STAR Interview Method

The STAR Interview Method is a tool for answering tough behavioral interview questions.

At the end of this article, you’ll understand the STAR Interview Model and why you should use it when answering behavioral interview questions. We’ll also look at three example behavioral interview questions commonly asked by interviewers and show you great example answers to these questions.

At the end of this article, you’ll understand the STAR Interview Method and when you should use it. You’ll have examples of STAR Method answers to interview questions you can adapt to suit your needs. Finally, you’ll learn a simple 3-step process you can use to better prepare yourself to use the STAR Method in an interview.

What is a Behavioral Interview Question?

Behavioral interview questions are questions about how you have behaved in the past.

These types of questions require you to give specific examples of how you handled tricky work situations in the past. They typically begin with phrases such as, “Tell me about a time when…” and “Give me an example of a situation where…”.

From an interviewer’s perspective, these questions allow them to ascertain if you have the qualities, behaviors, and experience they are looking for. These qualities can be difficult to determine from your resume alone, covering areas such as team working, problem-solving, working under pressure, and overcoming setbacks.

From your perspective, they allow you to let your past work performance show what you could do for this employer. They also give you the opportunity to differentiate yourself from other candidates applying for the same role.

Examples of behavioral interview questions include:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone whose personality was very different from your own. How did you overcome that?
  • Give me an example of a challenging conversation you’ve previously had to handle?
  • Describe a time when you were under significant pressure. How did you get through that period?
  • Tell me about a time when you were unhappy at work. What did you do to improve the situation?
  • Explain a time when you had to make a very rapid decision. How did you do it?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed at work. What did you learn from the experience?

The STAR Interview Method

When you encounter behavioral interview questions, the STAR Interview Method can be a great way to help you quickly yet comprehensively answer the question in a way that shows you in the best light.

STAR is an acronym standing for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Each word of the acronym is a step, and you perform each step in order. 

STAR Interview Method

The meaning of each step of the STAR Interview Method is as follows:

Step 1: Situation

In this first step, you describe the situation you were facing. You are setting the scene for your answer by explaining how you found yourself in this situation. 

Step 2: Task

In this second step, you describe what your task was, given the situation you just described. 

Step 3: Action

In this step, you describe the actions you took to meet your target. Essentially you need to explain what you did and the challenges you overcame to succeed at the task. 

Step 4: Result

In this final step, you describe what results were attributable directly to your actions. You should describe the results in terms of the benefits delivered. This is also the time to explain any learnings you had from the experience.

STAR Interview Method Examples

Let’s jump in and look at three behavioral interview questions and their answers using the STAR Interview Method.

STAR Method Example 1

Question Describe a time when you showed initiative at work?
Situation I worked as a customer support representative at a firm that manufactured and sold remote control drones. I noticed that with every drone we sold, we provided a hefty written manual.
Task I wondered if it might be possible to eliminate the manual and instead provide an online version to save paper. The task obviously had nothing to do with my job in customer support.
Action I began by reaching out to key executives one by one to discuss the idea. Once they were on board, management set up a project to create the online manual, and they asked me to manage it. Managing a project wasn’t something I had done before, but I really enjoyed it.
Result Because of my initiative, we could replace the in-box paper manual with an entirely online version. The outcome was not only more environmentally friendly, but it also saved the company $3 per unit. That added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars saved per year.

 

STAR Method Example 2

Question Tell me about a time when you had to work under enormous time pressure. How did you handle the challenge?
Situation I was a software developer working on a rewrite of the company’s most important system. We had a hard deadline that couldn’t be moved. Everything was progressing to plan, but then one of my colleagues got sick and had to take time off just a few weeks before the project was due. 
Task I had to pick up their workload as well as my own. 
Action To ensure we didn’t miss the deadline, I had to ruthlessly prioritize tasks to ensure only the absolutely essential ones got done. I also deligated where I could. 
Result It was intense pressure, but I immensely enjoyed it, and we were able to complete the software on time.

 

STAR Method Example 3

Question Describe a time when you managed a challenging project?
Situation In my last job, the company brought me in to replace the previous project manager. The project was failing because of conflicting personalities within the organization. 
Task My job was to get the project back on track quickly. This was a difficult task because poor relationships are difficult to mend.
Action I started by having meetings individually with each stakeholder to understand their issues. From this, it became apparent that the different stakeholders’ win-conditions had not been taken into account when putting the original project plan together, so no wonder the project was failing. I restructured the project to better meet the win conditions of all stakeholders.
Result Having met the needs of all stakeholders, the project had support from across the organization. The previously problematic stakeholders encouraged their teams to get behind the project. After that, the project ran relatively smoothly. The experience really brought home to me how important it is to structure a project for success from the outset.

 

Preparing for Your Next Interview

Imagine this scenario: you have a job interview tomorrow. You’re nervous because you know the interviewers will surprise you with all kinds of random questions.

You’re now familiar with the STAR Interview Method, but because you’ll be nervous and performing under pressure, it’s worth taking some time to prepare.

Since you don’t know what questions the interviewer will ask you, you’re going to prepare a list of several scenarios. The steps you’re going to take are:

  1. Take a look at the job description for the skills required in the job. Write these skills down and think about how you displayed these skills in your previous employment.
  2. Write down any scenarios you can think of from your previous employment that you’re incredibly proud of.
  3. Steps 1 and 2 were your research. It’s now time to down some (six is a good number) behavioral interview questions and answer them using the STAR Interview Method. The areas you might want to cover are teamwork, problem-solving, working under pressure, overcoming setbacks, leadership, and using your initiative.

By preparing in this way, you’ll be more prepared than you might realize because even if your interviewer asks you a completely different question to the ones you’ve prepared for, you might find that one of your prepared answers works as an answer.

For example, if you’re asked to talk about when you displayed leadership, maybe your answer for using your initiative can work as an answer. If you’re asked about a time you handled a difficult colleague, possibly your answer for a time you displayed leadership will be appropriate.

Summary 

The STAR Interview Method is a great way to answer interview questions about how you handled situations in the past. You can use the method to concisely yet comprehensively answer questions about how you have behaved in past situations.