How To Master the STAR Method For Interview Questions

By Mike Simpson

Job interviews can be a stressful experience for job seekers, especially when faced with the dreaded behavioral-style interview. Not to worry! In this post, we are going to go over one of the best ways to answer behavioral questions, and that is by using the STAR Method.

As we have learned in previous posts, behavioral questions evaluate how you’ve handled situations in the past and what you would do if faced with a similar situation again in the future.

Beyond simply finding out if a candidate has the knowledge to do the job, behavioral questions help a hiring manger determine if a candidate also has the skills and experience.

BONUS PDF STAR METHOD CHECKLIST: Download our "Behavioral Interview Questions PDF Checklist" that gives tips on how to answer 25 of the most common behavioral questions using the STAR METHOD!

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These questions are designed to trip you up and one wrong answer can mean the difference between being hired and being left in the dust.

Now, we’ve got several more in-depth articles about behavioral interview questions (click here for Behavioral Interview Questions 101), but just for a quick recap, here are some examples of some common behavioral questions:

  • “Tell me about a time you failed at a task you were assigned…”
  • “Have you ever had to work with someone you didn’t like? How did you handle that?”
  • “How do you handle setting goals? Can you give an example?”

Tough questions, right?

Luckily, we’re here to teach you about the S.T.A.R. interview method and how, with a little preparation, you can provide answers that are right on target.

STAR stands for Situation, Tasks, Action & Results

So we can see that STAR is just (another) clever acronym for a bigger idea, but let’s take a second and break down exactly what each letter means.


Situation:

Think of a situation similar to what the interviewer is asking you about that had a successful outcome. It doesn’t necessarily have to be work related as long as it’s relevant. Remember to include the who, what, where, when and how.

Task:

Describe the task you were responsible for in that situation. Keep it specific but concise. Make sure to highlight any specific challenges you faced.

Action:

This is the part where you describe exactly what you did. How did you complete the task you were assigned? Remember to focus on what you did and highlight traits (qualities) that a hiring manager will find desirable (initiative, teamwork, leadership, dedication, etc.)

Result:

This is where you get to be introspective. Share what the outcome of the situation was and how you specifically contributed to that outcome. What did you accomplish? What did you learn? What were the results of your actions?

When to Use the STAR Method

While there are literally an unlimited amount of possible behavioral questions a hiring manager could ask you, there are several specific categories they all fall into:

Prior to going in for your interview, make sure you take a good hard look at the job you’re applying for and use clues from that to prepare your S.T.A.R answers. 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.

MIKE'S TIP: What is a success story? Well, it's basically exactly as it sounds! A success story is a story from your past that clearly demonstrates you accomplishing a task that you were faced with. These are important because they allow you to show the hiring manager that you possess the skill or ability needed to complete a relevant task in the future. In other words, they show that you are capable! Here is one important thing to remember: choosing the best success story for the situation is very important. Make sure that the behavior you are demonstrating is relevant to the behavior the hiring manager is asking about. And as mentioned above, if you don't have a work-related experience to help demonstrate the behavior, try to fall back on another situation from your past, whether it be from school, athletics, charitable work, or something similar!

Anyway, once you have those skills identified, go through your own personal history and background and find success stories that align with those skills.

Common Mistakes While Answering S.T.A.R. Questions

1. Not answering the question at all.

If an interviewer asks you a question and you can’t for the life of you think of a single specific success story from your past that you can apply to the situation, then tell them that!

It’s far better to be honest than make something up.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you get to tell the interviewer to move onto the next question… Instead, you’re going to flip the question back onto yourself and follow up with “…but if I had encountered a situation like that, this is how I would deal with it.”

2. Not being prepared.

This one is a no brainer. Especially since we’ve already outlined the five most common categories of behavioral questions. Coming up with a story on the spot often means an interviewer is stuck listening to you ramble on and on.

Doing your homework ahead of time means not only will you have your success story prepared, but it will be concise and targeted.

We recommend coming up with 3-5 success stories that collectively demonstrate a wide variety of common behaviors a hiring manager would be looking for.

3. Being too prepared.

Yes, this is possible. You want your story to seem effortless, but not so rehearsed as to be robotic. Review your stories before you go in for your interview, but don’t overdo it. Keep it light and conversational rather than rehearsing a story you have practiced word-for-word.

4. Telling a story that is anything but a success.

You want the job, r