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Mindmapping STAR

On September 11, 2018 in interviewing • 3 minutes read

This is how I prepare for interviews.

Background

Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of experiences. Unfortunately, whenever I am asked a “Tell Me About a Time…” question I tend to draw a blank and forget all of them. In addition, over the years, due to the way memory works, my experiences tend to merge and mix. I completely forget relevant things I’ve done and could talk about.

Nothing worse than leaving an interview and getting that feeling of “Why didn’t I tell them about THAT”?

In addition to that, trying to come up with a good answer on an experience in your past requires some level of preparation; trying to get it all together while you are there with your interview can be risky, and the answer can come out jumbled.

To fix this, I’ve come up with a system for preparing for soft-skills interviews. Let me explain it.

Step 1: Visual Recalling

Once you’ve got your “Tell Me About a Time…” question it’s time to reach into your memory and pick the right one. The easiest place to start from would be your resume. Yet, your resume has two problems:

  1. Not all your experiences will fit on a resume
  2. Your resume is not a great tool for visual memory

My solution to this problem is a mind-map (I recommend XMind to create it) of my experiences, technical and non-technical competencies, personal strengths and weaknesses; I also create a section for role-specific knowledge I posses and for challenges that don’t quite fit in any other category.

The “spine” of the mindmap looks a bit like this one:

Once I have this, I start going through my resume and past notes and populate the mind-map until it has the level of detail I want. For example, for challenges, I have something like this:

Mine looks something like this:

Step 2: Answering

Armed with your mind-map, it should be easier now to find the experience that fits the best the question you’ve been asked. The next step is to practise answering using the Situation-Task-Action-Result (STAR) method.

For example, let’s say the question is “Tell me about a time when you had to solve a large cross-functional issue with no clear cause”, I will practice my answer (in front of a mirror!) as follows:

The answer above is reasonably detailed, not too long, and has provided the interviewer with a very basic understanding of my experience; there is now plenty of space for them to continue to dive deeper on the parts that they find more relevant.

Step 3: Iterate

As you keep answering your questions with the STAR method you’ll remember more things! At this point go back to Step 1 and improve your mind-map :)

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