Ask a Real Recruiter: How Do I Answer Interview Questions With the Right Amount of Detail?

Dear Recruiter,

How do I know if I’m providing enough detail when answering interview questions?

Wary of Being Wordy

Dear Wary of Being Wordy,

An ideal interview answer gives enough information to convey your accomplishments without overloading the interviewer with excess information. So, how do you strike the right balance?

For many of my coaching clients, I recommend the S-T-A-R method: Situation, Task, Action, Result. This model gives you a clear map to tell the story of your awesome accomplishments.

S – Situation. What was the challenge or situation you found yourself in?

T – Task. What were you trying to achieve?

A – Action. What steps did you take to achieve your task?

R— Result. What was the outcome?

In practice, it looks like:

The new team I was managing was significantly behind on their sales goals (situation). My goal was for them to be a top 10% sales team in the company within six months (task). After talking with members of the team about why we were behind, collaboratively my team and I developed an incentives program (action). Four months after implementing the program, my team not only achieved our goal, but exceeded it. Our increased sales resulted in $100,000 of additional annual profit for my company (result).

You may find it helpful to brainstorm a few examples of work you’re most proud of and then outline that experience using the S-T-A-R method so you’re prepared for your next interview.

A quick note: Too many people skip over or abbreviate the results part of their answer. Don’t do that! Future employers want to know not just what you did, but what impact it made. If you have a quantifiable result, share it here. Even if you don’t have the result packaged in a neat little number, still spend one or two sentences explaining the impact your actions made on the larger business.

But what happens when an interviewer only asks future-focused questions about what you would do, as opposed to what you did do?

It’s still important to use the S-T-A-R method. For example, if you were asked, “What would you do if your top client ended their contract?” you could answer:

I encountered a similar situation in my last job where a large client abruptly ended their contract (situation). I knew that getting them back was a long shot, so instead I used that as an opportunity to learn how we could prevent it from happening with other clients (task). I dug into that client’s history and then facilitated a team-wide meeting where we discussed what went well with that client relationship and what could be improved (action). That significantly improved our retention rate with future clients (result).

Here’s the important thing to remember: By spending the bulk of your time focusing on the things you’ve already done that demonstrate your value, your interview answers are sure to demonstrate your ability to kick butt in your next role.

You’ll provide just enough detail to prove that you can walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.

This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask a Real Recruiter in the subject line.

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By UCLA Extension Career Services
UCLA Extension Career Services