If you’ve ever found yourself giving a long-winded, rambling interview answer, then you will absolutely benefit from learning the STAR interview method.
It’s been around for years and it’s one of the best tricks to effectively deliver a concise and compelling interview answer.
In this article, you’ll learn how you can prepare in advance for almost any interview question and deliver STAR interview answers that truly showcase your skills and abilities.
Table of contents
What Is The STAR Method?
The STAR interview method is a fool-proof way to answer behavioral interview questions. Not only will it help you deliver a concise, memorable interview answer. It’s also easy for any interviewer, new or experienced, to follow.
Have you ever been asked:
- Tell me about a time you had to…
- Give me an example of how you…
- Describe how you have…
- What have you done when…
If you dread being asked one of these types of questions, you aren’t alone. Some of these questions may have forced you to recall situations on the spot and then you ramble through your answer. The answer you gave may have been a top-of-mind response and probably not your best example. This happens to all of us. But it doesn’t have to. You can prepare answers for these questions in advance.
Why do recruiters and hiring managers ask STAR interview questions?
Because they want to hear how you’ve solved problems or fixed things in the past. There’s a saying that your past performance is an indicator of future behavior. While this may not be 100% true, it is one of the best resources an interviewer has. During your answer, the interviewer is listening for the steps you took and whether you were successful or what you learned from that experience.
STAR is an acronym that describes how to structure interview answers.
S stands for the situation. This is where you provide a very high-level overview of your role and what was going on.
T stands for the task you were assigned or took the initiative to solve. In other words, describe in one sentence what made the situation a challenge.
A stands for the actions you took. Step by step, walk through what you did.
And finally, R stands for results. These are the outcomes of the actions you took to resolve the situation and challenge.
A good answer using the STAR method is concise, with just enough detail and has a quantifiable result.
What Each Section Means
So let’s break down each section of STAR.
The situation helps the listener understand the context, or why the story is relevant. It explains what was going on so they can follow along with the rest of your story. It is just 1 – 2 sentences long.
The task explains what you were asked to do or the obstacle or the challenge you were faced with. Again, this is short. Probably just one sentence.
The actions you took should make up the bulk of your story. Explain, step by step, what YOU did. And keep in mind that even though you may have been part of a team, you had a specific role. Highlight what YOU did as part of the team.
Finally, the results are the outcomes of your actions. You want to include what happened, or in some cases, what didn’t happen, as a result of the actions you took. No story is complete without including the results. In fact, that’s what the interviewer is waiting for.
There are other acronyms used instead of STAR. You may hear PAR (problem, action, result), SCAR (situation, challenge, action result) or SAR (situation, action, result). No matter what interview technique you use, the end results keep you on track.
The stories don’t have to be extraordinary. Here’s a simple achievement broken down into the STAR format:
Situation/Task: While working on a time-sensitive client project, I found the printer was jammed.
Actions: I first reloaded the paper bins and followed the printer’s error instructions
Results: and within minutes the printer was back online. Not only was my report in the queue but so were several other jobs. The final client report was proofed and delivered ahead of schedule and I was able to deliver the other print jobs to their owners to keep their workflow on track as well.
This is how the story maps with the STAR format:
This STAR could be used to answer a variety of questions such as:
“Tell me about a time you solved a problem?”
“Can you give me an example of a time you worked well under pressure?”
“Tell me about a time you went above and beyond?”
Not only is the STAR method helpful in conveying your hard skills, it also helps the interviewer understand your soft skills and values.
In other words, what do they now know about you based on your story? That you are the kind of person who pitches in and helps others.
You see, the brain is hardwired to listen to stories. An interviewer is much more likely to remember a specific story than a hypothetical situation or a list of skills. That’s why you want to always use a story to back up your answer.
How To Use This Technique
These STAR interview questions are less likely to be on the list of common phone interview questions. Early in the interview process, recruiters want to verify information on your resume and evaluate basic qualifications. You’re more likely to experience behavioral interviews during an in-person or video interview.
The technical term for this type of questioning is behavioral interview. The questions are designed to evaluate your behaviors and skills. You can tell you are being asked a behavioral question because it starts with
“Tell me about a time when…” or
“Give me an example of …”
In fact, interviewers who have received interview training, know how to listen for different elements of the STAR answer. However, since everyone has not received interview training, it’s good to know that even to the untrained ear, STAR interview answers are easy to follow.
Build Your STAR Interview Answers
You can begin building your STAR interview answers right now. It’s as simple as recalling some of your past successes. In fact, some of these successes may already be on your resume.
Keep in mind: You want to use specific examples, not general examples, to help the interviewer appreciate what you did, and how you did it.
Every single day you’ve had some sort of success or accomplishment. Sometimes they were major, other times they seem like just part of your job.
Use these questions to help you brainstorm your achievements.
- Did you identify and solve a problem?
- Did you save time and/or money?
- Have you improved productivity?
- Have you ever streamlined operations?
- Did you devise new strategies?
- Did you minimize customer complaints?
