STAR: situation, task, action, result. If you’re a law firm associate, and went through your law school’s OCI process, you’re probably not used to this method of interviewing. So how do you prepare when the interviewers are more interested in how you reason through a line of questioning that doesn’t involve walking through your CV? Fortunately there are some tips and tricks that can help you stand out from the crowd.
I’ve had the opportunity to administer STAR-based interviews at prior employers (after being on the receiving end when I applied for the job in the first place.) STAR-based interviewing is being used more widely – especially in the tech world. (Amazon, for example, is notorious for using this type of interview structure exclusively.) If you’re a lawyer looking to go in-house at a tech company, you should definitely prepare yourself for a very different experience than when you participated in OCI during law school.
Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t go into the interview not knowing your CV like the back of your hand. That goes for every interview. But especially at a company like Amazon, which will interview you against its leadership principles almost exclusively, particularly if you make it to the on-site interview stage of the process, you must be prepared to speak concisely and precisely in a STAR-based fashion.
But before you get started, believe it or not, STAR-based interviewing preparation begins with organizing your Outlook inbox. I am always shocked when I see a WebEx screenshare and the person at the other end of the meeting flashes their inbox with 5000 unread messages and no folder organization system. You must organize your Outlook inbox into folders otherwise you will have a hard time remembering everything that you’ve worked in at your current employer!
This is a good practice tip, too – I always BCC myself on important emails and then file them in the appropriate folder. More than just CYA (although that is certainly one benefit), I find myself referring to substantive emails outlining an argument or explaining a difficult issue regularly – it saves time, and it makes me smarter (at least I think it does).
Anyway, here is the framework I would use to think through a STAR interview question, taking the Amazon leadership principle “start with the customer” as an example. The sample question we’ll use is “tell me about a time at work where you took on responsibility outside of your job description.” Here is my suggested response:
Situation: The most important thing to keep in mind during a STAR-based interview is to be concise and direct. This means, when you begin describing the “situation” that responds to the question, you should address the “who, what, when, where, and how” that underpins the situation you’re describing.
For example, you could respond to our sample question by saying: “a few years ago, at my current employer, my immediate manager resigned. He/she was handling an important client account that constituted 25% of our company’s quarterly gross revenue.”
Task: Again, be very concise and specifically describe the tasks you undertook while engaged in the situation. For example, you might say “in order to maintain the relationship with this important client, it was critical that somebody who knew the account inside and out stepped up to make sure the client didn’t follow my old manager out the door.”
Action: What specific actions did you take in response to the task/tasks at hand? Here, perhaps: “once my manager gave notice, I immediately set up a meeting with his manager – who knew that I had a strong relationship with this client from my work on my manager’s team – and I volunteered to reach out directly to the client.”
Result: What was the result of the actions you took? “With my skip manager’s approval, I called my contact at the client, who was very grateful that we were being so proactive. Over the next few months, we were able to continue growing the account and we’re on track to boost sales by 10% for the current fiscal year.”
This is a pretty generic, straightforward example. But it should give you an idea for how the STAR framework functions. In my experience, and if you take the time to think about it, there will be many examples of situations that you can fit into a STAR response.
This is why, by keeping your Outlook organized and – just as importantly – spending time before the interview reflecting on the success stories from your career, you will be ready to answer any STAR-based behavioral interview questions that are thrown your way.
Do you have any experience with behavioral-based/STAR-based interviews? Let us know in the comments!