Using the STAR Method in Behavioral Job Interviews – Podcast CL111

Career Lantern Podcast - Hosted by Don WhitesideHave you ever been asked a job interview question which began with the phrase “Tell us about a time…” or something similar? If so, you need to know about STAR! The STAR method is an effective approach to handling behavioral questions and ensuring you hit all the key points.

Is the Employer a Good Fit for You?

Multiple interlocked jigsaw puzzle pieces; two are colored differently and labeled "employer" and "you."

The entire job interview and hiring process can sometimes feel rather one-sided. That’s probably because to a large extent, it is. The primary focus always seems to be on determining if you will be a good fit for them. Do you have the right experience and skills to meet their needs? Will the company likely be happy with your performance after you’re hired? You get the idea. But, here’s an equally important question which is often overlooked: is the employer a good fit for you? It’s easy to forget that much like dating, a job interview is – or at least should be – a two-way street. This is the time when you learn about each other.

Enough Time to Find Out?

You’ve probably heard that at casinos the odds are stacked in favor of the house. When you think about it, the typical job interview appears to not be much different. Consider this. Job interviews are often reported to last, on average, about 45 minutes or so. I would suspect that out of a 45-minute interview the employer will probably ask at least 40 minutes of questions. Then, in the last remaining minutes, the candidate is usually allowed to ask a few questions.

However, suppose a candidate asks way too many questions. Or, the questions asked about the company seem to be deeply probing and sound almost investigatory. This will likely be a problem. He or she could come off as inconsiderate of the interviewers’ time, or worse yet, paranoid or weird. So, most candidates will ask only a few harmless questions. House wins!

What If You Do Ask?

Articles offering job interview tips usually include questions which you, the candidate, might consider asking the employer. Some of these questions are designed, at least in theory, to try and gain insight into the working environment at the organization. The answers received are supposed to help you determine if the employer is a good fit.

The questions suggested are usually safe and harmless, and might include inquiries such as “What do you like best about working here?” or “How would you describe the culture at your company?”

There’s probably no harm in asking and you never know what the interviewers will say. Who knows? You might even get some helpful answers. But, c’mon, what do you really expect to hear? I doubt an interviewer would ever be so truthful as to say, “This is a stressful and lousy place to work, full of back-stabbing people. Our incompetent bosses burn out everyone with long hours and unreasonable deadlines. If I knew back then what I know now, I never would have accepted a position here in the first place. By the way, are there any job openings available with your current employer?”

So, throughout this whole one-sided hiring process, how does one determine whether the employer might be a good fit? While there is no fool-proof way to know for sure, let’s look at a few suggestions which might help you at least make an informed decision.

It’s an Inside Job

To get the real scoop on an employer, the best source is, of course, an insider. We’re talking about a trusted individual who currently works there or did so in the recent past. Ideally, this person can tell you about the attitudes and culture of the entire organization. They can relate why people tend to come and go quickly like a revolving door, or hopefully, why most employees stay for many years. But even then, you need to use good judgment and common sense before crossing a company off your list of potential employers.

By all means, try and talk to more than one person. It’s important to find out whether you consistently hear the same story over and over. I recall a former coworker who used to constantly and publicly bad-mouth one of my previous employers as a bad place to work.  However, what people outside the organization didn’t know was that THIS person was the problem, not the employer. You certainly don’t want to miss out on a perfectly fine opportunity just because one bad apple has an ax to grind.

Sometimes, the perception of whether an employer is good or bad may not be organization-wide in scope but depend solely on the specific area in which you might be working. I know of some companies where, even within the same building, one department may be considered hell on earth whereas others are wonderful places to work. Therefore, if possible, talk to someone who has direct knowledge of your potential position and work area, not just someone who merely happens to work somewhere at the firm.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows or has access to an insider. What do you do then?

At the Interview, Look Around

After arriving for an interview, you normally encounter numerous individuals before actually sitting in the hot seat. You may have to spend time in a waiting area after speaking with a receptionist or secretary. As you are led to the interview room, you will likely pass several people, perhaps in cubicles or at workstations. Similarly, after the interview, you will likely again see other employees on your way to the exit.

Sure, on the way in you were probably nervous and preparing mentally. On the way out, you might be replaying the interview in your head or simply relieved that it’s finally over. However, don’t miss out! Take advantage of this chance to observe the current employees in their natural habitat. Look around!

What do you see? Are these individuals who appear content, perhaps with most even smiling? Are friendly-looking interactions taking place among them? Or, do the majority of people look like zombies, walking around with a stressed-out and frazzled appearance? What is the general vibe you get?

Turnover

Unpleasant workplaces typically experience high employee turnover. I know a very talented individual who accepted a position with a company that was, at the time, considered an industry leader. After arriving, he was surprised to discover almost everyone he encountered had only been employed there two or three years. Soon, he found out why. The company was an incredibly stressful and chaotic place to work. Due to a continuous turnover of staff, uncompleted projects were being handed down from successor to successor. The lack of continuity hampered the company’s operations, resulting in intense pressure to perform, which led to even more turnover. After about three years, he also left.

As an outsider, it is hard to get a real handle on staff turnover. Plus, I wouldn’t inquire directly about “employee turnover” during the interview. Instead, you might casually ask the interviewers a more innocent-sounding question such as, “How long have you been with the company?” Their responses could provide some insight or even lead to them talking about employee longevity.

Online Resources

As you know, with the internet, you can find out just about anything about anyone. With Google, social media, networking websites, and other online resources readily available, it’s really difficult for a person or a company to stay “off the grid” unless they deliberately strive to do so. Of course, most companies and professionals try to do the exact opposite. For a whole host of reasons, they work hard to maintain a highly-visible online presence. And, that is precisely where many authors see your opportunity to gain some insight which may help you decide if the company is right for you.

In an interesting article on themuse, Scott Anthony Barlow suggests you “become a benevolent stalker” and use tools like Facebook and LinkedIn to learn more about some of the people you may work for or with. Mr. Barlow writes, “You’re not just collecting the goods on them; you’re looking for places where you can genuinely connect. What do you have in common? What interests do you share? Where do your backgrounds or passions overlap?”

It’s shocking how much you can find out. You may even discover you have some mutual friends or colleagues. Or, since some people use social media to air complaints about their bosses or employers (a very unwise thing to do!), you might also learn a few negative things.

Uh-Oh. Bad Reputation?

If you find yourself leery of accepting a position with a company that has a bad reputation, you’re not alone. Eric Reed states in a CNBC article, “Job seekers have begun to shy away from employers with bad word-of-mouth, wanting to feel like they’ll be well-treated at work. According to a Harvard Business Review study, the effect has become so pronounced that it increases HR costs by 10 percent per hire, and can drive away talent altogether.” The article goes on to discuss red flags which they say you should never ignore.

Time to Decide

Everyone is excited and flattered to get a job offer! But, what if you have done your research fairly and thoroughly and your gut still says “no” about the company as a good fit for you? In this case, you should consider politely saying “no thanks” and then walk away from the offer. It’s really hard. I know; I’ve had to do it myself.         

Sure, passing on any job offer may seem almost unthinkable. But, imagine your headaches and regret later if you do accept one, especially from a company you already suspected would be a bad fit for you.

Earlier, I suggested a job interview can be loosely compared to dating. It needs to be a two-way street where you learn about each other and determine how, or even if, the relationship should continue. Using that same analogy, then couldn’t a job offer be likened to a marriage proposal? Before saying yes or no, both parties certainly need to know whether they are a good fit for each other!

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts?Click “Leave a Comment” at the top right of this post (or at the bottom of some mobile apps).