- Did you provide a service that did not exist before?
- Did you develop an idea that was used or presented?
- Did you help others achieve their goals?
- What were you proud of doing at work?
- What did you do better than others around you?
- Were you ever recognized (formally or informally) for work that you did?
- Did you ever go above and beyond what was required of you?
- Were you ever selected to be a part of a team or train others?
Your goal is to have 25 STAR interview answers ready to go.
25? Yes! How many questions do you think you’ll be asked in a one-hour interview? 10-15? You want to make sure you use the best STAR.
Your next step is to make sure you have STAR interview answers that address the specific requirements for the job you are interviewing for.
If you already have 25 stories identified, great! Next, make sure you select the very best examples for the job you are interviewing for.
Review the job posting to ensure you have a STAR that addresses each of the job requirements.
Once an interview is scheduled, make sure you have STAR format answers for each job requirement. The easiest way to do this is to analyze the job posting and review the list of job requirements one by one. Do you have a story that backs up your experience for each requirement?
For example, if one of the job posting requirements is:
- Develops, implements, and manages day-to-day operations of the project from initiation through implementation and deployment.
Your first step is to ask yourself, have I ever developed and managed the day-to-day operations of a project? If the answer is yes, then create your STAR that explains a specific example of a time you were successful managing a project.
If you have never done this before, think about a time you oversaw an initiative or campaign. It may have been a volunteer project or even a school project. While it isn’t exactly the same, your STAR will at least demonstrate some similar skills.
If you are a project manager, you may think, “I do this every day.” But the key to answering this question is to pick a specific time when you overcame a challenge or were exceptionally successful in managing a project.
Continue through each requirement in the job description and be sure to use different stories or situations.
You may reuse a story once if absolutely necessary. However, it’s best to use a different example for each question.
You want to use the best story to answer the question, not the first story that pops into your head. This is one more reason to plan your stories in advance.
Select stories from your recent work history.
While you can reference older successes, you want to emphasize your current problem-solving abilities and skills.
What If I’m Not Asked STAR Interview Questions?
Even if you aren’t asked one of those behavioral interview questions, you can still use the STAR method to formulate your answer and enrich it.
Let’s say you’re asked a question like “why do you think you would be good at this job?” In this example, you would list 2-3 of your top qualifications for a job and then use a STAR interview answer to back up those qualifications you mentioned.
Tips for Using The STAR Method
- Invest time preparing STAR for each interview you are invited to
- Practice your answers out loud (and keep practicing until you nail each one)
- Use the most accurate and descriptive words to describe the actions you took
- Time your answer and try to keep it within 60-90 seconds
- Try writing your STAR interview answers in bullet points so it will be easier to remember and practice
- Select stories from your most current work experience first.
- Avoid using filler words like kind of, um, or basically.
Example Interview Questions & Answers Using STAR
It helps to see examples. That’s why I’m including samples of questions and answers for you to reference.
What’s an example of a time when you had to work across the enterprise to manage a project?
Given my work as a project manager, I work collaboratively quite often. The best example is when the software department was getting ready to launch a new application for its banking customers. As head of development, my role was to make sure we had all the necessary requirements and deliverables identified.
- Over the course of three months, I met weekly with our Voice of the Customer team, finance, IT and operations to make sure they all had submitted the most important requirements.
- Once the app was close to being ready, I coordinated testing time frames for each department.
- The development team worked closely with all parties to ensure the reports they wanted could be delivered.
The end result was that the software app launched on time and has made it much easier for every part of the enterprise to have immediate access to the information they need. It has also eliminated thousands of hours in ad hoc reporting within its first year.
Tell me about a time you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
I realized that the corporate decision to restructure commissions was not going to be received well. Luckily I had time to notify the 10 sales representatives I managed of the change. Since this decision was being made at the highest levels, I had no choice but to support it and convince my team it would be ok.
- First, I gathered the full sales for a meeting where we celebrated their wins and successes.
- At the conclusion of the meeting, I broke the news about the new commission policy and invited each team member to meet with me individually to discuss how this would impact them.
- During these one on one meetings I listened and validated how the employee felt. And since training would be an easy way to add value, I incorporated specific skill building training based on the career goals of each member.
After I had met with everyone, each person had an individualized professional development plan and knew what they needed to do to reach their new targets and financial goals.
Tell me about a time you disagreed with a supervisor or co-worker.
My previous manager had specific ideas about what she wanted in our social media marketing campaigns. She wanted to use text dense graphics. As the lead designer, I believed that a simple call to action was more convincing.
- After much discussion, we compromised, and ran each campaign for one week.
- The customer engagement data were evaluated for each of the campaigns.
It turned out that my campaigns performed better so from that point forward, she allowed me to manage our social media independently.
How Prepared Are You To Use The STAR Method?
As you can tell, it takes some preparation to master the STAR interview technique. To ace your interview, you’ll want to prepare stories in advance and practice.
The time you invest in selecting the very best examples not only helps you prove your qualifications, it also helps you sound confident. It might seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.