The STAR method helps you create an easy-to-follow story with a clear conflict and resolution. Here’s what each part of the technique means:
Set the stage for the story by sharing context around the situation or challenge you faced. In most cases, it’s best to describe relevant work situations but depending on the amount of directly transferable experience you have, it might also be appropriate to discuss academic projects or volunteer work. It’s also imperative to talk about a specific instance rather than your general responsibilities.
You should spend the least amount of time on this part of your answer as interviewers are more concerned with the actions you took and results you got. Share the right amount of relevant detail by identifying the two or three most important pieces of information necessary to give the interviewer enough context about the situation.
Example: “In my last role as lead designer, there was a point in time when my team was short-staffed and facing a significant backlog of work. The account managers were setting unrealistic deadlines, which was causing stress for my team and affecting morale.”
Describe your responsibility or role in the situation or challenge. In other words, discuss the goal or task set out for you. This section requires a minimal amount of time similar to the situation component. Again, consider just one or two points that best illustrate the task you needed to complete.
Example: “As a team leader, it was my role not only to ensure my team met our deadlines but also to communicate bandwidth to other departments and keep my team motivated.”
Explain the specific actions you took to handle the situation or overcome the challenge. This part of your answer requires the most in depth description as this is what largely indicates your fitness for a role. Identify and discuss a few of the most impactful steps you took to find success.
Often, workplace challenges are addressed by a team; however, it’s a common pitfall to use the word “we” to describe how you achieved your goals during an interview. In any case, it’s important to focus on what you did in the situation. It can be helpful to remember that the employer’s intention is to hire you for the role rather than your team, so you should use the word “I” to highlight your particular contributions.
Example: “I set up a formal creative request process including project timeline estimates to set better expectations. I scheduled weekly meetings with account managers to discuss my team’s bandwidth and share progress updates. I also kept my team informed of the new processes, so they could have some peace of mind knowing the issues were being addressed.”
What was the outcome you reached through your actions? This is also an important part of your response to focus on. You should spend only slightly less time discussing the results than your actions. Decide what the two to three most impressive results were and talk about these.
Quantify your success or provide concrete examples of the effects of your efforts if possible. In addition, discuss what you learned, how you grew and why you’re a stronger employee because of the experience.
Example: “By providing more transparency into my team’s processes and setting better expectations with the account managers, we were able to re-prioritize the design team’s to-do list and complete everything in our backlog. I took these learnings, continued to apply this structure and as a result, in the following quarter, we shortened our average project timeline by two days. I also learned just how important it is to communicate clearly across teams.”
Related Article: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Job Interview
How to use the STAR method to prepare for an interview
While you won’t know the interview questions ahead of time, most behavioral interviews will focus on various work-related challenges that demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving, and situations that showcase leadership skills, conflict resolution and performance under pressure. Here’s some additional background on behavioral questions and a few tips to help you leverage the STAR method when answering them.
What are behavioral interview questions?
Interviewers ask behavioral interview questions to learn how you have behaved in previous work situations. In your answers, employers are looking for examples of your past actions that may be predictors of how you’ll act when you face these situations again. These questions are more open-ended than a “yes-or-no” question and usually ask you to share stories or examples from your previous jobs.
STAR interview question examples
Here are a few examples of common behavioral questions you might be asked during an interview:
- Share an example of a time when you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve this problem?
- Have you ever had to make an unpopular decision? How did you handle it?
- Describe a time when you were under a lot of pressure at work. How did you react?
- Tell me about a mistake you’ve made. How did you handle it?
- Share an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision. What did you do?
- Explain a situation where you used data or logic to make a recommendation.
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss. How did you resolve it?
- Describe a time when you had to deliver bad news. How did you do it?
- Tell me about a time you worked with other departments to complete a project.
- Share an example of a time when you failed. What did you learn from the experience?
- Tell me about a time when you set and achieved a specific goal.
