The S.T.A.R. technique may sound like a recipe for reality television success, but it’s actually the evidence and competency-based method of interviewing which is increasingly favored by investment banks.
S.T.A.R. stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result and is a method that allows the interviewer to assess your competencies (read “skills” or “abilities”) as a candidate by analyzing how you handled specific events in your past. “Instead of asking hypothetical questions, you find out how the person actually reacted in a real situation, making it much easier to distinguish between strong and weak candidates,” says Dr. Rob Yeung, corporate psychologist and director at leadership consulting firm Talentspace.
It is possible and indeed necessary to prepare for a S.T.A.R. interview. Step one is to identify the core and common competencies or skills that the banks tend to look for in their potential graduate recruits. Think leadership, teamwork, initiative, problem solving, communication, commercial awareness. Step two is to prepare a list of examples of how you’ve demonstrated these competencies in the past. Your examples may come from your work experience, studies, extracurricular activities, volunteering, etc. Step three is to apply the S.T.A.R. formula to your examples to make sure you cover all the elements the recruiters will be looking for. But don’t learn your answers parrot-fashion, warns Dr. Yeung. Remember the details so you can give a smooth answer, but do not learn the stories by heart or you will sound robotic, he advises.
This is basically the scene-setting for your example, or the “once upon a time” opening to your story. “One day, during my internship with Bank X…” You shouldn’t spend too much time (or space, if on an application form) on this bit. Set the context for the story clearly in a few sentences.
Now you are homing in on the specific problem you faced. The task should be credible so using “Lehman was about to collapse so they turned to me to solve it” as an intern probably won’t wash. Instead, you should show a combination of realism and ambition, choosing a task that was achievable but without setting your sights too low.
Next, it is time to move on to what you actually did in order to accomplish the task. This is the really meaty part in which your skills are put to the test. The key is to show that a) you had an objective clearly in mind, b) you assessed what needed to be done and c) there was logic in your action(s). By the way, they’ll expect more than one action.
Talk about the obstacles you faced and how you overcame them. Explain what you did, give details of how you carried it out and why you chose that course of action. Be prepared to be interrupted and asked to expand.
They are now waiting to hear or read what happened as a result of what you did: project completed, money raised, happy customers, contract won or whatever, pitch book delivered, universe saved (OK, maybe not that one).
Be specific about the result for the company or group your task involved, and also the result for you – for example, what you learned. If the results were positive, underline your contribution and highlight your achievements. If the results were negative, remember that a setback can actually reflect positively on you, showing that you assess the consequences of your actions, that you are able to learn from your mistakes and that you are resilient in the face of adversity.