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How to use the STAR interview method for success

September 16, 2022 - 19 min read

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What is the STAR interview method?

How do I prepare for a STAR interview?

What are STAR interview questions?

How do I use the STAR method in an interview?

Almost every job interview has a set of behavioral questions. They usually start with “Tell me about a time when…” and they can catch job seekers off guard if they’re unprepared. 

The good news? There’s a secret recipe that’ll help you prepare for and ace these tricky questions. 

Known as the STAR interview method, this technique is a way of concisely answering certain job interview questions using specific, real-life examples. 

For example, say your interviewer asks you to describe a time you performed under pressure. Using the STAR technique, you can prove you’re able to perform well under pressure by giving an example from your past experiences. 

Let’s explore what the STAR method is, how to prepare for a behavioral question, and how you can use this technique to help you land your next job.

What is the STAR interview method? 

The STAR method is a technique used to answer behavioral interview questions in a structured and compelling way. Behavioral questions prompt job candidates to give specific examples of how they’ve handled past situations or challenges. 

Each pillar helps you tell an in-depth, yet short story that has a beginning, middle, and end.

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Why should I use the STAR method? 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed during an interview and forget everything you’ve prepared. The STAR framework is a simple way to provide a good answer, even when you’re feeling nervous. 

But the reasons for using the STAR interview technique go further than that. For one, today’s job market is stronger than ever. A quick search through LinkedIn will show you that there are endless opportunities available for candidates 

But that doesn't mean it’s easy to land your dream job. In fact, recent research has shown that remote and hybrid jobs are receiving 7 times the applicants as in-person positions

In a (sort of) post-COVID world, standing out during the interview process is key to landing a more flexible, higher-paying, or otherwise better-fitting job. But don’t worry — The STAR method is here to help you build your communication skills, tell your authentic story, and ace your next interview.

When to use the STAR interview technique 

Interview questions that prompt a STAR response are known as behavioral questions. If you’re currently searching for a job, you can expect to come across your fair share of them. 

Behavioral interview questions ask candidates to share how they’ve demonstrated certain skills, behaviors, and abilities in a past situation. 

According to SHRM, these questions aim to determine a candidate's level of experience and their potential to handle similar situations in the new organization. 

Employers expect a well-articulated short story of how you’ve handled a certain situation in your previous job. If you’ve recently graduated and don’t have a lot of work experience, you can share an example from an internship or a volunteer experience.

Examples of behavioral interview questions

But how do you know when it’s the right time to use the STAR format during an interview? 

It’s simple: be on the lookout for behavioral questions. They usually start with prompts like these:

  • Tell me about a time…
  • Share an example of a time…
  • Describe a time when…
  • Have you ever…

If you’re interviewing for a leadership role, for instance, a common behavioral question is “Describe a time you motivated your team to achieve results. What was your approach?” 

Here are a few more examples of behavioral interview questions: 

  • Have you ever had to develop a new skill on the job? Tell me about your approach to the learning process. 
  • Describe a time when you had a tight deadline to meet. How did you get things done
  • Have you ever had a direct disagreement with your manager? How did you handle that situation? 
  • Tell me about one of your proudest professional accomplishments. 

These questions can be challenging if you’re caught unprepared. The STAR interview method helps you prepare and deliver a compelling story that will satisfy the interviewer’s question and demonstrate why you’re the right person for the role.

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How to answer interview questions with the STAR method

Let’s learn how to use each pillar of the STAR technique to deliver a compelling and structured response to any behavioral question. 

1. Situation: Set the stage 

Begin answering the question by giving your interviewer context around the specific situation or challenge you faced. 

Try to limit this part to only a few sentences to set the scene. The bulk of your answer should focus on your actions and results. 

Make sure the situation you’ve chosen clearly demonstrates the skill or capability you’re being asked about and is complex enough for the role you’re interviewing for. 

For example, if it’s a more senior role, choose a situation that involves high stakes and demonstrates your expertise.

2. Task: Explain where you fit in 

Describe the task you had to complete and what your involvement was. 

Similar to the situation portion of your answer, this part should also be brief and to the point. For example, it can be a simple sentence, like this one: 

“As the customer experience manager, it was my responsibility to resolve the client’s concern at the first point of contact.”

3. Action: Describe each step 

This is the most important part of your answer because it’s your opportunity to showcase your capabilities. The hiring manager doesn’t just want to hear what you’ve accomplished, but how you’ve accomplished it. 

Explain what steps you took to overcome the challenge or reach your goal. Be as specific as possible, describe each step in detail, and avoid vague statements like “I worked really hard.” 

Keep the focus on yourself when answering the question. Use “I” statements and talk about what you specifically did, not what was accomplished as a team.

4. Results: Impress with your achievements 

This is the time to share the results of your actions with your potential employer. What positive impact were you able to achieve? How did you resolve the situation? 

Make sure the outcome is always a positive one. For example, even if you’re asked to describe a time you made a mistake, you should focus on what you learned from the experience. 

Employers love to see measurable results, so don’t forget to quantify your results when you can or back them up with concrete examples.

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Examples of the STAR method in action

Here are some examples of STAR interview questions and answers to help you ace your next opportunity. 

1. Give me an example of a goal you’ve set and how you achieved it.

The scope of this behavioral question is to determine how you set goals and what steps you take to make sure you meet your objectives.

Situation: When I first transitioned into a sales role at company X, I was a bit shy of meeting my first-quarter sales target. 

Task: This motivated me to not only meet my sales target during my second quarter but exceed it. 

Action: I broke my goal down into smaller weekly goals and changed my sales strategy. I leveraged social selling to find new customers and develop relationships with them. I also asked my sales manager to coach me on my closing techniques and objection handling. 

