Interviews are a stressful experience: The feeling that you’re under a microscope, that every single question can decide whether you get the job or not. So when every question can decide your fate, what exactly can you do to prepare for the interview and help calm the nerves that threaten your potential new job opportunity?
The most obvious step is to prepare for the typical interview questions. If you’re a digital marketer, we’ve got a list of the typical digital marketing interview questions here. But while it’s important that you’ve properly prepared for both the questions you might face, what about the questions that you haven’t thought of? Which is where the STAR method comes in.
The STAR method is an interview technique that gives you the framework to answer any situational questions that an interviewer may ask. By situational question, we mean questions along the lines of “Tell us about a time you…” or “Can you give an example of…”.
Because when an interviewer asks this question, they don’t just want you to answer their question. They want you to tell them a story that shows your success, the skills you used, and what you learned from the scenario. If you can use statistics to back up your answer, then you absolutely should. But unless you’ve prepared for the specific question, it isn’t always possible.
Which is where the STAR Method comes in. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. But what do these actually mean?
By using these as a framework for your interview, you’ll be able to give a focused answer that addresses everything your interview wants to know, and prevent you from rambling unnecessarily. According to Alexis Wilkie, Associate Director of recruitment agency Herd Digital with over 10 years of experience in digital recruitment, “The STAR method is so important because it stops you waffling and gives you the structure to answer any questions, even ones you haven’t prepared for.”
The STAR method can be used mostly for behavioural interview questions, which are fairly common questions you should expect to face in each round of your interview process. They ask you to provide a real-life example of a time where you handled a situation. This can be a situation you are likely to face in your new roles, be specific to your work skills, the software and tech you have worked with, or they can be more general, to find out about your attitude to work, or to uncover some desirable quality. see.
So it’s no surprise that hiring managers love to use them, and they can be an extremely important question to get right.
Luckily, behavioural questions are fairly easy to recognise. As mentioned they all start with the same openers such as:
However, recognising what your employer wants to hear, and thinking of an appropriate answer is only half the battle. Actually answering the question without rambling, while giving all the necessary information as you go can also be a challenge. Which is why the STAR method is so important.
Now you know when to use the STAR method, it’s time to learn how to effectively use it.
As discussed, this is the introduction to your story. This is where you set the scene, introduce the characters, and the problem that you must overcome.
It’s important to only give the information and details that you need, to avoid spending too much time setting the scene. After all, the STAR method is designed to help you give a focused answer that prevents unnecessary rambling. So the ideal length should be one or two sentences, that give all the information you need before you move on to the task that you were assigned.
Let’s look at an example. A question you might be asked in a digital marketing interview could be: “Tell us about a time when you increased organic traffic for a client in a competitive industry.”
Setting the situation would look a little like this: “In my previous role as an SEO Executive, a client I was working with was struggling to rank on Google, and wasn’t getting the levels of organic traffic they were hoping to see.”
This is the part of the answer where you explain what your role was in providing the solution to the task at hand. And as the hero of this story, you need to highlight just how important you were.
Here you should aim to state your responsibilities, without actually jumping ahead into the actions you took. You should discuss what your specific objective was in the solution, when you set out to solve the problem.
Following on from our earlier example, this would look something like: “As the most junior member of the team, it was my job to do the grunt work, gather that data, and to try and diagnose why this particular client wasn’t receiving the organic traffic they wanted to.”
Now you’ve laid the scene and your part in it, it’s time to get to the heart of the question and your answer. The steps you took to achieve the desired outcome.
While it may be difficult or awkward, this is your chance to brag about just how effective and irreplaceable you were in the situation. Which means detailing the specifics about the actions you took. While it can be tempting to shy away from specifics in case it looks like you’re bragging too much about how great you were, this is exactly what the interviewer wants to see.
Your answer here would look something like: “I started by performing market and keyword research into the clients target market, to recognise gaps in their content strategy. While I identified gaps in their content strategy, they were largely putting out good quality content consistently.
But the biggest problem in their SEO, was actually the lack of high-quality backlinks to their websites and blogs. I took this analysis to my manager and created a digital PR campaign plan for the client, and began identifying and reaching out to relevant websites and journalists.”
This is the moment that the interviewer had been waiting for, the results. While it’s important to discuss how you arrived here and the actions you took, this is what your interviewer is most interested in: How effective were your actions.
This is your opportunity to really drive home about the impact of your work, so make sure that you do! If you have statistics to hand then great. But that’s not always possible due to the nature of some questions or because you’re having to answer the question on the fly. And managers will recognise this, so if you don’t have any relevant statistics to hand, then don’t stress too much.
While you would prefer to tell the interviewer about a time that you absolutely crushed it, that’s not always possible. And sometimes interviewers will specifically ask you about a time that things didn’t go to plan. Everyone has had campaigns or pitches that weren’t as successful as they could’ve been, or clients that weren’t as happy as they would have liked. And your interviewer will have as well. But what’s important to show and what your interviewer wants to see is showing how you learned from the mistakes you made, and the steps you took to make sure they didn’t happen again.
