No matter how experienced you may be, job interviews can be intimidating.
Whether you’re walking into it brimming with confidence or stifled with anxiety, there’s really no telling how an interview will go.
And oftentimes, a weak response to hard-hitting questions can be a big enough mistake to ruin the entire interview– and your hopes of getting the job.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. And as dreaded as some interview questions can be, you can use them to your advantage and showcase why you’re the best candidate for the role. Keep reading to learn more about one of the best techniques that you can use to ace your interview: the STAR method.
What is the STAR Method?
The STAR method is a simple format designed to help you eloquently and meaningfully answer some of the toughest questions in job interviews. This method gives you the opportunity to prove your professional skills through a well-communicated story of your own experience.
These questions, known as behavioral or situational interview questions, are important for employers to ask because they reveal how you will respond to situations and conflicts that arise in the role you’re interviewing for. By breaking down your example experience into four parts, the STAR technique will help you craft a response that is clearly articulated, professional, and meaningful, and showcase your competency in the workplace.
Choosing the Right Story
Before we jump into how to use the method, let’s get clear on the questions that you can use it for. Behavioral questions usually begin with something like:
Tell me about a time when…
Give me an example of…
What do you do when…
Because there are many ways behavioral questions can be asked, there are an infinite number of stories that you could use as examples. This gives you the freedom to cater the situation to your unique experience, but it can also make choosing a story difficult.
Luckily, there are a six categories of situational stories you can always fall back on:
- An example of something unique or interesting that you have done in your life
- An example of you problem solving
- An example of you remedying a mistake you made
- An example of your success as a teamplayer
- An example of you overcoming an obstacle
- An example of your success as a leader
Once you’ve thought of some stories, the STAR method will help you format them into a manageable response.
Using the STAR Method
The STAR method has four parts: Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Each section of this technique contains a portion of your story. By breaking it down into four manageable parts, you will be able to craft an example certain to impress your interviewer.
Let’s break it down!
The first step is to set the scene.
Like any good narrative, your story needs context. Regardless of how applicable your example may be, failure to explain the setting can leave your interviewer confused. So, remember to be as clear and concise as possible. Who were the people involved? What events were occurring? What challenge or challenges were you facing?
Remember to only share relevant background information and work experience. As confusing as a lack of context can be, it can be equally as messy to bog your answer down with unnecessary detail.
The second step is to explain the task.
This is where you will illustrate your role or responsibility in the story. What was your goal or task? Who assigned you this responsibility? What was the desired outcome?
This is your chance to explain your response to the situation so that your interviewer can understand what your goal was and why. Much like the Situation portion, this part of your answer should be brief. Only include enough information to make your point clear.
The third step is to reveal the action you took to accomplish the task.
Your interviewer is aware of the situation and what your goal was to resolve it, now it’s time to explain how you went about getting the desired outcome. What steps did you take to achieve success?
This is the most crucial out of all the STAR method steps. Your actions will show the employer whether or not you are suitable for the role you are interviewing for. They will be looking for you to “display a high level of assertiveness, confidence, and good decision-making skills,” so it’s important to avoid a vague or lazy response. It’s important to remember that your interviewer is looking for specific characteristics, so they are less interested in your goal and more in how you approached it.
The final step is to explain the outcome of your actions.
You’ve talked about the situation, your task, and what steps you took to accomplish it, now you need to reveal the final results. Was the situation resolved? Did you reach your goal? Did the final outcome meet your expectations? If not, how did it differ?
This is your time to truly make yourself stand out. Whether it was a lesson you learned, a catastrophe avoided, or a positive impact on the company, your story’s conclusion should be upbeat, meaningful, and a display of your skills. Be specific in your achievements– you’re aiming to impress!
Remember, behavioral questions, however tough, are a way for you to prove your skills and experience to the employer. Use the STAR method to show that you have what it takes to be successful in the position– and ace your job interview while you’re at it!
Netta Bob, Recruiter at DigitalOcean, shares a few tips to keep in mind when applying to DigitalOcean.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at DigitalOcean's culture and values, and learn how you can make your application stand out!
To learn more about DigitalOcean and their open roles, click here.
Templates For In-Office and Remote Interviews
Let's face it, interviews are stressful. Every company has its own way of determining whether or not you're going to be a good fit for their organization. The secret sauce is in their bag of questions.
Another big question that interviewers love to ask is, "What's your ideal work environment?"
Spoiler alert: there is no one 'right' way to answer this question. When an interviewer asks this question, they're looking to see how your personality fits into the current company culture and the new team you will be joining (not what size monitor you prefer). It's not as cut and dry as it appears.
So, how should you prepare for this question?
It's tricky - which is why we've broken the question into three main categories and provided two great examples for both in-office and remote roles. I know it's tempting to tell the interviewer exactly what they want to hear, but you should try to be as genuine as possible when answering this question. The key takeaway is to understand that not every company is going to be a great fit, and after all, as much as this is an interview for you, you're also interviewing them to ensure you can be productive in their environment!
What did you love about your last office, and what did you hate about it? Was it distracting to hear Tiffany on the phone every day thanks to the open floor plan, or did you enjoy having coworkers all around you to bounce ideas off of? What's the company'sSlack policy?
Try to understand how your working style fits into this new company's culture. Check their blog, social channels, and LinkedIn to see if they have employee testimonials or documentation of in-office or remote activities.
"I've done some research on your company's work culture and found a great article about the office layout on your YouTube channel. I was excited to see such an engaged team structure and a really cool open floor plan. In previous roles, I've always had my own quiet space to work from, however, I love the idea of being closer to the action and having the opportunity to collaborate more closely with my team."
