Medical School Interview: The STAR Method: Its Uses and Pitfalls
The STAR method is a structured way of approaching behavioural interview questions. It focuses on discussing a specific situation, task, action and result.
You should describe the situation that you found yourself in or the task that you needed to complete. You should ensure that this means a specific given situation, rather than a range of situations or a job or set of experiences. You should provide a clear overall explanation of the situation that permits your interviewer to understand where you were and your role. It is vital that they are able to visualise it, in order to follow the rest of your answer.
Here you should define the task – the goal that you were working toward, or the objective you were given. Again, clearly and concisely provide an overview of what it was, in a manner that is easily understood.
Here you should outline the actions that you took. Provide concise details that allow the examiner to understand exactly what you did and why. Ensure that you focus on your input, rather than that of the team – in a team setting, consider how you played your role, or how you led the team. Remember to say, ‘I did…’ instead of ‘we did…’ to keep yourself central to the discussion.
Describe the outcome of the situation and the actions that you took. How did the situation proceed, and how did your choices affect it? Be sure to keep your own role clear, and the importance of your individual choices and actions. Make sure to reflect on the result, and on your actions – and consider adding any learning points that are relevant to the future or how you might approach this situation again.
Using the STAR Method
Have the process clear in your mind and follow it step by step when an appropriate question arises. Remember that the process is designed for situations that show your role positively, and that show your ability to learn from your past experiences. Remember too that a ‘negative’ experience – like suffering a setback – can be painted in a positive light through your individual contributions and reflections.
A sample use of the STAR response:
My high school football team’s captain broke his leg before the final game of the season, meaning we had lost our leader, as well as three others being injured.
As Vice-Captain, I therefore had to step up and take on the role of captain. The game meant a huge deal to us, as our school was sports orientated and many were basing college offers on their success in the team. We had multiple other injuries, and I therefore had to select new players from those who were previously substitutes or second team members.
I gathered the entire team together outside of practice, at my house, and explained that the captain would not be able to play, and that the coach had suggested I take on the role. They agreed, and I explained that, given the other injuries, we would also have to take on new players from the second team. I discussed how best to do this with the senior members of the team – and I decided to run tryouts for the final game. From these tryouts I found a small group of promising players – in conjunction with our coach – known to the existing team, who would be able to take on the responsibility of playing the final game.
I led the team into the final game of the season, after choosing the new players. We won easily, having upped our practices, and in no small part due to the dedication of the new players. I believe that my efforts to motivate the team and bring together the players – new and old – was vital to our success.
Pitfalls of the STAR method
The STAR method is prone to generating answers that may feel overly mechanical or scripted. If your interviewer is able to see you generating an answer through the process, it will fail to make you seem human or someone that is easily empathised with and understood. You should therefore consider how to structure your answer so that it covers the key elements of the STAR method, without seeming robotic – through humour, additional comments, or practicing your delivery until explaining situations in a logical way like this sounds natural – rather than overly processed.
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