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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.
Not to worry, there’s a secret recipe that’ll help you prepare for and ace these questions.
The STAR interview method is a way of answering behavioral questions clearly and concisely 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 a concise example.
Let’s explore how to prepare for a behavioral question, what the STAR method means, and how to use it in an interview.
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.
The acronym STAR stands for –– situation, task, action, result. Each pillar helps you tell a well-thought-out short story that has a beginning, middle, and end. Let’s take a closer look at each one:
- Situation: Set the scene by briefly describing the situation, challenge, or event you faced
- Task: Explain what your responsibilities were in that situation. What role did you play?
- Action: Describe what steps you took to overcome the challenge or address the situation
- Result: Share what you achieved through your actions
But how do you know when it’s the right time to use the STAR method during an interview?
Spotting behavioral questions that require a STAR response is easy. 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…
These questions can be challenging if you’re caught unprepared and don’t have an answer ready. Telling a messy story that doesn’t showcase your skills and achievements won’t impress a potential employer.
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.
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.
Highlight the skills and experience required for the role
Take time to look over the job description and highlight the 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.
Studying the roles and responsibilities of the position will provide clues to what types of behavioral questions you can expect.
If the role you’re interviewing for requires problem-solving skills, you may be asked something like, “Tell me about a time you faced an unexpected challenge at work. How did you overcome it?”
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.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), answers to behavioral questions should provide concrete and verifiable evidence that shows how a candidate has dealt with challenges in the past. Avoid vague statements and walk the interviewer through the specific steps you took to achieve your desired result.
Practice your answers
Practicing your answers is one of the most effective ways to prepare for a job interview.
You can either practice alone, or better yet, with the help of a friend.
Get a friend to play the part of the hiring manager and ask you a set of behavioral questions in a mock interview. Simulating a real interview with them helps you feel more prepared and confident. Your friend can also offer you a fresh perspective and tell you what’s working and what isn’t.
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.
Review 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, or problem-solving.
While there’s no way to predict exactly what you’ll be asked, there’s a good chance that a variation of one or two of these questions will come up.
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.
What are STAR interview questions?
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.
What are behavioral interview questions?
Like we touched on earlier, 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.
Example STAR interview questions and answers
Let’s look at some common STAR interview questions and how to answer them.
- 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. Those were the two areas I needed to improve in.
Result: With this new strategy, I managed to exceed my sales target by 10%.
- Tell me about a time you failed. How did you handle it?
Situation: Shortly after I was promoted as a 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 and set an ambitious deadline of three weeks to prove myself to them. 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 over promise on something I can’t deliver.
- 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 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. My goal was to understand his point of view and reach a decision we were both happy with. 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%.
How do I use the STAR method in an interview?
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.
Keep it brief and focus on the most important details to set the scene. You want to limit this part to only a few sentences, as 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.”
According to SHRM, candidates should keep the focus on themselves 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 end the answer on a positive note. Focus on what you’ve learned and what insight you’ve gained 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.
Master the STAR interview method
Mastering the STAR interview method is all about practice. The more comfortable you get using this interview technique, the more prepared you’ll be to take on behavioral questions.
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. Don't forget, the interview is the first step. Learn how to follow up after an interview to help land your next dream 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.
Sr. Insights Manager