The results section of your answer may look something like this: “As a result of the digital PR campaigns I ran, the client received between 5 – 10 high-quality backlinks per month. This led to an increase of organic traffic of 70% to the business in the six months I worked on this client account. This was an increase of 20% over our initial targets, and the client was more than happy with the results.”
Let’s look at a few more examples on the STAR method in action, to give you an idea of what different answers would look like for the different kinds of behavioural interview questions you might face.
“Can you tell us about a time when you weren’t as successful as you would have liked.”
Situation: “In my first role, I was responsible for taking control of the company’s SEO and blogs. They had been posting fairly irregularly, and were gaining low amounts of traffic.”
Task: “As I was now responsible for the content marketing for the business, it was my job to conduct keyword research and create blogs and articles that would generate traffic for the website.”
Action: “As the business had done no research into content strategy and planning, I was essentially starting with a clean slate. This proved to be quite overwhelming, as I wasn’t sure where to start. I began by speaking with customers to create audience personas for the business, finding out their problems and how best our products could solve them. I then conducted keyword research to identify areas to target and articles to write. After this research, I created a content plan and began writing regular blogs for the company website.”
Result: “Due to the extensive research I performed, I was able to create a pipeline of quality content that increased organic traffic to the company website by 200%. However I believe I could’ve achieved more, had I hit the ground running and started producing content earlier.”
“Describe a time where you were working to a tight deadline, and how you achieved it.”
Situation: “In my previous role I was put in charge of an important client account, running ads across social media and search engines.”
Task: “I was responsible for the creation, execution and optimisation of these ad campaigns across multiple channels and verticals. The client wanted to see positive results, and quickly.”
Action: “I worked quickly and efficiently with the relevant departments to put together ad campaigns that were optimised for each vertical and channel. I worked closely with the client to make changes they wanted and get the adverts signed off. Because of the short time frame, I worked quickly, using split-tests, to test which ads were performing best. Meanwhile, I focused budgets on the channels which were performing well, while optimising the ads on channels which weren’t performing as well. “
Results: “This allowed me to get the most positive results, quickly for the client. Additionally, I improved low-performing channels, which allowed me to expand the campaign without impacting performance. ROAS was 10% higher than we predicted for the first month of the campaign, the client was happy with the results, and they increased the ad budget for the following months because of the success.”
While the STAR method is great for answering behavioural interview questions, it isn’t a replacement for good old fashioned interview prep. Here’s some tips on on how to use the
STAR method to prepare before the actual interview:
First stop, and the greatest source of information, is the job description for the role you are interviewing for. The job posting should give you almost all the information you need about what your future employer is looking for from their “ideal candidate”, and will highlight the skills that are most important to them.
For example, if the job is a senior position that focuses on how much of a client-facing role it is, you better have examples prepared about your experience working closely with clients.
While you can use the job advert that you applied to as a good starting point for estimating the kinds of questions you might see, it’s impossible to perfectly predict the questions you’ll be asked in the interview.
So what you can do is cover as many bases as possible without dedicating all your time to preparing for interview questions. Which means having similar key details memorised or anecdotes that you can use for multiple different questions.
For example, if you’re applying for an SEO position, then you should aim to have statistics and answers ready about organic traffic, or technical SEO improvements ready.
For each of the scenarios you practise, write down some key details that can be used for these multiple stories. These could be key figures about how much your work improved organic traffic, or the statistics and KPIs behind your most successful paid advertising campaign. And given how over 60% of employers now use video interviews as a key part of their interview process, it can be easier than ever to have these key figures to hand when you need them.
Having these statistics to hand can easily separate you from the rest of the candidates. It shows how prepared you are for the interview, and how eager you are for the role.
While it’s natural to feel the pressure in the interview, there’s absolutely no need to rush yourself. And behavioural questions that are asking for a real-life example are absolutely a question where you may want to take a moment to think of an appropriate and effective response.
Taking a moment to think of and properly plan out your answer won’t just stop you rambling and make you give a better answer, it can also be a sign of confidence.
Practice makes perfect, and interviews are no exception to the rule. While we can explain as many STAR method examples as we want, what’s most important is your own familiarity with them.
Taking the time to practise responses for the typical behavioural questions will ideally make you ready to answer them when they are asked in the interview. But it will also make you more confident using the technique to answer questions that you haven’t prepared for. Here’s a list of questions our candidates typically see in their interviews that cover different areas of your personality that an interviewer would be keen to see.
The STAR method and the pressure of interviews as a whole can be overwhelming. But breaking them down makes them much more manageable and allows you to show the best parts of yourself and ace that interview. To help you prepare for your digital marketing interview, read the complete guide on digital marketing interview here, with example questions and answers and tips from the experts.
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