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Mastering the STAR Interview Method – How-to and Q&A Examples

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The STAR interview method is a way to respond to common interview questions. It’s important that you understand how to use the STAR method so you can clearly and confidently answer any type of behavioral interview question an employer may ask you. This article explains how to use the STAR answer method to answer popular interview questions so you can impress your interviewer. 

What is the STAR interview method?

The STAR method is an interview response technique that allows you to take control of a job interview (especially a behavioral-style interview) by assessing a prospective employer’s requirements and preparing answers to likely questions ahead of time. STAR is an acronym that refers to Situation, Task, Action and Result. 

What is a behavioral interview?

In a behavioral or competency-based interview, the interviewer has a particular set of needs or goals in mind and wants to know how you will fulfill them. 

Common behavioral interview questions include:

  • Tell me how you set goals.
  • Describe an incident where you were faced with an unexpected problem on a tight deadline.
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • How did you handle working with someone you disliked?

The STAR technique allows you to explain and illustrate how you will meet the needs of your future employer by using examples of how you’ve dealt with related challenges in the past.

What does STAR stand for?

The acronym STAR stands for:

Situation

The situation is the challenge, project or other event you faced. When you’re preparing for potential interview questions, think about situations that might be relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. Consider the way you’d describe the problem you faced. This could be something directly related to your current or previous job, such as ‘I had to give an important presentation with only two days to prepare’ or ‘My team needed to develop a social media strategy before a product’s launch date.’ 

It could also be something more general. For example, if you’re asked ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ you might mention the position you wish to have, an academic or professional achievement and perhaps your ideal location. Think about who is involved, what is happening, where it’s happening and when it’s happening.

Task

The task is what your responsibilities and duties were in that situation. In the situation you described, narrow down the task or target you were directly responsible for. Be concise. You need to convey the specifics to your interviewer as briefly and clearly as you can. Be sure to highlight any particularly challenging aspects of the task. Mention constraints and obstacles you faced.

Action

The action is the steps you took or the procedure you followed to complete the project or resolve the difficulty. Describe the actions you took to complete your task or achieve your target. Think about the steps you personally took to ensure that the task was completed or the target met. Focus specifically on your own actions rather than those of others. Be sure to highlight the good qualities you showed in taking those specific actions. 

This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your best traits to the interviewer. Make sure you take full advantage of it. If your actions showed good leadership, expert communication skills or great dedication, convey this to your interviewer.

Result

The result portion of the STAR method is where you demonstrate your accomplishments. Describe the outcome of the actions you took. Let the interviewer know how well that important presentation was received or how successful that social media strategy proved to be. If the question relates to something that hasn’t happened yet, such as your future plans and ambitions, you can share the results you’ve achieved so far on your road to fulfilling those goals. 

Preparing for your interview with the STAR method

Well before your interview, consider the requirements of the job you’re interviewing for and how you might apply the STAR method. Read the job description for your prospective role and try to get as much detail about your future responsibilities as you can. 

It will also be helpful to learn about the corporate culture and overall mission. This will put you in the best position to answer any questions the interviewer might ask you. 

The types of interview questions and topics that could be answered by the STAR method include:

  • Working as part of a team
  • Planning and problem-solving
  • Leadership and initiative
  • Interpersonal skills, communication and conflict resolution
  • Performing under pressure

You do not need to anticipate every question the interviewer might ask, but you should have a good general idea of what the interview will involve. By thinking ahead and coming up with STAR responses that are relevant to each of these categories, you will be well-prepared.

How to use the STAR interview method

Follow these steps to use the STAR interview method to answer a behavioral or competency-based question:

1. First, start with the specific situation that you want to discuss

When answering a behavioral question, start by explaining the specific situation that you were in.

As if you were telling a story, use plenty of details when describing your situation. When you’re speaking, try to address some of these storytelling principles:

  • Who: Who was involved, including the job titles of the people you are talking about
  • What: What was the situation, such as the exact project you were working on
  • Where: Where this situation occurred, e.g. the company you worked for
  • How: How you addressed and/or overcame the situation

Example:

‘In 2018, I was working as a Junior Project Manager at Bee Construction Company. We were six months into a new shopping complex buildout and our clients were growing increasingly angry because we were running behind and they hadn’t received an updated timeline. On top of that, the Senior Project Manager in charge of the project had to leave early for maternity leave, leaving our group with no one in charge.’

2. Secondly, describe your specific tasks or responsibilities in your role

The next step is to describe your specific tasks or responsibilities.

Example:

‘I had been training with the Senior Project Manager for a few months and was responsible for updating our project status on MS Project, as well as taking meeting minutes and following up on action items.’

3. Thirdly, describe what you did to respond or react

After describing your specific tasks, it is time to describe the subsequent actions you took.

Example:

‘When stress was rising in the group after the Senior PM had to leave, I decided it was time to take charge. The first step was to schedule a meeting with the construction team leads to prioritize deliverables, delegate tasks, and to create a new, realistic timeline. After updating the project status in MS Project, I set a meeting with the client to give them the update on where the project stands.’

4. Finally, share the impact or results that you achieved

To finish the STAR interview response technique, explain the results you achieved from your actions. These results should show the positive outcome of the way you handled a situation.

