How to Use the STAR Method to Nail Your Interview at Facebook, Google and Amazon
What is a behavioral interview?
Companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon use behavioral interview questions to assess your background. A behavioral interview is a type of interview which tries to assess your past behavior in order to predict your fit for the job. It means they want to hear stories about your past, which might indicate your ability to do the job you are interviewing for. All of these companies are essentially saying one thing: “Please, oh please, tell us a good story!”
The best way to answer behavioral interview questions is with the STAR technique — situation, task, action result. However, it’s important to note that your past performance does not mean that you have experience in performing the job requirements of the job for which you are interviewing. In fact, even if you’ve just graduated, and have absolutely no work experience, or are switching industries midway through your career, companies can assess your past performance. But how?
Cheri Huber, Zen Buddhist meditation teacher and author sums it up nicely, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” When you describe your leadership role on the tennis team at the university, it reflects your leadership ability. When you organized a large event for a political campaign as an intern, it shows your organizational ability. When you worked 3 part-time jobs to fund your education, it shows your grit and work ethic. When you broke the sales record at your previous company, it shows that you know a thing or two about sales. All of these examples and more can be told in the format of a story.
Companies have certain “job requirements” in mind when assessing candidates. However, they use these requirements (usually written on a job description) as more of a guideline. That’s why you should not get hung up on every single detail of a job description. In reality the majority of companies are looking for transferable skills from your life and work experiences.
Thus the importance of being able to tell a story in relation to what you might be doing on the job, is one of the best ways to show them you are capable. Of course, you might have specific experience or achievement written on your resume that indicates, “Yes, I’ve done this before.” However, it’s unlikely that all of the details are spelled out on your resume, so greater context is necessary in order to explain the relevance. This is where your storytelling powers come in.
With a good story you will be able to answer questions such as, “Tell me about a time when you had to show leadership” or “what was your biggest achievement?” Here’s how it works:
What was the problem? Like any good story, you will need to start by painting a picture of what happened, where you were, and the people involved. This is the situation.
What was your responsibility? You have to identify what this is and describe it clearly. This is the task.
Once you have decided the goal or outcome you would like to achieve, you need to take steps to get there. What steps did you take and why did you take them? That is the action.
After moving forward with your plan, what happened? Were you successful, and what did you learn? This is the result.
It is as simple as that. Write down your biggest achievement using this structure, along with any other examples you’re preparing for the first call. Click here to view more details about STAR and to see a sample response using the STAR Method.
There’s also hypothetical questions (about the future) and technical questions, but behavioral questions typically make up at least 50% of the interview questions, so it pays to really hone in and make sure you ace this part.
Tip for Practicing your STAR stories: Don’t Assume Anything + Go with High Context
In my previous sales job when we would close a deal and record the information on our CRM system, internally we would refer to this as “popping.” If someone were to walk into our office at the end of the month you’d overhear people saying things like, “when are you going to pop her?” and “Excited to pop today!” Scandalous.
Our jobs come with individual jargon, so we will be accustomed to talking a certain way. Catch yourself when you do this and provide context or else you will be left with blank stares, or even worse, they’ll just pretend to understand what you said as you continue to talk, which will confuse them even more.
Sample STAR response
Question: Tell me about a time when you overcame a setback.
Situation (S): Advertising revenue was falling off for my college newspaper, The Review, and large numbers of long-term advertisers were not renewing contracts.
Task (T): My goal was to generate new ideas, materials and incentives that would result in at least a 15% increase in advertisers from the year before.
Action (A): I designed a new promotional packet to go with the rate sheet and compared the benefits of The Review circulation with other ad media in the area. I also set-up a special training session for the account executives with a School of Business Administration professor who discussed competitive selling strategies.
Result (R): We signed contracts with 15 former advertisers for daily ads and five for special supplements. We increased our new advertisers by 20 percent over the same period last year.
STAR Written Interview Exercise
I have provided two written interview questions that you can use to practice writing in STAR format. Using STAR stories that you have already come up with, the prompt will help you structure your answer.
Some people communicate better in writing, while others communicate better verbally and many companies will give you an opportunity to do both.
Essentially, the written and oral versions are similar in their purpose: to answer the interview question in a powerful and concise way. When writing you can’t use the timbre and pitch of your voice nor your hand gestures to emphasize parts of your story, so you’ll have to be more explicit in explaining the context and impact of your actions.
You will craft a written response that is no more than four pages; typical responses are about two pages.
Keep in mind these two criteria:
Clarity of thought and expression (i.e., did you explain your point well?)
Organization and structure (i.e., does it flow? does it make sense?)
- Please respond in narrative form and limit the use of bullets/outline form.
- Please clearly indicate the question you have selected at the top of your response.
- Please do not include any confidential or proprietary information.
Editing and Improvement
After finishing your written response exercise, use the following process to make your writing flow smoother, more concise, and easier to read.
- Double check for spelling errors.
- Go through each paragraph and remove one sentence.
- Go through each line and remove one unnecessary word.
- Use the hemingway editor to pick up instances where you use passive voice and run-on sentences.
Writing Sample Questions (pick one):
- Most decisions are made with analysis, but some are judgment calls not susceptible to analysis due to time or information constraints. Please write about a judgment call you’ve made recently that couldn’t be analyzed. It can be a big or small one, but should focus on a business issue. What was the situation, the alternatives you considered and evaluated, and your decision making process? Be sure to explain why you chose the alternative you did relative to others considered.
- What is the most inventive or innovative thing you’ve done? It doesn’t have to be something that’s patented. It could be a process change, product idea, a new metric or customer facing interface – something that was your idea. It cannot be anything your current or previous employer would deem confidential information. Please provide us with context to understand the invention/innovation. What problem were you seeking to solve? Why was it important? What was the result? Why or how did it make a difference and change things?
Paragraph 1: Situation
Paragraph 2: Task
Paragraph 3: Action
Paragraph 4: Result
Paragraph 5: Conclusion, lessons learned.