THE STAR METHOD
The STAR method is a structured manner of responding to a behavioral-based interview question by
discussing the specific situation, task, action, and result of the situation you are describing.
Situation: Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You
must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in
the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be
from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.
Task: What goal were you working toward?
Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of
detail and keep the focus on YOU. What specific steps did you take and what was your particular
contribution? Be careful that you don’t describe what the team or group did when talking about a
project, but what you actually did. Use the word “I,” not “we” when describing actions.
Result: Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy about taking credit for your
What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you
learn? Make sure your answer contains multiple positive results.
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Make sure that you follow all parts of the STAR method. Be as specific as possible at all times, without
rambling or including too much information. Oftentimes students have to be prompted to include their
results, so try to include that without being asked. Also, eliminate any examples that do not paint you in a
positive light. However, keep in mind that some examples that have a negative result (such as “lost the
game”) can highlight your strengths in the face of adversity.
SAMPLE STAR RESPONSE:
Situation (S): Advertising revenue was falling off for my college newspaper, The Review, and
large numbers of long-term advertisers were not renewing contracts.
Task (T): My goal was to generate new ideas, materials and incentives that would result in at
least a 15% increase in advertisers from the year before.
Action (A): I designed a new promotional packet to go with the rate sheet and compared the
benefits of The Review circulation with other ad media in the area. I also set-up a special training
session for the account executives with a School of Business Administration professor who
discussed competitive selling strategies.
Result (R): We signed contracts with 15 former advertisers for daily ads and five for special
supplements. We increased our new advertisers by 20 percent over the same period last year.
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HOW TO PREPARE FOR A BEHAVIORAL INTERVIEW
• Recall recent situations that show favorable behaviors or actions, especially involving course
work, work experience, leadership, teamwork, initiative, planning, and customer service.
• Prepare short descriptions of each situation; be ready to give details if asked.
• Be sure each story has a beginning, middle, and an end, i.e., be ready to describe the situation,
including the task at hand, your action, and the outcome or result.
• Be sure the outcome or result reflects positively on you (even if the result itself was not
• Be honest. Don't embellish or omit any part of the story. The interviewer will find out if your
story is built on a weak foundation.
• Be specific. Don't generalize about several events; give a detailed accounting of one event.
• Vary your examples; don’t take them all from just one area of your life.
SAMPLE BEHAVIORAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Practice using the STAR Method on these common behavioral interviewing questions:
• Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone
to see things your way.
• Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping
• Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a
• Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
• Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone's opinion.
• Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did
• Please discuss an important written document you were required to complete.
• Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job
• Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize
• Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split second decision.
• What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
• Tell me about a time you were able to successfully deal with another person even when that
individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).
• Tell me about a difficult decision you've made in the last year.
• Give me an example of a time when something you tried to accomplish and failed.
• Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
• Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or coworker.
• Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
• Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
• Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.
• Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.
• Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
• Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
• Please tell me about a time you had to fire a friend.
• Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low).
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You’re in a job interview, and things are going well. You didn’t get lost on your way to the office, you made some friendly small talk with the hiring manager, and you’re nailing your answers to the questions you’re being asked.
Just when you start thinking you have this in the bag, you hear the interviewer say, “Tell me about a time when…”
Your stomach drops. You rack your brain for something—anything!—you can use as an example. You grasp at straws and finally stumble your way through an anecdote that only sort of satisfies the prompt.
First of all, take comfort in the fact that we’ve all been there. These types of interview questions are tough to answer. But, here’s the good news: There’s a strategy you can use to come up with way more impressive answers to these dreaded questions: the STAR interview method.
What Is the STAR Interview Method?
The STAR interview technique offers a straightforward format you can use to answer behavioral interview questions—those prompts that ask you to provide a real-life example of how you handled a certain kind of situation at work in the past.
Don’t worry—these questions are easy to recognize. They often have telltale openings like:
Tell me about a time when…
What do you do when…
Have you ever…
Give me an example of…
Thinking of a fitting example for your response is just the beginning. Then you also need to share the details in a compelling and easy-to-understand way—without endless rambling.
That’s exactly what the STAR interview method enables you to do. “It’s helpful because it provides a simple framework for helping a candidate tell a meaningful story about a previous work experience,” says Al Dea, the founder of CareerSchooled and a career and leadership coach.
So, let’s break down that framework. STAR is an acronym that stands for:
Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.
Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved.
By using these four components to shape your anecdote, it’s much easier to share a focused answer, providing the interviewer with “a digestible but compelling narrative of what a candidate did,” says Dea. “They can follow along, but also determine based on the answer how well that candidate might fit with the job.”
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Answering Interview Questions Using STAR
Knowing what the acronym stands for is only the first step—you need to know how to use it. Follow this step-by-step process to give the best STAR interview answers.
1. Find a Suitable Example
The STAR interview method won’t be helpful to you if you use it to structure an answer using a totally irrelevant anecdote. That’s why the crucial starting point is to find an appropriate scenario from your professional history that you can expand on.
There’s no way for you to know ahead of time exactly what the interviewer will ask you (although our list of behavioral interview questions can help you make some educated predictions). With that in mind, it’s smart to have a few stories and examples ready to go that you can tweak and adapt for different questions.
“Brainstorm a few examples of particular success in your previous job, and think through how to discuss that success using the STAR framework,” says Lydia Bowers, a human resources professional. Repeat that exercise for a few types of questions.
If you’re struggling during your interview to come up with an example that fits, don’t be afraid to ask to take a minute. “I’m always impressed when a candidate asks for a moment to think so that they can provide a good answer,” says Emma Flowers, a career coach here at The Muse. “It’s OK to take a few seconds.”
2. Lay Out the Situation
With your anecdote selected, it’s time to set the scene. It’s tempting to include all sorts of unnecessary details—particularly when your nerves get the best of you. But if the interview asks you to tell them about a time you didn't meet a client's expectations, for example, they don't necessarily need to know the story of how you recruited the client three years earlier or the entire history of the project.
Your goal here is to paint a clear picture of the situation you were in and emphasize its complexities, so that the result you touch on later seems that much more profound. Keep things concise and focus on what’s undeniably relevant to your story.
“The STAR method is meant to be simple,” explains Flowers. “Sometimes people provide too much detail and their answers are too long. Focus on just one or two sentences for each letter of the acronym.”
For example, imagine that the interviewer just said, “Tell me about a time when you achieved a goal that you initially thought was
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