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.

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:

  • Teamwork
  • Problem Solving/Planning
  • Initiative/Leadership
  • Interpersonal Skills/Conflict
  • Pressure/Stress

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, right? So why would you tell a story where you fail miserably and learn absolutely nothing from the experience? While it might be a funny story overall, it’s not one that’s going to get you a job. Telling a story that has absolutely no positive outcome, either from the final results or the lessons you learned, is pointless….just like hiring you.

Now you might be thinking, “Mike, this is common sense. I would not tell a story that makes me look bad.” Here’s the deal though. Sometimes, what starts out as great intentions, can unravel before you know it. If the hiring manager decides to probe into your story, you need to be certain that he/she is not going to encourage you to reveal something you did not intend.

So despite what we said about not speaking like a robot… stick to the script!

5. Telling a story that has nothing to do with the question asked.

This goes along with being prepared. Telling a story that is unrelated to the question demonstrates to a hiring manager that you lack focus and attention to detail, two key qualities that every good candidate should possess.

6. Telling a story that makes you appear unqualified or puts you in a bad light.

The opposite of this is also true. Don’t tell a story where you are “the only employee doing anything right ever”. Nobody is absolutely perfect and telling a story where you singlehandedly saved the entire company from bankruptcy while also managing to fully fund the orphanage next door as well as the panda sanctuary down the street isn’t going to just come off as impossible, it’s going to come off as fiction.

Top 5 Tips For Getting the Most out of STAR

So now that you know what you are not supposed to do, let’s focus in on what you do need to do to get the most out of the STAR Method.

1. Be prepared.

I know we said this above, but it really is the essence of the method. Going in with a solid set of S.T.A.R. targeted success stories will not only make answering them easier for you, but will help you highlight to the hiring manager the specific qualities and skills that make you perfect for the position and set you apart from the other candidates.

2. Be specific.

The STAR Method is not about being vague and wishy-washy. This goes hand in hand with being prepared. Prior to your interview you should have identified the skills and qualities the company is looking for. Make sure your stories are specific and targeted. Remember, you need to highlight the behavior that the hiring manager is interested in, and your success story should clearly align with that.

Being vague or general will not only make it difficult for the hiring manager to properly evaluate you, but it will dilute the impact of your success story.

3. Be quantitative.

This is very important. Hiring Managers absolutely LOVE numbers, so have solid, tangible results to back up your stories. Did you increase sales for your department by 58%? Did your actions make your team 89% more efficient? Back up your successes with hard facts and numbers wherever possible.

4. Be concise.

Keep your stories short, sweet and targeted. No extra info or boring details that are irrelevant to the specific question. If you see the Hiring Manager glance down at her watch or start yawning during your response, you know it is time to wrap it up.

5. Be honest!

The last thing you want to do is dazzle your interviewer with a story that isn’t 100% true. Not only do you undermine your credibility down the road if they find out you weren’t honest, but it calls into question their ability to trust you overall…and nobody wants to hire someone they don’t trust.

Example Question and Answer

Now that we’ve gone over all this, let’s put it into practice with an example behavioral question and a S.T.A.R. method interview answer.

“Can you tell me about a time you went above and beyond your expected duties?”

(Before we answer this question, let’s pretend the qualities/behaviors the company are looking for are problem solving and initiative and use those to craft our S.T.A.R. interview answer. Also, for our purposes, we are going to separate the answer into the four categories outlined above, but you will not want to do this in the interview. It will all blend together as one unified response).

Situation: I was a part of a team working on a presentation meant to help us secure a major new client for our company. The weather was bad, and as a result my supervisor got caught in a snowstorm and was unable to make it back in time. It looked like we were going to have to cancel the meeting and potentially lose the client.

Task: I had been looking for ways to take on more responsibility, so I volunteered to finish up the presentation.

Action: I worked with my supervisor via the phone and between the two of us, we were able to go ahead with the scheduled meeting.

Result: As a result of my initiative, we not only landed the client, but I was also recommended for a promotion.

 

Here’s another question. (This one is from our Behavioral interview questions and answers 101 article.)

“Tell me about a time when you took the lead on a difficult project?”

Here’s our answer broken into the STAR Method. The quality we are highlighting is Leadership:

Here are a few more behavioral questions that you can practice answering using the STAR Method. Use the example above to guide you.

  • Can you tell me about a time you were in a stressful situation and how you handled it?
  • As a team leader, how do you handle conflict? Tell me about a time when you experienced conflict and what you did to resolve it.
  • Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle that?
  • Describe to me a time when you worked well under immense pressure.
  • Tell me about a time that you needed to motivate someone else to accomplish an important task.

Putting It All Together

This is just a small sampling of potential S.T.A.R. interview questions. If you’d like even more potential questions to practice with along with a free downloadable cheat sheet, go to Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers 101.

So the next time you’re in an interview and the hiring manager asks you a behavioral question, don’t panic… Not only are you prepared, you’re a S.T.A.R. method master!

Good luck!

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field