"I've never worked in a totally remote position before, but in my previous role, I was able to work from home at least one day a week. This really opened my eyes to how productive I could be without the constant distractions in the office."
When an interviewer asks you what your ideal work environment is, they don't just mean your physical environment. They also mean what kind of working environment you enjoy more generally - a.k.a how you manage and like to be managed. These factors are key in determining compatibility between an applicant and a company, and can be the difference between a positive (or ideal) work environment, and a completely toxic one.
Think about what motivates you to be productive, how you like to be managed, and how you prefer to receive feedback. If you are in the interview process, it's safe to say you will be working with at least one other person, and it's important to know how this new person or team communicates. If you are in cubicles, what's the protocol for relaying information? Are there specific online hours for remote teams? There are so many questions you could ask the hiring manager about relationship management - don't hesitate to fire away!
"I really loved meeting with my manager one-on-one once a month for an in-person feedback session. It really helped me prioritize my workload and understand what areas of my work were successful and where I could devote more time. How often does your team give feedback and what do those feedback sessions look like?"
"I know that working remotely has its perks, and I also know that it can be challenging to engage and thrive with coworkers on a remote team. In one of your blog posts, I read that you use platforms like Slack, Zoom, and Asana to keep engagement and work culture active and balanced - all tools which I've utilized in the past to engage with my fellow remote coworkers while I was in the office. Has your team ever used the donut Slack extension? It's one of my favorites for getting to know your co-workers better!"
Be honest with yourself about work culture expectations meeting your lifestyle needs. If you've found a sweet new remote job that you think will allow you to live it up as a digital nomad, you'll want to first confirm with your employer that they're flexible on time zones and that having a two-monitor, semi-permanent office setup isn't essential to your job.
Perhaps you're a working mom, taking care of a parent, or living with PTSD or another mental illness and need flexible hours.
Whatever your situation, it's important to understand whether or not this new organization will be supportive of your personal AND professional needs.
"When I think about my ideal work environment, I know that I want to be part of an organization that encourages its employees to stay true to themselves. I'm really passionate when I am able to bring my full self to work each day, that's when I am at my best. So I value transparency and encouragement from my team to be authentic and uber-productive.
"Working remotely takes a lot of integrity and responsibility. I like to push my productivity level to the limit, but working in my home office can make it difficult to draw the line between work hours and the rest of my day. So it's important for me to be able to set boundaries around time management in order to be at the height of my productivity. I like to divide my workday up in order to make any online team meetings and prioritize my to-do list effectively. Time management is key for me to be able to maintain a work-life balance."
Remember to take some time before the interview to review your previous job's work culture. Be honest with yourself and make a list of what worked for you and what did not work. Next, think of how to create an ideal work environment knowing there is potential to enhance your previous job's work environment. This question can be a stepping stone for many follow-up questions and is also a good way to dive into how their particular organization works. Your response can fall between your past experience and your ideal vision, but it should always be a true reflection on you as an individual!
Below is an article originally written by Kahne Raja, Lead Engineer at PowerToFly Partner Stash, and published on March 26, 2018. Go to Stash's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
- Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell
- Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship by Uncle Bob
- Extreme Programming Explained by Kent Beck
- Stash Invest Careers. Join us!
If you love clean code and you want to help disrupt the fintech industry, then look no further!
Recently, we here at Stash have upped our recruitment game. Over the past few months, I've seen the company double with an outstanding crew of new engineers who truly care about what they do and how they do it. We are dealing with scale issues on all fronts and we need your help!
The mission at Stash is clear. Build financial systems that work for everyone — not just the wealthy.
It's a big challenge and we have a long way to go. A big part of that is growing the team with the right people.
As an engineer at Stash myself, I regularly host technical interviews. Here are some of my notes on what it takes to pass our first stage code pairing challenge.
Back to basics.
Interview preparation takes weeks… even months. Do it in batches and do it well. Enjoy the nostalgia. Enjoy the beauty of math.
Your regular tech work life patterns and practices are important but quite often they are not so helpful when doing interviews. Here are some ideas to help you prepare for the engineering interview at Stash:
- Read Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell.
- Read Extreme Programming Explained by Kent Beck.
- Watch as much Uncle Bob talking about SOLID principles as possible.
- Ask a friend to test you at a whiteboard over lunch.
- Choose a language and get comfortable with it (without an IDE).
Our first line of code.
When I sit down with you to pair online @coderpad, this is what I am looking for:
- A focus on data structures and algorithms.
- At least one passing unit test.
- A simplification of complex ideas.
I want you to start by slicing off a single conditional in two to three lines of code. Something we can compile, run, test, and discuss.
Example challenge: Leap Year.
Problem statement: write a function that returns true or false depending on whether its input integer is a leap year or not.
If we can get to this place within a few minutes, that is a great start! We should then be able to complete a number of variations within 10 to 20 lines of code.
Try to avoid spending too much time on the following:
- Web app / CRUD design patterns like Controllers and Repositories.
- Database structures and persistence strategies.
- Language comparisons and platform specific features.
After each interview, I assess candidates on the following metrics. Ability to think on your feet, communication, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, debugging, speed, management of competing priorities, organizational skills, and test driven.
Following this initial online code pairing session, you'll be invited in for a half day session with a number of colleagues.
At Stash, extreme programming and solid principles are at the heart of what we do. We move fast and embrace change.
Please don't hesitate to hit me up on twitter — @kahneraja. I'm always happy to help a candidate get ready for an awesome new career at Stash.