Example:

‘Although the client was upset things were being pushed back, they were very happy to have a new timeline that they could work with. For the next three months, I lead the construction project and was able to keep everyone on task with daily and weekly meetings. In the end, we ended up finishing the buildout a few weeks earlier than planned.’

STAR method question and answer examples

Question 1: Tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure.

Example answer:

‘Last year I was a server at a sports bar during Super Bowl Sunday. The restaurant was slammed and one of the servers called in sick last minute. The pressure was high because it was our biggest day of the year and we had multiple parties of 10 or more people that were paying a lot of money to be there.

I already had eight tables when one of our large parties walked in. We soon realized that the server they requested was the one that had called in sick. Hating to see customers disappointed, I asked our FOH manager if I could take them.

I always believe transparency is the best, so I informed the eight tables I already had of the situation we were in. I offered to get them refills on their drinks ahead of time because I needed to be away for a while getting the large party settled in.

I left that night with the biggest tips I had ever received, and my customers thanked me for being proactive and transparent.’

Question 2: What do you do if you disagree with a team member?

Example answer:

‘It’s impossible to always agree with team members, so I have created a useful strategy for disagreements – listen, evaluate and make a decision. This happened in my last role as a software engineer.

Our team was creating a new website front-end for an e-commerce client and a team member and I didn’t agree on how to tie the shopping cart functionality in. Instead of getting worked up, I took time to sit down with my team member and to listen to his opinion. After he felt heard, I gave him my opinion.

Giving each other space to voice our opinions, we evaluated the pros and cons of our respective strategies. In the end, we decided to move forward with my strategy because it would create more ease for our client.’

Question 3: Give me an example of a time you had to work with a team.

Example answer:

‘Teamwork is crucial, no matter what type of position you are in. Most recently, I was working on a business class project with three other students. I have a type-A personality, and am usually the one to take the lead, but I noticed someone else in the group that wanted to take charge.

Instead of taking over, I asked my classmate if she wanted to delegate tasks. She was extremely excited about the opportunity and ended up doing an excellent job. It was a valuable learning process for me to let someone else manage.

In the end, I learned much more than I would have taking the lead, since I already know how to do that.’

Question 4: What do you do when you are overwhelmed at work?

Example answer:

‘I feel like I work better under stress. When there are a million things to do, I like to take a deep breath and prioritize the tasks at hand. Just yesterday, while bartending at Craft Cocktail Bar, we welcomed a party of 25 people just as our shipment of inventory came in.

Instead of panicking, I prioritized the tasks at hand. Customers came first, because handling them is more urgent. Restocking the bar would come second. After signing for the shipment, I asked the delivery guy to store everything in the liquor closet for the time being. I took a deep breath and started taking three or four orders at a time, making drinks as fast as I could, while providing friendly, cheerful service.

In the end, the bar cleared out within an hour. The customers were very happy and I was able to get back to restocking and taking inventory.’

Question 5: Tell me a goal you have set for yourself and how you achieved it.

Example answer:

‘I like to set goals on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Having both short and long-term goals helps me stay motivated while also keeping an eye on the bigger picture.

My goals for today are always written in the form of a to-do list. On my list for today is coming to this interview, sending you a nice follow-up email, finishing my online portfolio and washing my car. For the week, my goals are to have three interviews, apply to 10 positions and add 30 new connections on LinkedIn. My long-term goal is to find a company that I can call home within the next month.

Breaking down goals incrementally makes each task attainable, rather than just having a bunch of goals that are harder to achieve.’

Question 6: Why do you think you would make a good cashier?

Example answer:

‘I will make a good cashier because I have a lot of experience with customer service. Being a cashier isn’t just about ringing people up. It’s about ensuring that customers have an enjoyable experience while they shop. For the past six months, I have been volunteering in the kitchen of a local homeless shelter.

In addition to serving food, it is my job to interact with our guests and to see if there is anything we can help them with. Much like cashiers, I make sure to approach each person with a friendly demeanor and a big smile. I take time to listen to their needs and to ask questions about their desires.

Because of my personality, I have guests that come back to the shelter to chat with me time and time again. Although the environment is different, I feel my experience with providing exceptional customer service would make me a great cashier.’

Question 7: Describe a time when it was important for you to make a good impression with a client. What did you do?

Example answer:

‘As an account executive at Regent Staffing, it is extremely important for me to make good impressions. Most recently, I set a huge meeting with the VP of HR at Ace Corporation.

Needing to make a good impression, I did extensive research into her role and the company. I soon found out that they were going through massive re-orgs, which means she was putting in lots of hours. Knowing she didn’t have much time to take a break, instead of doing the usual lunch, I offered to take her to get her nails done over the lunch break. The meeting was a huge success.

She told me how tired she had been and that having some time to take care of herself was much appreciated. Because of that meeting, we landed a huge contract and she is now one of my favorite clients.’

Focus on success when using STAR

When considering which examples you use for your STAR answers, choose an episode from your career that resulted in success. You can model your best qualities and accomplishments for your interviewer. Think about how the outcome of the episode reflects on you, both in your work role and as an individual.

The STAR method is a very powerful technique with many applications beyond the interview setting. You can use the STAR method as a tool in many different situations, both in and out of the workplace.