Top 3 STAR Method Pitfalls - Why Candidates Fail Interviews

If you stumbled upon this article, chances are that you are researching the STAR Method (which stands for Situation, Task, Actions, Results). Perhaps, you are preparing for an upcoming interview, and you know that the interviewers will be asking behavioural interview questions. Therefore, you know that the interviewers will be looking for you to answer interview questions by sharing real-life examples of you demonstrating the competencies that they are looking for. Whatever the reason, I am sure that you must be generally familiar with the STAR Method (if not, I recommend that you read this article).

This piece will offer you a fresh perspective on where candidates get the STAR Method wrong, leading to failed interviews. In doing so, I'll give you a view of a hiring manager who has interviewed and coached hundreds of candidates working in (or applying for jobs in) Fortune 500 FMCG and Big Tech (FAANG) Businesses.

But before I get into the details, here are a few words about my background. I spent over 15 years in blue-chip Fortune 500 businesses in Marketing, Innovation and Business Development roles. My first 12 years were in FMCG (I started my career at P&G), and the last four years have been in Big Tech (or FAANG), specifically Apple and Amazon. I've been a hiring manager and an interviewer throughout most of my career, and I have hired for my team and partner teams. Since August 2020, I've been running Day One Careers as a side-project. I have had the privilege to help hundreds of candidates with their interviewing skills, including using the STAR Method to answer Amazon interview questions.

Now that we have intros out of the way, let's get to the most common candidate pitfalls with the STAR Method.

The STAR Method - Key Traps and Pitfalls to Watch out For

1. Lack of sufficient detail

Companies like Amazon, Walmart, McKinsey and P&G want you to use the STAR Method to answer behavioural interview questions. They are looking for evidence that you have the competencies that matter to these businesses. STAR Method forces you to tell a story whose job is to surface this evidence. In this case, evidence means facts and details about the organisational context, the problem/opportunity you tried to address, your goal-setting, and your actions to achieve the goal and the outcomes.

Due to lack of preparation, candidates will often rush through the story to get to the end. Unfortunately, in doing so, they miss an opportunity to surface the details that would demonstrate the required competencies. Interviewers will then have to spend precious time digging for basic facts instead of double-clicking on areas that sparked their curiosity (the preferred scenario). In most cases, this leads to failed job interviews.

The only way around this STAR Method pitfall is preparation. Take the time to prepare your situations before the interview and find the balance between being brief and detailed. Try to avoid misleading recommendations from self-proclaimed experts who ill-advise candidates to keep their stories to 2 minutes. Doing so is a sure path to a failed interview.

2. Focusing on the wrong details

The world is full of long stories, but not every long story becomes a best-seller. The same principle applies to professional stories structured using the STAR Method.

Even if you find the right balance between being brief and surfacing the correct quantity of facts and details, you still need to consider the quality of these facts. Quality of details in a STAR Method interview response is measured by how well they shape the interviewer's perception that you, the candidate, have what it takes to succeed in the job. Unfortunately, candidates often flood the story with facts that don't add value to the outcome, which leads to failed interviews.

The only way around this STAR Method pitfall is, again, preparation. But, this time, your job is to only surface high-impact details and skip the filler bits.

3. Failure to demonstrate impact through results and context

Most companies who expect candidates to use the STAR Method to answer interview questions look for evidence that a candidate can drive business impact. This pattern tends to be true regardless of how far the role is from the front line of sales, marketing or product management.

Even a well-structured business story will fail to demonstrate business impact if it is devoid of tangible results. Most interviewers in Fortune 500 companies and startups alike are under immense pressure to deliver outcomes that matter to the business owners. Therefore, they look for candidates driven by the same ambition and will welcome evidence that you are as outcome-minded as they are. Yet, too many candidates fall victim to this pitfall and miss out on the opportunity to demonstrate impact through results.

Another STAR Method pitfall is the lack of correct context. Unfortunately, this part of the response tends to be forgotten way too often. Set the context well, and your results will come across more impactful. Fail to do so, and the interviewer won't find anything special in your accomplishments.

To avoid this pitfall, candidates should invest ample time in - you guessed it - preparation. In particular, you should pay attention to how well you set up the context in your STAR Method response.

STAR Method Preparation That Drives Results

Since August 2020, I have helped hundreds of candidates prepare for interviews with Amazon. Amazon is one of the most demanding workplaces globally and is one of the most challenging companies to join. Therefore, they tend to hire candidates who manage to demonstrate exceptional business impact during behavioural interviews.

To help my students maximise the impact of their professional experience in an interview, I have designed STAR Method Bootcamp - an online course that teaches how to structure answers to behavioural interview questions like a pro. I tuned this course for Amazon, which means that the techniques and strategies it teaches will help you prepare for interviews with any employer who uses behavioural interviews (e.g. Google, Facebook, Walmart, McKinsey, and others). So far, the feedback from students has been exceptional. For instance, here is what one of our members had to say about STAR Method Bootcamp: "I cannot emphasise enough the importance of the 'Ecosystem' part of the STAR Method. It's not an element I had thought to separate before stumbling upon D1C but honestly made answering the questions so much easier". Here is the link to the original testimonial. So, if you are preparing for your behavioural interviews and don't want to leave any stone unturned, consider STAR Method Bootcamp and become a pro at interview story-telling.

How to Boss Your Next Behavioural Interview

Eugene B

Eugene B