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The STAR method is a structured manner of responding to behavioral interview questions (also known as STAR interview questions) in job interviews by discussing the specific situation, task, action, and result of the situation you are describing.
The STAR interview method provides a clear framework for job candidates on how to answer behavioral based interview questions asked during the interview process.
When used well, the STAR interview technique is one of the best ways for job seekers to answer behavioral questions in a succinct way that communicates their experience and achievements.
What are behavioral based interview questions?
Behavioral interviews are used to learn how you have behaved in previous situations. In your answers, employers are looking for examples of your previous actions (and their results) that may be indicators of how you will act if and when you face a similar situation again.
Generally, common behavioral questions are more open-ended and usually ask you to share stories or real-life examples from previous jobs, which is where the STAR technique comes in handy.
Here are a few examples of behavioral and situational interview questions:
- Share an example of a time when you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve this problem?
- 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?
- 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?
- Share an example of a time when you failed. What did you learn from the experience?
- What can you contribute to this company?
What does STAR stand for?
STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result:
- Situation: Describe the situation you were in or the project you needed to accomplish. Use a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what experiences you have. Your response should provide the interviewer with enough details to understand the situation clearly. The specific situation can be from a previous job, volunteer role, or any relevant work experience.
- Task: What goals were you working toward?
- Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail and keep the focus on your work. Hiring managers want to know what specific steps you took and what your contribution was. Be careful that you don’t describe what team members or the company did when talking about the project. Focus on what your role was. Use “I”, rather than “we” when describing actions.
- Result: Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy to take credit for your achievements. What happened? What metrics were improved? How did your customers react to the new feature? What did you learn? Make sure your story contains multiple positive results.
By answering behavioral and situational interview questions with the STAR technique, you help the hiring manager follow along by providing a focused answer with a digestible but compelling story. It also helps them determine how well you might fit in to the job.
Remember, your job as a candidate is to provide interview answers that help the interviewer assess your strengths.
When do I use the STAR method?
The STAR method is designed to answer behavioral interview questions, which have telltale openings like:
- Tell me about a time when…
- What do you do when…
- Have you ever…
- Give me an example of…
- Describe a situation where…
While there are literally an unlimited amount of possible behavioral based questions a hiring manager could ask you, they generally fall into the following categories:
- Problem-solving and planning
- Initiative and leadership
- Interpersonal skills and conflict resolution
- Pressure and stress
Before going into your interview, make sure you understand what job you are applying for and use the job description to find clues about what to prepare for. By picking out what skills the company is specifically looking for or are required for the job, it will help you target your success stories.
What are some tips for getting the most out of the STAR method?
- Be prepared: Preparation is essential to using the STAR interview response method well. Going in with a solid set of targeted stories will not only make the interview easier for you but will also help the interviewer follow along and notice the specific qualities that make you perfect for the position and that set you apart from other job candidates.
- Be specific: The STAR method works because it is focused and concise. This goes with being prepared. Before your interview, you should know which skills and qualities the company is looking for and pick stories that are specific and targeted. Remember, the point of this is to highlight past behavior that the hiring manager wants to see.
- Be quantitative: Metrics tell the best stories. Where possible use data-driven metrics to communicate your success and use qualitative metrics as secondary proof.
- Be concise: Use one to two sentences per letter of the STAR acronym. Don’t add information that is irrelevant to the specific question. Hiring managers don’t need to know the entire project history.
- Be honest: This should go without saying, but a lack of honesty will undermine your credibility down the round. No one wants to hire someone they don’t trust.
How to answer interview questions using the STAR technique
Knowing what the STAR approach is and when to use it is only part of the solution. You need to know how to:
- Find suitable examples
- Describe the situation
- Highlight the task
- Share your actions
- Summarize the results
1. Find suitable examples
The STAR interview method won’t be helpful if you use it to structure an answer that is irrelevant to the interviewer’s questions. The most important thing is to answer the interview questions. That’s why it’s crucial to have appropriate scenarios from your previous roles that you can draw from.
While there is no way to know ahead of time what the interviewer may ask you, it’s smart to have a few stories and examples ready to go that you can tweak and adapt to different questions.
Before applying for your interview, think through a few examples of successful projects in your previous jobs and how they might apply to the job you want. Then think through how to discuss the project using the STAR framework. Repeat this exercise until you feel you’re adequately prepared.
And don’t be afraid to ask for some time to think during your interview. Hiring managers appreciate candidates who prepare good answers.
2. Describe the situation
It can be tempting to share lots of details, particularly when you have nerves. But if the interviewer asks you about a time when you didn’t meet a customer’s expectations, for example, they don’t necessarily need (or want) to know the history of the entire project.
Remember, your goal is to paint a clear picture of the situation you were in and its complexities, so the results you share seem much more impressive.
Keep your story concise and focused.
Remember, the STAR approach helps because it’s simple. Some people provide too much detail and their answers are too long-winded to follow. As a rule of thumb, focus on one or two sentences for each letter of the acronym.
For example, imagine that the interviewer just asked, “Tell me about a time when you shipped a product feature that you initially thought was out of reach.”
