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 out of reach.”
Your Response (Situation): “In my previous digital marketing role, my company made the decision to focus primarily on email marketing and was looking to increase their list of email subscribers pretty aggressively.”
3. Highlight the Task
You’re telling this story for a reason—because you had some sort of core involvement in it. This is the part of your answer when you make the interviewer understand exactly where you fit in.
This can easily get confused with the “action” portion of the response. However, this piece is dedicated to giving the specifics of what your responsibilities were in that particular scenario, as well as any objective that was set for you, before you dive into what you actually did.
Your Response (Task): “As the email marketing manager, my target was to increase our email list by at least 50% in just one quarter.”
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4. Share How You Took Action
Now that you’ve given the interviewer a sense of what your role was, it’s time to explain what you did. What steps did you take to reach that goal or solve that problem?
Resist the urge to give a vague or glossed-over answer like, “So, I worked hard on it…” or “I did some research…”
This is your chance to really showcase your contribution, and it’s worthy of some specifics. Dig in deep and make sure that you give enough information about exactly what you did. Did you work with a certain team? Use a particular piece of software? Form a detailed plan? Those are the things your interviewer wants to know.
Your Response (Action): “I started by going back through our old blog posts and adding in content upgrades that incentivized email subscriptions—which immediately gave our list a boost. Next, I worked with the rest of the marketing team to plan and host a webinar that required an email address to register, which funneled more interested users into our list.”
5. Dish Out the Result
Here it is—your time to shine and explain how you made a positive difference. The final portion of your response should share the results of the action you took. Of course, the result better be positive—otherwise this isn’t a story you should be telling. No interviewer will be dazzled with an answer that ends with, “And then I got fired.”
Does that mean you can’t tell stories about problems or challenges? Absolutely not. But, even if you’re talking about a time you failed or made a mistake, make sure you end on a high note by talking about what you learned or the steps you took to improve.
Bowers warns that too many candidates skip over this crucial, final part of their response. “They don’t make it clear how their action made an impact—the result,” she says. “That’s the most important part of the answer!”
Remember, interviewers don’t only care about what you did—they also want to know why it mattered. So make sure you hammer home the point about any results you achieved and quantify them when you can. Numbers are always impactful.
Your Response (Result): “As a result of those additions to our email strategy, I was able to increase our subscriber list from 25,000 subscribers to 40,000 subscribers in three months—which exceeded our goal by 20%.”
Putting it All Together
It’s making sense now, isn’t it? Here’s one more question-and-answer example for some added clarity.
The Interviewer Says: “Tell me about a time when you had to be very strategic in order to meet all of your top priorities.”
Situation: “In my previous sales role, I was put in charge of the transfer to an entirely new customer relationship management (CRM) system—on top of handling my daily sales calls and responsibilities.”
Task: “The goal was to have the migration to the new CRM database completed by Q3, without letting any of my own sales numbers slip below my targets.”
Action: “In order to do that, I had to be very careful about how I managed all of my time. So, I blocked off an hour each day on my calendar to dedicate solely to the CRM migration. During that time, I worked on transferring the data, as well as cleaning out old contacts and updating outdated information. Doing this gave me enough time to chip away at that project, while still handling my normal tasks.”
Result: “As a result, the transfer was completed two weeks ahead of deadline and I finished the quarter 10% ahead of my sales goal.”
The STAR interview process for answering behavioral interview questions might seem a little overwhelming at first. But it will become second nature with a little practice. And make no mistake, practicing is definitely something you should do.
“Whether it’s in a mock interview or just practicing your answer in the mirror, talk through your response so that it feels natural and comfortable when you’re actually in the interview,” Flowers says.
With just a little preparation and strategy, you’ll soon view behavioral interview questions as less of a burden—and more of an opportunity to emphasize your awesome qualifications.
The STAR interview method is a technique that helps you prepare for interview questions that determine whether you’ll be able to handle specific situations associated with a job. STAR stands for: situation, task, action, result. This method will help you prepare clear and concise responses using real-life examples.
Hiring managers ask behavioural interview questions to determine whether a candidate is the right fit for a job. By using this strategy, you can make sure you’re fully addressing the interviewer’s question while also demonstrating how you were able to overcome previous challenges and be successful.
