you need to add information. It is very much like using a typewriter to complete a form except you are using a website on a computer.

Situation 3: You want to make sure your resume uses key words that match the job description

An important part of putting together an effective resume is using keywords that line up with a job description. That potential employer is looking for someone who has certain specific skills, and they use something called Automated Tracking Software (ATS) to look for those skills and keywords in resumes they receive. The bad news is, if your resume doesn’t contain the right keywords, it could be rejected by the ATS before it gets seen by a person. The good news is, there are websites that scan your resume and let you know how well your resume lines up with a job description. Try these websites to help you beat the ATS:

solutions:

  • Skillsyncer at www.skillsyncer.com. You can try it for free and can use it for free once per week. You can also subscribe for a monthly or quarterly fee, and this allows you to use it as much as you like, and you receive more thorough feedback. Upload your resume, search the web for a job that interests you, paste the job listings description into the Skillsyncer platform. Your resume receives feedback within seconds. Your match report includes a Job Match Score, Keyword Analysis, and Common Resume Checks for you to review.
  • Jobscan at www.jobscan.co. It is more expensive than Skillsyncer although the feedback and recommendations you receive (include cover letter templates) are more extensive.

Written by Richard Wright

May 2022 YouTube Roundup

We have exciting news: The Career Center’s YouTube channel has now reached 1,000 subscribers! Passing this milestone opens up new options for our YouTube channel, so stay tuned for some exciting new videos! As a sample, here are our latest:

Resources for teens playlist

How Teens Can Answer, “Why should we hire you?”

This job interview question asks you to convince the hiring manager of your talents. That can be intimidating, especially for candidates who don’t have much experience. In this video, Career Specialist Lynnette Lee and guest presenter Jessica Budd demonstrate how your answer can build a strong case based on your unique qualities.

common job application tutorials playlist

How to apply for a job at kfc

Is the Colonel calling you? Before you apply to work at fast-food giant KFC, watch our tutorial video so you’ll know what to expect. In this video, Career Specialist Andre de la Fuente walks you step-by-step through the process of KFC’s online job application.

this month’s spotlight: the enrichment and skills training playlist

One key to career success is being a lifelong learner. Whether you want to learn new skills for your current job, for a promotion, or for a new career field, there are low-cost resources that can help. These videos look at other resources which can help you advance your career by learning valuable new skills without the hefty price tag of a full degree.

Written by Lynnette Lee

Book Review: Machiavelli for Women

Machiavelli for Women: Defend your Worth,
Grow your Ambition, and Win the Workplace
by Stacey Vanek Smith

“What Machiavelli offered [in The Prince] was an unflinching and rigorous look at how people get into positions of power. And how they hold on to them.” According to veteran journalist Stacey Vanek Smith, this is the essence of Machiavelli’s most famous writing, The Prince. While the original book was written a few centuries ago to advise Renaissance potentates, Vanek Smith translates his thinking and advice to benefit women in 21st-century Corporate America.

Her book sets out to show women in an equally unflinching way how today’s workplace is still designed to keep them out. She applies Machiavelli’s insights, his cunning, and his strategies to show women how to conquer positions of power in the workplace, how to get there, and how to hold on to them. The Prince serves as the guide for this playbook on how to achieve corporate power.

Money, Confidence, Respect, Support, Title

For Vanek Smith, power in the workplace manifests in 5 main aspects: money, confidence, respect, support, and title. She subsequently devotes a chapter to each of those aspects, analyzing exactly what obstacles women are dealing with and how to overcome them. She keeps the tone light, employs examples from successful women, and includes experts on salary negotiation and confidence coaching. The best parts are the realistic, immediately usable strategies and templates which the author includes in her chapters.

One of those practical examples is the amplification strategy in the chapter about Respect. When women speak up in meetings, their ideas are often not given the same attention and respect than if a man said the same thing. Amplification is one strategy to fix this. If there are several women in a meeting, they can amplify what each of them is saying. If one raises an issue or an idea, the other women will speak up and repeat this issue or idea one after the other. This way it sticks in participants’ minds and also cannot be claimed by somebody else later.

A Lady’s Guide to Negotiation

This is easily the best part of the book. While all chapters contain actionable advice, this one is brimming with it. Vanek Smith explains why regular negotiation advice rarely works for women and why it can, in fact, backfire if women use the same techniques men do. She explains that the exact behaviors that are perceived positively and strong in men make women be seen as negative, bitchy or whiny. Whereas it is all about the “I” for men, it has to be all about the “we”, “our team” or “our company” for women. With the help of experts, she manages to give detailed examples and templates of how women can approach negotiation instead. This is easy to understand and immediately usable information!

The book gives examples of common negotiation situations as well as possible pitfalls. Some of those pitfalls are: lowball offers, asking about previous job’s pay, stalling, or threatening to pull the job offer (a.k.a. the nuclear option). More importantly, it presents several options for how to address those pitfalls and turn them around to your advantage. Be prepared, do your homework, and anticipate negotiation detours and traps. In this chapter the book serves as a manual of how to do exactly that. It has pages and pages of “pro tips” and “pitfall alerts”.

final thoughts

You don’t have to be a fan of Machiavelli, or even know about him, to like and profit from this book. If you are a woman who wants to make it in Corporate America (or non-profit organizations or Higher Ed, etc.), you want to read this book. It’s a well-researched easy read with actionable pro tips that will help you succeed in your career.

Written by Anne Nowak

Career Center in the News

April was Second Chance Month, a month dedicated to assisting the formerly incarcerated with reintegrating into society – in other words, giving them a second chance. There were numerous programs focused on raising awareness about the difficulties faced by re-entry citizens, as well as highlighting the resources available to help. Our local Fox 44 TV station interviewed us about the resources that the Career Center offers to assist all jobseekers, including those with criminal records. Here is that video:

 

Additionally, we were recognized by the City-Parish of East Baton Rouge for our work in assisting the formerly incarcerated. We were honored to receive a certificate of appreciation from Councilwoman Chauna Banks, and delighted to meet representatives from other local organizations who have done great work for re-entering citizens.

Although Second Chance Month has ended, the Career Center’s mission is never finished. If you would like help with planning your career or searching for work, please come visit us at 7711 Goodwood Blvd or call us at 225-231-3733.

Written by Lynnette Lee