Your response (Situation): “In my previous product management role, my company made the decision to focus primarily on referral marketing and was looking to increase the viral coefficient pretty aggressively.”
3. Highlight the task
You’re highlighting this situation for a reason — because you played an important part in its success. This is the part of your answer where you make the interviewer understand exactly what your role was.
Your response (Task): “As the growth product manager, my task was to increase the number of people invited to our platform by 50% in one quarter.”
Don’t confuse the task with the actions in your response. This piece is dedicated to providing the specifics of your responsibilities, as well as any objectives that were set for you before you dive into what you did.
Now that you’ve given the interviewer the context they need, it’s time to explain the specific actions you took to achieve your goal. What steps did you personally take to ensure the goal was reached?
Your response (Action): “I started by researching Airbnb’s referral program, documenting each customer touchpoint and how they had optimized it to improve conversion. Next, I worked with our design team to design the new invitation feature for the next three weeks. Once designs were done, I worked with our Head of Engineering to add it to the next sprint.”
Don’t provide glossed-over answers like, “I did research on referral campaigns…”
This is your chance to showcase your contribution and expertise. Provide enough information about what you did. Did you work with a certain team? Research particular companies? Write a product spec? These are the things your interviewer needs to know.
5. Summarize the results
This is where you outline how your work has made a difference. The final portion of your response should be to share the results of the actions you took. It should go without saying, but make sure the result is positive.
Does that mean you can’t tell stories where you didn’t meet your goals or had challenges? Definitely not. But even if you are talking about a time you failed or made a mistake, make sure you end on a high note and talk about what you learned or how you fixed it in a later project.
Don’t skip this part. Too many candidates don’t make it clear how their actions had an impact. That’s the most important part of the STAR method.
Remember, hiring managers don’t only care about what you did. They also want to know why it mattered. Make sure you emphasize the results you achieved and use numbers to quantify them where possible.
Your response (Result): “As a result of the new invitation feature, I was able to increase the number of people invited to the platform by 60% in 2 months, exceeding our goal by 10%.”
STAR response example
If you’ve read the rest of this post, the STAR method should be making sense. Here’s one more question-and-answer example for additional clarity.
The interviewer asks: “Tell me about a time when you had to be very strategic in order to meet all of your top priorities.”
- Situation: “Email open rates were falling off for our weekly newsletter and a large number of emails were not making to our subscriber’s inboxes.”
- Task: “My task was to think through a campaign that would result in at least a 15 percentage point increase in the open rate in six months.”
- Action: “I designed an email sunsetting policy that removed inactive contacts after a month and A/B tested our subject lines each week to drive open rates. I also set-up a double opt-in policy that ensures only people who really wanted the newsletter would receive it.”
- Result: “In three months, I increased our weekly newsletters open rate from an average of 13% to 35% while also increasing the size of the list from roughly 1,000 to 5,000.”
The STAR interview process for answering behavioral questions may seem overwhelming at first. But with some practice, it becomes second nature. And make no mistake, you do need to practice it!
Whether that be in a mock interview with a friend or coach, or just practicing your answer in the mirror, talk through your response so it feels natural when you’re in the interview.
With a little preparation and strategy, you might even look forward to behavioral interview questions and see them as an opportunity to emphasize your expertise.
What are the common mistakes to avoid when using the STAR method?
- Not answering the question: If the interviewer asks you a question and you can’t think of a single situation that applies, tell them that first. It’s better to be honest. This gives you the opportunity to change the question and answer with “but if I had encountered a situation like that, this is what I would do.” Remember, interviewers want to know if your past behavior and experience fits in with the role they are hiring for.
- A lack of preparation: This one is obvious, but coming up with a story on the spot generally just leads to rambling. As we outlined above, it’s better to have a few go-to stories that collectively demonstrate a wide variety of common behaviors hiring managers are looking for.
- Too much preparation: Your interview answers should come across as conversations, not rehearsed, and robotic.
- Focusing on failure: Avoid telling stories where you failed miserably and learned nothing. If you do need to tell a story without a positive outcome anchor it on the things you have learned from it.
- Telling a story that has nothing to do with the question: This goes along with being too prepared. Telling a story that is unrelated to the question demonstrates to the hiring manager that you lack focus and attention to detail, qualities that every great candidate has.
- Telling a story that makes you appear unqualified: The opposite of this is true, too. Don’t tell a story where you were the only person who ever did anything right. Nobody can single-handedly run an entire company.
Common behavioral interview questions
Practice using the STAR interview response method on these common behavioral interview questions:
- Describe a work situation in which you used persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
- Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills.
- Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
- Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and achieved it.
- Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone’s opinion.
- Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.
- Please discuss an important written document you were required to complete.
- Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get the job done.
- Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks.
- Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split-second decision.
- What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
- Tell me about a time when you successfully dealt with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).
- Tell me about a difficult decision you’ve made in the last year.
- Give me an example of a time when you tried to accomplish something and failed.
- Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
- Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or coworker.
- Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
- Tell me about a time when you delegated well in a group project.
- Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.
- Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.
- Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
- Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
- Please tell me about a time you had to fire a friend.
- Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low).
- Describe your work ethic.
For more common behavioral questions, read our post on the best behavioral interview questions to prep for.
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