Here is some additional background on behavioural questioning and a few tips to help you leverage the STAR method in your next interview.
The behavioural interview is used to learn how you have behaved in previous work situations. In your answers, employers are looking for examples of your past actions that may be predictors of how you’ll act when you face these situations again. Generally, these questions are more open-ended and usually ask you to share stories or examples from your previous jobs.
Here are a few examples of behavioural questions you might be asked during an interview.
The STAR method helps you create an easy-to-follow story with a clear conflict and resolution. Here’s what each part of the technique means.
Set the stage for the story by sharing context around the situation or challenge you faced. Share any relevant details.
For example, “In my last role as lead designer, my team was short-staffed and facing a significant backlog of work. The account managers were setting tough deadlines, which was causing stress for my team and affecting morale.”
Describe your responsibility or role in the situation or challenge.
For example, “As a team leader, it was my role not only to ensure my team met our deadlines but also to communicate bandwidth to other departments and keep my team motivated.”
Explain how you handled the situation or overcame the challenge. If the action was carried out by a team, focus on your efforts.
For example, “I set up a formal creative request process including project timeline estimates to set better expectations. I scheduled weekly meetings with account managers to discuss my team’s bandwidth and share progress updates.”
What was the outcome you reached through your actions? If possible, quantify your success or provide concrete examples of the effects of your efforts.
For example, “By providing more transparency into my team’s processes and setting better expectations with the account managers, we were able to re-prioritise the design team’s to-do list and complete everything in our backlog. The following quarter, we shortened our average project timeline by two days.”
While you won’t know the interview questions ahead of time, most behavioural interviews will focus on various work-related challenges that demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving and situations that showcase leadership skills, conflict resolution and performance under pressure.
To prepare for your interview, review the job description and required skills and consider what sorts of challenges might arise or what obstacles you may have to navigate in the position. Then, make a list of the various situations you’ve handled in your professional history that would display the sorts of strengths you’ll need to succeed in the role.
If you’re new to the workforce and don’t have a lengthy professional history to draw from, consider examples from internships, volunteer work or group projects you completed for school. In some cases, employers may ask you to share a non-work-related example, so consider challenges or obstacles you’ve overcome in your personal life, too.
No matter what stories you decide to share, make sure you define a situation, task, action and result and showcase skills and abilities most relevant to the job.
Here are three examples of how to answer popular behavioural interview questions using the STAR method.
Share an example of a time when you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve this problem?
“I was working as a retail manager at a department store during Diwali. A customer purchased an outfit online and had it delivered to the store. One of my associates accidentally put the outfit on display where another customer immediately purchased it. Before calling the customer to let her know about the mistake, I located the same outfit at another store location nearby. I ordered it to be pressed and delivered to her home on the morning of Diwali along with a gift card to thank her for her understanding. The customer was so thankful that she wrote us a five-star review on several review sites.”
Describe a time when you were under a lot of pressure at work. How did you react?
“In my previous job as an account executive, one of my co-workers quit immediately after signing the biggest client our firm had ever taken on. Although I was already managing a full load of accounts, I was assigned this new client as well. I knew the stakes were high and if we lost this deal then we wouldn’t hit our quarterly goal. I made myself completely available to the client and took calls on evenings and weekends until the project was delivered. The client was so impressed with my dedication that they immediately signed an annual contract with our company worth INR 50 lakhs.”
Tell me about a mistake you’ve made. How did you handle it?
“I was working as an intern for an events company and I was responsible for ordering the floral arrangements for a private event hosted by a high profile client. Unfortunately, I mixed up the information from another event and the flowers were delivered to the wrong venue on the other side of town. I admitted my mistake to my boss, took an early lunch break, drove to the other venue, picked up the flowers and delivered them to the appropriate venue an hour before the event. The client never knew about my mix-up and my boss was very grateful.”
When it comes to behavioural interviews, the STAR response technique will help you craft responses that are compelling and succinct while thoroughly answering the interviewer’s question. Just make sure your answers are honest and share only positive outcomes. Consider writing your stories down and practice saying them out loud, editing to make them short and clear where necessary. While questions may vary, having at least three to five experiences to draw from will ensure you’re able to deliver a confident response no matter what the interviewer asks.
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