Heath Alva
Posted May 17, 2021

How to effectively use the STAR method of interviewing

Learn what the STAR method is and how you can use it effectively in your next job interview.
Heath Alva
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How to effectively use the STAR method of interviewing
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Have you ever felt like a job interview was going well until faced with the dreaded question: “Tell me about a time when you…”? Your mind went blank, your heart started racing, and your palms started sweating as you racked your brain for a relevant answer. And perhaps that question even cost you the job. We’ve all been there — those kinds of questions are hard to answer. But with a little preparation, you can ace your next job interview.

This article will show you how to use the STAR method to prepare killer interview answers that will help you land your next job.

What is the STAR interviewing method?

The STAR interview method is an effective technique for answering behavioral interview questions. For those unfamiliar, a behavioral interview is a way for hiring managers to examine a candidate’s abilities and experience and understand if they are a good fit for the role and organization. It focuses on the interviewer looking for descriptions of real-life work experience so they can analyze how the interviewee acts and reacts in certain situations. This is where the STAR method comes in.

STAR is an acronym that stands for:

  • Situation

  • Task

  • Action

  • Result

The STAR interview method requires you to draw on specific examples of past work situations which demonstrate your skills, abilities, and characteristics. As well as providing a framework for you to demonstrate your relevant skills and experience, it’s also a useful way for the interviewer to find out more about your:

  • Knowledge

  • Qualifications

  • Behavior in past work situations

How does the STAR interview method work?

During a behavioral interview, the recruiter will ask you common behavioral interview questions related to your past work experience. You will know if a hiring manager is asking you a STAR method question if it starts with something like:

  • “Describe a time when…”

  • “What is your way of…”

  • “Give me an example of…”

  • “Tell me about a situation in which…”

  • “Describe a situation…”

Following the STAR structure to answer these types of interview questions will help you focus on important details and avoid telling irrelevant anecdotes.

Situation

First, describe the background and context of the story, which should be a real and relevant situation, case, or event from a previous job or work experience.

Task

Next, describe your role and responsibilities in the situation.

Action

Explain what decisions you made or actions you took to resolve the problem or achieve the goal.

Results

Describe the outcomes achieved and benefits accomplished as a result of your actions.

If this seems a bit confusing, don’t worry! We’ll walk you through some examples in a minute.

When to use the STAR format in an interview answer

Whenever you’re faced with a behavioral question, such as, “Tell me about a time…”, it’s a good idea to frame your answer using the STAR format. It’s impossible to know exactly what questions will be asked in your next interview, but you can use the job description to give you some clues about what skills and experience they’ll likely be looking for. Then, think about relevant experiences and situations that you’ve faced in previous jobs and how you can use a few examples from them to answer different potential behavioral questions.

This will help you have a few STAR format answers at the ready to clearly describe how your actions contributed to positive outcomes when the hiring manager asks for specific examples.

Common mistakes in a STAR method interview (and how to avoid them)

The most common mistake when answering a STAR interview question is going into too much unnecessary detail. Remember that you don’t have long to persuade the interviewer you are the right person for this job, so focus on the important and relevant information, and avoid redundant details.

Another common mistake is to focus on just one experience or period of your life. Try to vary your answers, giving examples from different experiences, times, and jobs during your working life. When describing a teamwork situation or group project, don’t forget to include specific details about your role and contribution that allow your interviewer to place you in the situation.

Don’t forget to emphasize how your actions made a positive impact on the final result. Avoid mentioning how difficult a situation was for you — even if it’s true — as this can reflect negatively on you. Try to take a positive attitude. For example, instead of saying it was a “stressful situation,” describe it as a “challenge.”

What exactly is a behavioral interview?

We’ve hinted at this a few times already, but now let’s dive into a bit more detail: A behavioral interview is an interviewing technique used to better understand a candidate’s suitability for a role.

In a behavioral interview, recruiters ask behavioral-based questions related to the applicants’ experience to find out if they have the skills, knowledge, and attributes necessary for the job. Behavioral interviewing is popular among hiring managers because it is the best predictor of a candidate's future performance.

In fact, it predicts future on-the-job behavior with 55% accuracy, compared to just 10% accuracy for other interviewing methods. For instance, recruiters looking for account executives with problem-solving, technical proficiency, and analytical skills will likely use the STAR interviewing method to find the most suitable candidates. Behavioral questions allow recruiters to understand how candidates have behaved in the past and predict how they will act in a similar situation in the future.

How do I prepare for a behavioral interview?

First, read the job description carefully to make sure you have the right qualifications, experience, abilities, and competency.

Next, research the company. Get familiar with its values and company culture and, if possible, ask current or former employees what qualities they look for in potential recruits.

These qualities may include things like:

  • Adaptability

  • Decisiveness

  • Flexibility

  • Motivation

  • Innovation

  • Leadership

  • Teamwork

  • Negotiation

Then list some concrete examples of different work situations which could be relevant to the job you’re applying for. Think of a short, detailed description for every situation, avoiding unnecessary details. Make sure the outcomes in every situation shine a positive light on you and reflect your role and responsibilities to avoid generalizing. Prepare two to three sentences for every answer — this will be enough if they are relevant to the topic.

Use the STAR technique to practice answering different behavioral questions by yourself or in front of a mirror. This will help you be more natural and relaxed during the interview.

If you like, use the template below to prepare your STAR interview answers.

(Image Source)

Sample behavioral interview questions

The following are some examples of behavioral interview questions.

“Tell me about a time when you went beyond the call of duty to get a job done.”

“Give us an example of a way you showed initiative and took the lead.”

“Tell me when you used your fact-finding skills to solve an issue.”

“Describe a time when you predicted potential problems and developed preventive measures.”

“Please tell me about a time you had to fire a friend.”

“Tell me about when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrates your coping skills.”

“Give an example of when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.”

“Tell us about a written document you had to complete.”

How to answer interview questions using the STAR technique

A good answer to a STAR interview question should demonstrate how your past behavior makes you a good candidate for the position.

Follow the steps below to answer a STAR method interview question successfully.

Situation

Recall a relevant work experience with a positive outcome that reflected well on you.

Describe the situation, focusing on the key details.

For example: Sales in the bricks-and-mortar shop were falling because many regular clients started buying clothes online.

Task

Describe the task or your role in the situation and how you were responsible for meeting the objective.

For example: As the senior sales associate, the shop manager asked me to help brainstorm new ideas to increase sales. The objective was a 20% increase by the end of the year.

Action

Explain how you acted, what decisions you took, or how you solved the problems that made it possible to achieve a positive outcome.

Don’t hide or make up important information, as they can easily discover the truth.

For example: I came up with a number of suggestions for new things we could try to bring in more customers, including a door crasher and friends and family event.

Results

Explain how your actions contributed to solving the issue or achieving the objective, making sure the outcomes reflect positively on you and on your actions. Use real data to support your point.

If there was a negative outcome, explain the lessons learned.

For example: The shop manager implemented many of my suggestions, and we were able to increase sales by 21% by the end of the year.

Below is another example of a STAR interview answer to further inspire you.

(Image Source)

Ace your next interview with the STAR method of interviewing

How you answer a behavioral interview question can make or break your chances of getting the job. The key is to prepare a few answers in advance using the STAR technique and job description to match your relevant experience with what the interviewer is looking for. And if you don’t currently have any interviews lined up, why not check our job search to find your next opportunity?

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