Ace your next behavioral interview by using the STAR Method.
Did you know behavioral-based interview questions are extremely common these days? Hiring managers want to understand whether or not a job candidate has the ability to describe their skill set and past experience concisely. Chances are, you've been asked one or more of the following questions or prompts during an interview:
Tell me about a time when you've had to overcome an obstacle at work.
Describe how you handle tight project deadlines.
What would you do if a co-worker consistently doesn't follow through on their part of a project?
However, the thought of tackling some of these complex interview questions can be incredibly intimidating. You understand the importance of providing a thorough answer, but how much detail is too much? More importantly, how should you structure your interview response, and where should you begin? Don't worry, there is a great solution: the STAR method. In a nutshell, the STAR response technique can help you structure your answers clearly and effectively during the interview process.
The STAR method enables interviewees to eloquently explain a scenario they've experienced at work, describe how they reacted to it, and detail the end result of the situation in order to answer behavioral-based questions. Let's take a closer look at how the STAR method works and how to master behavior-based interview questions like a pro.
What is the STAR Method?
The STAR interview response method stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
To use the STAR method, you first briefly outline the situation you were in or the event that took place. Try to limit this portion of your response to a few sentences and offer enough information to clearly convey what happened without taking up too much time.
Next, outline the task at hand. For example, you were asked to plan a detailed company event, or you were in charge of a multifaceted team project.
Then, explain the action you took to complete the task. Did you create a spreadsheet of vendors for the event and contact them one by one? Were you able to hire a team of contractors to assist you with the project? Be as specific as possible during this part of your response.
Last, describe the end result of the situation. How did your efforts allow you to complete the task? If applicable, offer statistics or other compelling details to help outline the results you were able to achieve.
How to master the STAR Method
To master this technique and use it to your best advantage, you absolutely must take the time to prepare your answers using relevant scenarios from previous work roles. It's never a good idea to try answering off the top of your head when you're nervous. Be honest and don't embellish your story to make it sound “better.” Stand on your own accomplishments.
As a first step, review your past jobs for examples of when you successfully managed a project, handled a difficulty, exceeded your goals, provided strong leadership, or anything else that highlights your skills and abilities. Next, work through how to present these successes using the STAR interview method, as outlined below.
Describe the situation concisely, focusing only on what's important to your example. Long answers with too much detail can create confusion and perhaps even boredom. The goal should be one or two sentences for this and the remaining sections.
Explain the task by outlining your particular responsibilities along with the objective you had to reach. That's it. The next step is where you discuss what you actually did, so don't jump the gun.
Share the specific steps or actions you used to work toward your goal. This is where extra details count, such as who you worked with, what technology was used, plans you created, or processes you developed.
State the results you achieved using quantifiable data (percent increases, dollars saved) whenever possible. Help the interviewer understand the impact this had on you and your company and why it made you a better employee going forward.
If any of your stories describe a mistake or failure, talk about what you learned and/or what you did to ensure a better result in the future. This can give a good example of how well you face and recover from adversity. Never use a story that will only show you in a negative light.
It's best to have several stories ready for the interview, but be ready to adapt them as needed based on the question asked and the position you're after. Your answers should always relate to the job at hand.
Practicing the STAR method
Although you aren't able to predict the specific interview questions you'll be asked when you meet with a hiring manager, you can be as prepared as possible to help yourself nail the interview. Here are a few ways to ensure you won't be caught off guard by a tricky question:
Create a list of three to five challenging scenarios that you encountered (and conquered) during your previous employment. Consider times when you've been under super tight deadlines for a project, or you've been short staffed but still managed to do an excellent job at the task at hand. By considering specific situations you've overcome before your interview, you won't be frazzled when they ask about a time when you've gone above and beyond at work.
Outline five of your strongest skills on paper and review them before your interview. Consider both soft skills and hard skills so you have a comprehensive answer to the question “What would you say your strongest skills are?”
Consider a situation where you've had to juggle several tasks at once, and how you were able to successfully handle the scenario. Employers often want to hear a job candidate's outlook on multitasking and their ability to prioritize several responsibilities when necessary.
Be prepared to answer questions about conflict within a team setting or among your co-workers. Again, hiring managers often want to understand how you dealt with difficult situations, specifically relating to personnel issues.
Remember, practice makes perfect! Although you don't want your answers to sound rehearsed, it's a smart idea to review the details of specific achievements throughout your career. Consider reviewing any important dates you may reference, as well as the names of the clients or partners you've worked with previously.
Examples of interview questions and answers using the STAR method
Here are five examples of how to answer behavioral interview questions using the STAR method.
Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.
After being hired as a phone customer support person for a major bank, a new policy was implemented requiring support people to present and hopefully sell any of our various products once we had solved the person's issue. Since this was not part of the original job description, I was taken aback. I felt this new process was unprofessional and would ultimately drive customers away. I was also not very good at it.
Since the requirement wasn't going away and I otherwise enjoyed the job, I met with my manager to voice my concerns. She helped me understand the reason for upselling and also assured me that there was no punishment for not making a sale--but there was if I didn't make at least so many offers per month.
So my manager had me sit with a service rep who was great at upselling to learn some effective techniques. After a few weeks, I was very comfortable with the process and even went two percent over the required offer quota in the next month.
Describe a time when you had to persuade a coworker or manager.
Part of my role as a marketing strategist involved regular communication with clients and my manager to approve various aspects of their marketing campaigns. On one occasion, the client would not approve the artwork we created and wanted it redone (at no charge), while my manager thought it met all the requirements and wouldn't budge.
After many meetings with the client, I could finally see that we missed a crucial aspect that should have been included. No one in marketing caught it, but the client did. I went to my manager and pointed out all the details of what we had missed--meaning we truly didn't meet the client's expectations.
My manager finally agreed. We reworked the client's art at no charge, and they've continued to use us for all their on-going marketing campaigns.
Have you ever faced conflict when working with a team?
I worked as part of a team of coders to create GUI interfaces for our company's software games division. While we each had our specific job, we all had to agree on the final look so we knew what code to use.
For one project, we could not agree on the final look and the project deadline was approaching. We agreed to closet ourselves in a conference room to openly listen to everyone's ideas and provide honest feedback. We ultimately took each team member's best ideas and found a way to work them into the final look, meeting the deadline.
From then on, we tried hard to make group decisions and compromises where needed. As a result, we completed most of our project at or before the deadline, and we became friends as well as team members.
Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks.
In my previous job as a senior sales executive, one of my co-workers quit immediately after we were told our assigned territories would be doubling in the next month.
Although I was already managing a full load of accounts in my territories, I was assigned the territories of my departed co-worker to handle as well.
After some deep breaths, I sat down and mapped out all of my territories and how much time they required both to maintain current clients and approach new ones--and I knew my performance would suffer. It was too much for one person.
I then went to my boss with this data along with a well-laid-out plan of how to divide the old sales person's territory among several of our current reps (including me) until we could hire someone new. That way we all got a piece of the pie and one person didn't have to be overwhelmed.
My boss took this to the VP of Sales who was impressed with my plan and approved it. About three months later we hired two new sales executives, and I was promoted to Assistant VP of Sales in my division.
Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
In my role as a Senior Accountant, it was my job to ensure we closed the general ledger on time each month. At one point, I noticed that several departments were getting later and later providing their data, and we missed the GL deadline several months in a row.
I decided to visit these departments to remind them about timeliness. What I found was many new employees working with a very outdated training/procedure manual which was the source of the delays.
Once I understood the issue, I held a quick training for them on current procedures. Then I spent the next several weeks creating a new procedures manual that everyone would use going forward and would help train new employees.
Since then, GL has closed on time and the accounting department has a clear understanding of their roles and duties.
Become a pro at the STAR Method today
The STAR response technique helps you master behavioral-based interview questions thoroughly and professionally. If crafting answers to interview questions is something you struggle with, the STAR method can ensure you're delivering succinct and compelling answers. By taking adequate time to prepare for your next interview, reviewing some of your professional strengths, and implementing the STAR method, you'll be well on your way to acing your next interview.
Landing the interviews, but not the job? You might want to consider getting professional help from one of our expert interview coaches.
This article was updated in June 2021 by Lisa Tynan.