December 8, 2020
Kathleen (Kate) Ditewig-Morris, MA is the internship program director, internships instructor, and interviewing instructor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Where would we be without STAR?
In 1974, Development Dimensions International, Inc. (DDI) introduced the first structured behavioral interviewing system, Targeted Selection®, developed by then-CEO and co-founder William C. Byham, Ph.D. It introduced the STAR approach, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. A complete STAR response requires the candidate to articulate how the example taught them valuable lessons that will add value to the position and organization.
Aside from targeted selection, the STAR approach has become the accepted go-to model in training job candidates in the behavioral interview process. After decades of using Targeted Selection and STAR in actual interviews, I introduced the STAR approach to undergraduate students. However, inexperienced students sometimes struggle with providing a complete STAR response, particularly in the R (Result) phase: What was the impact of my action?, but even more importantly: What I learned and How I can extrapolate the result into the position I am applying for?
The pedagogical approach I developed extends DDI’s STAR model by adding an E, signifying Evaluation. I have used the STAR+E approach with notable success for five years in an undergraduate Business Communication course, an interviewing course, and an internship course at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The approach has proven to be extremely effective at improving students’ ability to formulate and deliver superb responses to behavioral interview questions.
First, I introduce DDI’s STAR model, which the vast majority of students do not know or have not practiced to any great extent. With practice, they readily grasp the S, T, A parts of STAR; however, they tend to struggle with the full intent of the R (Result), which should coax from the interviewee a “what did you learn?” or “how does this transfer to the job” type of response. Inexperienced students often neglect this critical piece of information and stop short of communicating a full story. For example, the following was an actual response from a student, whom I shall call Michael, during a classroom exercise.
I posed the following question to Michael: “Tell me about a time you experienced team conflict that threatened a project’s successful outcome.” The intent of the question was to determine the respondent’s behavior in a challenging, stressful scenario and how he grew from the experience.
- S(ituation): Last summer I had an internship at the “Widget Company” in the public relations department. Widget was getting ready to announce a new production facility that would hire 800 people. It was huge news.
- T(ask): I was a team leader for six interns. We were responsible for doing background research for a press release and media packet for the announcement. One of the other interns was not completing her assigned tasks and put the deadline at risk.
- A(ction): I pulled the rest of the interns together to discuss the situation. I suggested that instead of being angry and confrontational, we talk to her, find out what was going on, and see if she needed help. Turns out she really didn’t understand her role and was afraid to ask for help (she was afraid to look stupid), so we all pitched in.
- R(esult): As a result, we all worked extra hours and ultimately got everything done and met the deadline. We received great feedback from our supervisor.
While Michael gave almost a solid answer, it misses the most important aspect of the R phase: what did the interviewee learn that will transfer to future behavior? As I explain to my students, almost is not good enough in a job interview. They must tell the full story.
Next, I break down the STAR model down even further by integrating its concepts with basic storytelling. The results have been astounding; the addition of the E to the STAR model clearly resonates with students and makes it fun for them to learn. Here are the steps:
Step One: I begin with a refresher on Freytag’s parts of a story: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action; and the Resolution or Denouement (Freytag, “Technique of the Drama”, 1895).
Step Two: Next, I lay the elements of STAR over the parts of the story. Students see how Situation fits neatly with the exposition of the story: What is context of the story? Who are its characters? When and where does it take place? Task fits well with the rising action of the story: What task or objective were you charged with completing and what were the extenuating circumstances? Action takes place at the climax of the story: What did you do to turn this storyline around? When do things start to get interesting? Result occurs in both the falling action and the resolution of the story: What happened because of this action?
Step Three: We move on to talk about epilogues. Some stories leave the reader or listener hanging; they are crafted to do so, to leave us wanting more, to think about what happens next. Other stories provide an epilogue to resolve issues in the story that were not fully addressed.
Here is where I add the E (Epilogue = Evaluation) to the STAR model. By extending the discussion of the resolution phase, and adding an epilogue to the story, students learn to evaluate the experience and demonstrate critical thinking.
Step Four: As example, I use a fairy tale, "Little Red Riding Hood," to show how it works, and I even turn it into a STAR+E response as if Little Red were telling the story in a behavioral interview later in her life. The silliness adds levity and makes the students more comfortable with the process.
Here’s the result. Returning to the student Michael, I coached him to develop an effective evaluative statement to his own story about the Widget Company. His evaluation comments appear in bold:
As a result, we all worked extra hours and ultimately got everything done and met the deadline. It was still a stressful situation for everyone. Next time I encountered team conflict of this nature, I immediately tried to find out much earlier in the process what the reasons were for a teammate’s lack of performance – sometimes you never know the full story. Open communication is always the best when you are working on teams, and most of all – calmly stepping up to fill gaps is essential to a successful project outcome.
By critically thinking about the implications of his actions (and how he improved them in the future), Michael’s answer improved exponentially.
Step Five: Students engage in formative practices to hone their STAR+E responses. In teams, they work with each other on common behavioral questions and engage in peer coaching to emphasize the E response. The very act of listening for it in others’ responses – and writing it down – make them much more cognizant of creating the E explicitly in their own. Finally, for a summative assessment, the students engage in graded partner interviews, wherein they take turns teams practicing the roles of interviewee and interviewer.
I measure the effectiveness of the STAR+E process through grades, student feedback, and self-reporting. After conducting this process for several years, with hundreds of students, I have seen notable results. The grades earned for the behavioral interviewing unit increased sharply after the introduction of STAR+E in the Fall 2015 semester and have remained at an excellent level ever since.
What’s really exciting is that students self-report that their confidence level has strengthened remarkably in real interviews as they use the extended STAR+E model. For many, they achieve the most positive of results: offers for internships or jobs.
The pedagogical process I have outlined here is not intended to alter the proven success of the original DDI-developed STAR process as part of its Targeted Selection® system. It is, however, intended to show how to introduce the process to undergraduate students who have limited work and professional interviewing experience. As these students grow in practice and experience, the added “E” becomes a natural part of the R in the original STAR.
Contact me if you would like more details.