Updated June 3, 2022 . AmFam Team
Calm, cool, collected and qualified. That’s the image you hope to project when interviewing for a job. But questions like “Describe a time when …” or “Explain a situation in which you …” may leave you feeling a little flustered or unsure of how to respond. These behavior-type interview questions can feel intimidating, but lucky for you, we have a formula for answering these questions with confidence and precision — introducing the STAR method.
The STAR interview method can help you craft concise and thoughtful responses to behavioral interview questions so you nail the interview and land the job. Keep reading to learn exactly what the STAR method is and how to use it.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. This structured technique can help you eloquently answer interview questions. The STAR method gives you a path to clearly describing a specific, real-life situation and the tasks, actions and results of that situation in a way that ensures you stay on point and provide a complete, insightful response. The STAR strategy also helps you demonstrate how you overcame a previous challenge and why your experience and skills could make you the best person for the job.
The STAR method helps you organize your thoughts so you can answer questions clearly and fully. Let’s take a closer look at what makes up this acronym so you can better understand how to use the STAR technique in an interview.
Start by briefly describing the situation, providing just enough context to give the interviewer a general idea of the challenge you faced. Remember, you don’t need to spend a lot of time on this part of your answer — interviewers are more interested in how you handled the situation (your actions) and the result.
If your professional work experience is limited or not relevant to the position for which you’re interviewing, consider sharing a challenge you’ve encountered during your academic career or volunteer work. More than likely, your interviewer cares more about how you addressed a situation than the situation itself.
This part of the STAR method describes your responsibilities, objectives, tasks or role in the situation. While you want to keep this portion brief, some key elements you may want to include are your part in handling the situation, the goal or objective, the timeline and what resources were available. The situation and task help paint a clear picture of the situation before you dive into how you met the challenge.
The action portion of the STAR acronym is where you can shine. Take your interviewer step-by-step through what you did to complete the task or meet your goal — make sure you go in-depth about your contributions. Did you volunteer to step up after a colleague left? Learn a new system and train others? Create a plan to meet sales targets? Figure out how to help your team meet its goals even when short-staffed? Identify a few impactful actions you took in this situation.
Try to focus just on your actions, not what the team or a coworker did. Use “I” instead of “we” when describing how you handled the situation. After all, the company is looking to hire you, not the team.
While the action is seemingly the most important part of the STAR method, employers are oftentimes more impressed by results. Share how your actions made a positive impact — and how the results from that situation make you a more desirable employee today. You can also discuss what you learned in the process and include numbers or other data points to help tell your story. Did you exceed your target sales goal? By how much? Did you uncover a more efficient method for doing something? How did that impact your company’s bottom line? Maybe your efforts increased attendance at an event.
When deciding which situations you’d like to share for behavior-based interview questions, start with the end of the STAR method in mind. In other words, the results. Choose situations in which you were successful and that have two or three impressive results.
Now that you have a better understanding of the STAR format, let’s look for opportunities to use it. The STAR interview method works best with behavioral-type questions. Luckily, those questions are easy to spot! Here are a few examples of questions interviewers commonly ask that work well with the STAR method:
Let’s put what we’ve learned to the test! When prepping for an upcoming interview, do the following:
Want a preview of what the STAR method looks like in action? For inspiration, here are a couple of examples using STAR.
Interview Question No. 1: Describe a time when you had to overcome a professional obstacle.
Situation: At a previous company, I was in charge of managing the logistics for a community event. Just a few days before the event, we had heavy rains and the event space flooded, making it unusable.
Task: First, I needed to figure out if the event could be moved, or if it would have to be rescheduled. If the event moved locations, I would need to rethink logistics and figure out how to quickly let attendees know about the new location.
Action: As soon as I heard we lost our event space, I pulled our event planning team together. After talking through logistics, we decided to move forward with the event, with just a few days to relocate and reorganize. Thankfully, during my time with the company, I prioritized building strong business relationships within the community. Because of those connections, I was able to quickly secure a new venue that was arguably better suited for the event than the original space.
Then, I created a spreadsheet of our immediate needs and a list of every stakeholder involved — senior leadership, vendors, media outlets and community members. I also developed a detailed communication plan for how to inform everyone of the change and delegated tasks to team members.
Results: Through providing clear instructions, delegating tasks and executing my communication plan, we were able to reach everyone in plenty of time and host a successful event in the new location. I received high praise both internally and from event attendees. In fact, our attendance improved 24% over the previous year, and our profits increased by 50%.
Interview Question No. 2: Tell me about a time you failed.
Tip: When talking about a mistake or failure with a potential employer, share a situation that shows a one-time occurrence that’s somewhat minor in nature instead of an ongoing issue or disaster. The key here is to share lessons learned as an important result.
Situation: Early in my career, I had the opportunity to manage a project for one of my previous employer’s biggest clients.
Task:To kick off the upcoming project, I was asked to create a realistic timeline to deliver the project.
Action: I was eager to impress my manager and the client, so I created an aggressive timeline in hopes of wowing them. I said we could deliver the project in two weeks. It took four weeks, and the client was dissatisfied.
Results: The lesson I learned at the start of my career has stuck with me. The situation taught me how to identify potential roadblocks that could cause delays and consider those challenges when creating a timeline. I also learned that open communication with internal and external teams is imperative for a happy and healthy relationship. Partners aren’t going to be upset if they have a clear and realistic timeline at the outset. However, they will be disappointed if you make promises you can’t keep. This experience helped me learn how to better manage both project and client expectations.
And there you have it! Remember, the STAR method is intended to not only help you answer questions but also help you gain confidence in your talents and abilities! By clearly describing the situation, task, action and results, you can highlight your skills and experience and make your qualifications stand out from the other candidates.
Did you find this article helpful? There’s more! From more interview tips to help with professional development, setting career goals and job hunting, we offer helpful information and tools to help you achieve your dreams. Check out all our career growth resources!
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