Upgrade your STAR Method to Ace Consulting Fit Interviews

STAR Method

Prepping for consulting fit (behavioral) interviews? Then you’ve probably run across the STAR method of storytelling. STAR stands for: Situation, Task, Action, Result. It’s a great approach to answering behavioral interview questions, but we’ve put a spin on it that makes your answers more structured and powerful. We call it A STAR(E).

By adding in Answer up-front and Effect at the end, you can build on this well-accepted and easy-to-remember structure – but most importantly, you can stand out from the crowd.

How? In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Quick recap of the STAR method and why it’s popular in consulting.
  • What is A STAR(E)?
  • Why we like A STAR(E) better.
  • How to use A STAR(E) like a consultant.
  • How to prepare an impactful A STAR(E) story.

Let’s get started!

The STAR method: A Quick Recap & Why It’s Popular

STAR Method Consulting Interview

The STAR method is commonly used to communicate stories in a professional setting. Consultants, the ultimate experts in structured communication, favor this method in answering fit interview questions. Why? The STAR method helps you:

  1. Communicate clearly: Senior consultants interview many candidates throughout the interview day. They can easily lose track of the message you are trying to convey, or worse interpret a message that doesn’t put you in a positive light (for example, if they asked you about a time you failed). With the STAR method, the interviewer can easily grasp your ability to influence your environment.

  2. Improve your own understanding of the situation: When you structure your thoughts in the STAR method, you improve your own understanding of the story you are trying to tell. For example, when answering the classic “Tell me about a time you failed” question without a deep understanding of your contribution to the results, you might draw conclusions that detract focus from your own willingness to iterate and learn (e.g., by emphasizing that other team members didn’t pull their weight or market conditions).

  3. Highlight your role and impact: In consulting teams, every member has an important role in delivering impact for the client. For every project, you will have to make a unique contribution. As such, interviewers want to understand your ability to find a role for yourself in a professional environment based on your skills and experiences. The STAR method empowers you to communicate your role and how it influenced the results.

  4. Leaving a memorable impression: People are more inclined to remember stories than unstructured and incoherent thoughts. During the day of the interview, your interviewer will have probably met multiple candidates and attended few client meetings. For your answer a question such as “Tell me about a time where you led a team to accomplish something,” you want to have a clear and impactful story. This will give you a competitive advantage in the interview process. You want your interviewer to remember you as “the candidate who _____.”

Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.

What Is A STAR(E)?

We like to add Answer at the beginning and Effect (optionally) at the end to make your story even more powerful. We define the A STAR(E) as follows:

STAR method consulting

(E), or Effect, is in parentheses because it will not be essential to every story. You want to use it when you are answering questions that relate to a challenge or an intended outcome you experienced in a professional environment. This will allow you to demonstrate ability to learn and grow from failures.

Why We Like A STAR (E) Better

Although you can use the STAR method and communicate with impact, adding Answer at the beginning and (Effect) at the end can make your answer stronger. Why is that?

  1. Uses top-down communication: Consultants like to start their presentations with the high-level answer. This is the best approach for communicating with leaders and executives since they have limited time and prefer to engage on high-level issues. Starting with the answer instead of jumping right into the details in your behavioral interviews will allow you to grab the attention of the interviewer – and they will then be more likely remember the answer versus the details of the story.

  2. Focuses your thinking: When you’re structuring your story around the answer to the question, the details of the story will connect easily to the answer. This will help you build a logical and coherent flow of ideas.

  3. Demonstrates your ability to learn and grow: There are questions where you want to show the interviewer that despite the challenge or the unintended outcomes, you can improve and achieve successes in other areas. Examples might be to share a time that you failed, that you had to work through a disagreement with someone your senior, that you were given an ambiguous assignment, etc.

How to Use A STAR(E) Like a Consultant

Let’s tackle that classic question: Tell me about a failure.

Here is an example of how Davis Nguyen, our founder, answered one of his behavioral interview questions with Bain and McKinsey.

A – Answer – I was rejected by close to 200 scholarships but kept applying and eventually won full scholarships to Harvard and Yale.

S – Situation – I grew up in a low-income community where going to college was a dream for most kids, not an expectation. Our school system was called the worst in the United States.

T – Tension – Growing up, I knew I wanted to be the first person in my family to go to college. I wanted to live up to the dreams of my parents and grandparents who gave up everything so I could have this opportunity. But I didn’t have a role model to follow since my teachers and counselors were trying to keep students from starting fights, dropping out of school, or going to jail.

I knew I wanted to go to the best university I could and graduate debt-free, but I wasn’t sure how to achieve this.

A – Action – I didn’t understand financial aid, so in my sophomore year, I decided to make a list of 200 scholarships I could apply for to fund my education. I applied to every scholarship I could find.

Over 3 years, I was rejected for 179 scholarships. I hung each rejection on my bedroom wall to remind myself to keep going. Every time I was rejected, I’d ask for feedback and use it on my next application.

R – Result – I eventually started winning scholarships based on the feedback I incorporated into my applications. I received over $1.5 million in scholarship money, including full scholarships to Harvard and Yale. I was able to turn all those rejections into a huge success.

(E) – Effect – While this took place in high school, I think it tells you a lot about me. I don’t give up. At Yale, I might not have been the smartest student, but no one was going to outwork me. And in extracurriculars, I might not have had the connections to raise money right away, but you could bet that I’d knock on doors and send cold emails to make sure I could raise the money needed.

You can see that by structuring his answer as a story, Davis was able to pull interviewers in emotionally – and you can see the difference that leading with the answer makes in ensuring a memorable story.

The interviewer remembered Davis’s story hours later when the team met to discuss the candidates and make decisions on who would move on to the next round of interviews or receive an offer.

How to Prepare an Impactful A STAR(E) Story

1. Have a shortlist of relevant stories

It will always be so much easier to structure a good story that answers a real question. Reflect on your work, academic, and life experiences to find shortlist of stories that demonstrate your leadership, impact, drive, and ability to learn and adapt. Also, ask your colleagues and friends to help you in understanding your experiences better.

Check out our article “Common Consulting Interview Questions” for more help picking the right stories.

2. Write down your thoughts

STAR Method Consulting

You will have an easier time communicating a logical and impactful story if you spent the time thinking through it. Writing is a great way to bring clarity into your ideas. You will also find it easier to remember the details of your story if you have it written down.

3. Look for inspiration

Read the biographies of leaders that you admire to reflect on relevant experiences you had. We typically underestimate our experiences relative to others. But if you can see it in the light of the experiences of an accomplished person, you will gain more confidence and understanding of your unique experiences. For example, reading about how a leader turned around a difficult situation can remind you of instances when you persevered.

4. Practice answering the question

Find an interview partner and make sure that you practice answering behavioral questions. Ask for feedback on clarity, engagement, relevance, tone, and body language that can improve your storytelling abilities and help you stand out. You can also evaluate yourself using tools such as Loom.

But, don’t memorize your stories 100%! Nobody wants to interview a robot.

Also, make sure you check out our article “The Consulting Fit Interview” for additional information on preparing for the behavioral interview.

Good luck and go tell some stories!

– – – – –

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • Defining the STAR method.
  • Benefits of the STAR method.
  • Why we prefer the A STAR(E) method.
  • Tips for preparing a story in the A STAR(E) method.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about the STAR Method, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s coaches will answer them.

Other people prepping for STAR method found the following pages helpful:

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Nail the case & fit interview with strategies from former MBB Interviewers that have helped 89.6% of our clients pass the case interview.

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