- Tell me about a time when you had to persuade someone to do something.
- Describe a time when you had a conflict with a colleague. How did you handle it?
- Have you ever had to motivate others? How did you do it?
- Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done.
Related Article: How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview
Steps to prepare
- Review the job description and required skills and consider what sorts of challenges might arise or what obstacles you may have to navigate in the position.
- You should also review common behavioral interview questions similar to the list above. While the phrasing of these questions may vary from interview to interview, the general intent of the question typically remains the same so it can be helpful to prepare your answers with that in mind. For example, the interviewer might ask about “a time you were under pressure,” or they might ask about “how you handle stress.” Either way, their goal is to understand how you deal with tense situations.
- Write down the various situationsyou’ve handled in your professional history that would display the sorts of strengths you’ll need to succeed in the role and that address some of the most common behavioral interview questions. Prepare each example using the STAR framework.
- Practice talking through your answers out loud to make sure each story is as concise and coherent as possible. This will also help you feel more confident and natural when delivering the answers in an interview.
If you’re new to the workforce and don’t have a long professional history to draw from, consider examples from internships, volunteer work or group projects you completed for school. In some cases, employers may ask you to share a non-work-related example, so consider challenges or obstacles you’ve overcome in your personal life, too.
No matter what stories you decide to share, make sure you define a situation, task, action and result, and showcase skills and abilities most relevant to the job.
Related Article: Job Interview Tips: How to Make a Great Impression
How to answer a question using the STAR method (with examples)
Here are three examples of how to answer popular behavioral interview questions using the STAR method:
Share an example of a time when you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve this problem?
Situation: “I was working as a retail manager at a department store during prom season. A customer purchased a dress online and had it delivered to the store. One of my associates accidentally put the dress out on the floor, where another customer immediately purchased it.
Task: I knew I needed to make this right for the customer to meet my own service level standards and to uphold the reputation of the company.
Action: Before calling the customer to let her know about the mistake, I located the same dress at another store location nearby. I ordered it to be pressed and delivered to her home the morning of prom, along with a gift card to thank her for her understanding.
Result: The customer was so thankful, she wrote us a five-star review on several review sites.”
Describe a time when you were under a lot of pressure at work. How did you react?
Situation: “In my previous job as an account executive, one of my co-workers quit immediately after signing the biggest client our firm had ever taken on.
Task: Although I was already managing a full load of accounts, I was assigned this new client as well. I knew the stakes were high and if we lost this deal, then we wouldn’t hit our quarterly goal.
Action: I first took some measures to destress. Then I carefully evaluated and restructured my task list to make sure I could manage all my duties. Because of this, I was able to make myself completely available to the client and I also sacrificed some evenings and weekends to take calls until the project was delivered.
Result: The client was so impressed with my dedication, they immediately signed an annual contract that netted our company $5 million.”
Tell me about a mistake you’ve made. How did you handle it?
Situation: “I was working as an intern for an events company, and I was responsible for ordering the floral arrangements for a private event hosted by a high profile client. Unfortunately, I mixed up the information from another event, and the flowers were delivered to the wrong venue on the other side of town.
Task: I took this very seriously and knew I needed to find a solution quickly as we were working on a tight deadline.
Action: After considering a few different ways to resolve the issue. I admitted my mistake to my boss, informed them of my plan and why I thought it was the best course of action. I took an early lunch break, drove to the other venue, picked up the flowers and delivered them to the appropriate venue an hour before the event.
Result: The client never knew about my mix-up, and my boss was very grateful.”
When it comes to behavioral interviews, the STAR response technique will help you craft responses that are compelling and succinct while thoroughly answering the interviewer’s question. Just make sure your answers are honest and share only positive outcomes.
Consider writing your stories down and practice saying them out loud, editing to make them short and clear where necessary. While questions may vary, having at least three to five experiences to draw from will ensure you’re able to deliver a confident response no matter what the interviewer asks.