Once Upon a Time

fountain pen for STAR stories

As a candidate interviewing for jobs, you can harness the power of storytelling. It can be powerful, too; some of the best interview moments I remember are ones where I was drawn in by a compelling story that illustrated the point a candidate was making. 

Human brains are wired for stories. We respond to them because for most of our evolutionary history, that’s how our history was passed down from one generation to another. There’s a power in storytelling that taps into something primal, something deep in our psyche. People who excel in sales have always understood this. A prospect doesn’t buy a list of features and benefits, they buy the story of how a product or service is going to make their life better in some way. The same holds true for marketing. Think about the last few car commercials you’ve seen. You’re not being sold a vehicle; you’re being sold the story of the fun and exciting life you could have if you buy that vehicle.

STAR stories

There are any number of frameworks for the structure of these kinds of stories, but the one that I like best as a listener is also – helpfully – easy to remember as the storyteller. Just remember the acronym STAR, and flesh out each of these four elements for each of the stories you’ve picked:

  • S stands for ‘Situation’. Tell me what was happening that led to the story you’re about to tell me. What were the circumstances, the problem that needed solving, or the challenge to be overcome?
  • T stands for ‘Tactic’. When confronted with the situation you’ve just described, what was the tactic, or strategy, that was decided upon? Did you come up with the plan, alone or with someone else? What were the factors you had to consider when making the plan? What were the risks?
  • A stands for ‘Action’. Walk me through what you did. Here, focus on concrete actions. We’re past the planning stage; I want to hear what you actually handled, what I would have seen you do if I had been there.
  • R stands for ‘Result’. Every great story ends with some conclusion – the professional equivalent of ‘they lived happily ever after’. Did you prevent something horrible from happening? Did you save the company a significant amount of money? Did you find a new source of revenue?

Practice telling your STAR stories. It’s really important to do this out loud. Don’t try to short-cut the process and just read them in your head; it’s not the same. You’ll be surprised how some of the words you wrote don’t come across naturally when you say them out loud. Do this alone, so you can work out any ‘bugs’ in your script without feeling self-conscious. Keep making changes until you’ve got your stories to a point where you can tell them as naturally as you’d tell a familiar story from your childhood. Time yourself; your story will take at least a minute or so to tell if you’ve hit each of the four elements, but in most cases it shouldn’t be longer than about three minutes.

Having great stories in your pocket to tell when you’re asked a related question will give you a leg up on many competing candidates, and will greatly improve the quality of your interviews (especially behavioral interviews).

And that brings this story to … The End.



Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash