What is the STAR interview method?

The STAR interview method is an information-gathering strategy interviewers use to minimize bias and make better-informed hiring decisions. Its purpose is to uncover key data points from stories you share in the interview.

STAR stands for:

  • Situation: What was the context of the event?
  • Task: What were you tasked to do?
  • Action: What steps did you take to achieve your objective?
  • Result: What happened?

Interviewers may ask strategic questions to collect STAR data for different skills that the role requires.

For example, if you’re applying for a leadership role, they’d ask questions designed to gather STAR data on your leadership abilities. This approach helps eliminate guesswork, giving hiring professionals a tool to try to predict your future performance in a given role using real-life evidence.

To coax this information out of you, they use behavioral questions.

By structuring your answers using the STAR method, you can lay out the exact information interviewers are trying to uncover.

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What are behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interview questions help interviewers assess your skills based on how you handled real-life situations in the past.

Unlike asking you about your strengths and weaknesses list — where you could tell interviewers whatever they want to hear — behavioral interview questions challenge you to back up your claims.

It’s easy to identify these types of questions. They usually start with phrases like:

  • “Have you ever …”
  • “Give an example of …”
  • “Tell me about a time when …”
  • “Describe a scenario where you …”

When you hear these, your ears should perk up. It’s time to whip out a STAR answer.

How to answer behavioral interview questions

There are two key steps to successfully answer a behavioral interview question:

  1. Dig through your memories for an example that best illustrates your skills.
  2. Compress it into a succinct and compelling story.

During the heat of an interview, this can be a tall order. Here’s are some suggests from hiring experts to make it easier:

Do your research

Prepare for your interview by scanning jobs sites and noting job requirements for similar roles. Next, study lists of behavioral interview questions for the role you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a supervisor role, review behavioral interview questions and answers for managers.

Prepare stories and examples

When you’re asked to come up with a story on the spot, it’s easy to freeze. Even if you manage to think of an example, it may not be your strongest example. To avoid this scenario, take the list of behavioral questions and job requirements you researched, then memorize a few stories that best illustrate your competency in those areas.

Be specific

When interviewers ask behavioral questions, they’re looking for specific stories. Avoid opinions and vague answers that start with “I usually,” “Sometimes I,” or “I tend to.” Pick one specific instance and use facts and examples.

Be honest about mistakes

Everybody makes mistakes, and admitting them shows strength and humility. Just make sure to follow up with the lessons you learned and what you’d do differently next time.

Stay positive

It’s OK to share mistakes and frustrations, but don’t dwell on negative feelings. If you rant about how horrible a situation was, you sound like a complainer. When explaining unfortunate circumstances, stick to the facts and leave your emotions out of it.

Take your time

Interviewers understand that it’s tough to scour your memories under pressure. They won’t hold it against you if you ask for a minute to think. Some interviewers are even impressed by candidates comfortable enough to take their time.

Give a STAR answer

To give interviewers the information they need without getting lost in the weeds, break your answer into four parts — situation, task, action and result.

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Answering interview questions with the STAR response method

Let’s break the STAR structure down step-by-step.

1. Set the scene

When you’re nervous, it’s easy to go off on tangents. Interviewers don’t need your life story building up to the event. Stick to the most relevant background info and give a few details that highlight the complexity and importance of the situation. This builds up tension to make your resolution pop.

2. Explain the assigned task

With the scene set, explain where you fit into the picture. This includes your role, responsibilities and target objectives. If applicable, share how the task came to you and how it fits with your company’s ultimate goals.

3. Describe your actions

Now’s your time to shine. Explain the steps you took to achieve your goal. To make this a compelling STAR, be as specific as possible. For example, you could describe how you formulated a plan, whom you worked with, the tools you used, and anything else that highlights your competencies.

4. Share the results

Knock it out of the park by sharing the positive impact you made. If you have hard numbers, now’s the time to use them. This is another reason why preparing in advance is a good idea. If you’re questioned about a negative experience — like a time when you didn’t meet a customer’s expectations — make sure to end on a high note, including the lessons you learned to avoid repeat scenarios.

Limit yourself to a few sentences per section. When you put it all together, you should have a quick and punchy story you can share in about a minute or less.

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About the Author

Mitchell Glass

Mitchell Glass

Freelance Contributor

Mitchell is a freelance contributor to MoneyWise.com.

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