The STAR Method: Get ahead in your career

This article is written by Rebecca McFarland, Career Coach and Director of Pop Your Career, a Career Money Life Certified Supplier. You can read the original post on Rebecca’s website.

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:

  1. Think about something you have done in your career, that you are proud of.
  2. Grab a note book and write down some dot points for each section of the STAR.
  3. Practice talking about your event or achievement using the STAR method and note down the areas you get stuck or feel uncomfortable talking about.
  4. 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?
  5. 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!

Read more on how you can apply the STAR method in your job application, interview and/or your next performance review/salary negotiation.

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