Career Column with Jennifer Nice: Ace the interview like a STAR
Author: Jennifer Nice, Employment Outreach Specialist
Posted: March 28, 2016

Ace the interview like a STAR

Flawless resume, check. Well-crafted cover letter, check. And, now, they want to talk to you. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the first round of interviews. But this is no time to rest on your laurels. Prepping for an interview is intense, demanding work….and it doesn’t stop until the job is in your hands.

Preparing for an interview is like rehearsing for a role in a movie or play. Even if you’re not a natural starlet, you can still outshine the competition the old-fashioned way: PRACTICE.

The first requirement is to understand that all interview questions must be answered with a short, relevant story. You must show, not tell, how you are perfectly qualified for the position.

The key to a compelling story is to structure your answer using the STAR technique. The STAR story helps you illustrate how you have the skill(s) for the position.

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Results.

Situation – Set the stage by providing the context of the situation. Where? When?

Task – Describe the challenge and expectation(s). What needed to be done? Why?.

Action – Elaborate your specific action. What did you do? How did you do it? What tools did you use?

Results – Explain the results and what you learned: accomplishment(s), recognition, etc. Quantify if possible.

Most interviews are comprised of commonly asked behavioral questions such as “Why should we hire you?”, “What is your greatest strength (and weakness)?”, “What is your communication (or management) style?”. You can Google many more examples of behavioral interview questions. With these questions at your fingertips, it is time to prepare at least one STAR answer (story) for each one.

The next step is to write out your STAR stories for these sample questions. Yes, this is time consuming and you may be tempted to take shortcuts, but this is not recommended. Unless you are a natural improv actor, the art of interviewing is not intrinsic to most of us.

Writing out your script is foundational to practicing, and they don’t have to be long-winded. About 2-3 sentences per letter (S-T-A-R) is sufficient. Writing your story will help you internalize the words and how you want to communicate your experiences.

Once you’ve got your STAR stories in writing, it’s time to rehearse out loud. Start by reading them aloud, several times, and make the necessary edits. It’s astounding how reading aloud helps us realize which changes to make.

You may even want to audio record yourself, and listen to your stories. Listen while driving, running, walking, riding Max. Listening helps your stories become automatic, ready to be verbally shared.

The final strategy to prep for an interview is to do a mock interview. Sometimes employers volunteer their time for mock interviews on campus. Take advantage of this opportunity when it’s presented. You can always request a mock interview with an advisor.

If a mock interview is not feasible before your real interview, then video record yourself. Watch the video with someone you trust, and who will give you constructive feedback.

Remember these takeaways to gain confidence and ace your interview:

1. Use STAR to answer interview questions

2. Practice. Over and over.

For more information and some helpful examples of the STAR technique, check out this YouTube video:


Jennifer Nice is the employment outreach specialist for the School of Business Undergraduate Programs Office. She helps employers connect with qualified business students, interns, and alumni for employment opportunities. Connect with Jennifer,, to learn more about career development and employment outreach at PSU.