An interview offer is exciting when you’re looking for a new job. It’s a chance to make your case for why someone should hire you. But very few people know how to interview well, and virtual interviews can be even more challenging. And it’s not just candidates who struggle; hiring managers are in an equally difficult position. Both candidates and interviewers suffer from the same problem: lack of context about the other person. Unfortunately, a typical interview is a volley of questions and answers back and forth, with very little to show for it at the end.

Why Typical Interviews Fail

  1. Most human communication occurs in a context that is familiar to both parties. You get to know someone at school, work, or neighborhood, and you have a common location or interest. But an interview lacks that familiarity.
  2. Humans are rarely effective at communicating under severe time constraints. Most of us spend our days in a loose, wandering conversation style full of tangents and drifting topics of discussion.
  3. Interviewers find it difficult to translate interview answers into whether someone is qualified to do the job. They do not understand the context of the candidate’s past work environments and experiences.
  4. Candidates find it difficult to translate their skills and abilities into language the interviewer will understand. They do not understand the context of the employer’s work environment.

The Problem: Using Normal Conversation Styles in Interviews

When you follow normal conversation styles in a job interview, the result is a failed interview. Here’s what often happens.

  1. Normal conversation usually involves people who share a certain context with you—a coworker, a friend, or a neighbor. But in an interview, you must provide context before you make your point. Most people forget to provide that brief bit of context and default to rambling instead of getting directly to the point.
  2. In an interview, the interviewer picks all the topics. They decide what to talk about and for how long. And most candidates’ answers go on for about twice as long as the interviewer would prefer.
  3. Unlike a normal conversation, an interview has a time limit. Most candidates struggle to fit all of their thoughts into the allotted time.
  4. Interviews require you to make multiple points to demonstrate that you meet all of the job’s required competencies, but most people aren’t practiced in making multiple points in a short period of time.

A job interview is more like a briefing for the board of directors. Prepare your remarks, make your points quickly and coherently, answer questions, and leave on time.

The Solution: The CAR/STAR Interview Method

The “CAR” (sometimes alternately called the “STAR”) interview method is the best communication strategy for an interview because it keeps your answers brief and focused and reduces the tendency to give meandering answers to pointed questions.

CAR/STAR creates an easily memorable structure to plan your responses around. The rules are simple: be prepared, be bright, be brief, and be gone. CAR-styled responses highlight top-level details and provide just enough information. They also keep your interview running on time, which keeps the interviewer happy.

Preparing CAR/STAR answers requires you to think about what questions the interviewer might ask. A good method is to consider the key competencies for the position, most likely laid out in the job description. Your answers should last ideally about 3 minutes, never more than 5. Use this structure for every answer: context, action, result.

  • Context: What situation were you in? What background information does the listener need to understand the context? What was the task you were expected to perform? What needed to be done? What challenges did you expect to face?
  • Action: What actions did you take? (You can also outline what alternatives you considered.)
  • Result: What impact did your actions have? (These do not have to be all puppies and rainbows. You can admit that you got it wrong on the first try and had to go back and fix something.)

Provide just enough information to answer the question…and then stop. Remember that normal conversations don’t have a time limit, but interviews always do.

With CAR answers prepared and ready, you look well-researched and knowledgeable about how you made an impact in your previous roles. You can create opportunities to impress the interviewer and leave time to answer the follow-up questions (and ask your own) that really impress the interviewer.

More Resources