Result: With this new strategy, I exceeded my sales target by 10%. 

2. Tell me about a time you failed. How did you handle it? 

Being honest about a time you failed shows you have integrity. Just remember to focus on what you learned from the experience. 

Situation: Shortly after I was promoted to senior project manager, I was in charge of leading a project for a major client. This project would typically take about a month to complete, but the client was in a rush and asked if I could have it ready in three weeks. 

Task: Excited that it was my first project, I agreed. Shortly after, I realized I'd need a bit more time to finish it and deliver quality work.

Action: I reached out to the client right away and apologized. I also asked for a three-day extension, and they were generous enough to extend the deadline. 

Result: I managed to finish the project and deliver it before the extended deadline. However, I learned to manage my time better and never overpromise on something I can’t deliver. 

3. Can you describe a time people didn’t see things your way? 

Behavioral questions worded this way are tricky. Author Mak Murphy explains that these questions don’t give away the “correct answer” to see if you reveal your true attitude.

In this case, what the question is trying to ask is, “Describe a time you successfully persuaded someone to see things your way.” 

Situation: I recently led a brainstorming session. The purpose of this session was to create a brand awareness campaign for a product my company was launching. 

Task: One of my teammates and I disagreed on what direction we should take for the campaign. I wanted to focus more on maximizing social media presence, and he wanted to go the brand partnership route.

Action: I asked my colleague to have a one-on-one meeting with me. I asked him to share his ideas and perspective. After listening and offering constructive criticism and feedback, I shared my ideas. 

Result: The conversation helped me see blind spots in my strategy and improve it. I also persuaded my coworker to get on board with my strategy by explaining its rationale. As a result, I merged our ideas and created a successful brand awareness campaign. Our social media engagement and website traffic both saw an increase of over 40%.

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4. Tell me about a time when you worked well with a team. 

Teamwork skills, particularly remote teamwork skills, are one of the top competencies that employers are looking for

Situation: In my previous job as an event coordinator, I worked with a team of five to plan and execute company events and conferences. Last year, we collaborated on the company’s annual holiday party for over 500 employees.

Task: There were so many moving pieces. Everyone on our team had different responsibilities, but we all had to work as one unit to bring the party to life. 

Action: Even though I was the most junior person on the team, I organized a project management system that would allow us to check in with each other daily. They’d never done this before, but everyone loved the virtual task-tracking features. 

Result: Thanks to the new system, our team meetings were far more productive and we ended up ahead of schedule. Ultimately, our team’s collaboration led to what our CEO called the best holiday party he had ever attended. 

5. Can you share a time when you’ve had to juggle multiple priorities at work? 

Situation: While working as a client success manager at a tech company, one of my colleagues left the company for a new opportunity. My manager asked me to take on some of her responsibilities. 

Task: I had to reprioritize my own clients and projects to make room for her most important ones. It was overwhelming at first, with so many tasks to juggle and my unfamiliarity with my colleague’s book of business. 

Action: I worked through my responsibilities and reprioritized them based on the company’s goals, my availability, and other factors (with a bit of input from my manager). I also came up with ways to automate certain tasks to free up more of my time.

Result: Thanks to new automation efforts and successful prioritizing, none of our clients realized that there had been an internal shift at the company. Our team’s high quality of service was maintained — and I became more efficient in the process.

How do I prepare for a STAR interview? 

Acing STAR interview questions is all about preparation and practice. The more you prepare, the better equipped you’ll be to use this technique to your advantage. 

Here’s what you need to do before each interview. 

1. Highlight the skills and experience required for the role

Take time to look over the job description and highlight the transferable skills and experience you need to succeed in the role. Recruiters will tailor their behavioral questions to find out if you have the right skills for the job. 

If the role you’re interviewing for requires problem-solving skills, for example, you may be asked something like, “Tell me about a time you faced an unexpected challenge at work. How did you overcome it?” 

2. Reflect on previous achievements and wins 

Using the STAR method, write down specific examples of situations where you demonstrated the competencies relevant to the role you’re interviewing for. 

Your answers should provide concrete and verifiable evidence that shows how you dealt with challenges in the past. Avoid vague statements and walk the interviewer through the specific steps you took to achieve your desired result.

3. Practice your answers 

Simulating a real interview will help you feel more prepared and confident. Plus, practicing with a friend can offer you a fresh perspective and tell you what’s working and what isn’t. 

Even if you’re practicing on your own, answer the questions out loud. The more comfortable you get vocalizing your answers, the more natural you’ll sound during the interview.

4. Get ready for common behavioral questions 

Review common behavioral interview questions and use the STAR technique to answer them. Common STAR interview method questions focus on soft skills like communication, collaboration, leadership behaviors, or problem-solving. 

For instance, you may be asked to describe a time you disagreed with a team member or talk about a time you resolved a work-related conflict. Both questions assess your communication, conflict resolution, and problem-solving skills.

Mastering the STAR interview method

Ready to put the STAR interview technique into practice? Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind: 

  • Use the STAR method to answer behavioral questions, like “Can you share a time when…” 
  • STAR stands for situation, task, action, result and is meant to help you structure your answers to those questions.
  • The benefit of the STAR method is that it should help you provide clear and concise answers — be specific, but don’t get caught up in the details. 
  • You can prepare to use the STAR method by reflecting on past accomplishments that are relevant to the role you’re interviewing for.
  • Don’t forget to practice your answers ahead of time!

This simple yet powerful method will help you ace your next interview by delivering compelling answers that show employers you’re the right person for the job. 

If you’re planning your next career move, BetterUp can help. Our world-class coaches offer guidance and support to help you during this transition.

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Published September 16, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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