All About the STAR Method for Behavioral Interview Questions (Plus Examples)

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

The interview process is difficult enough when you’re preparing for standard questions, but what about behavioral questions? These interview questions ask you to draw on past experiences to demonstrate to the recruiter or hiring manager how you might approach a similar situation in the future.

The STAR method is an ideal approach for responding to these types of questions and scenarios. So, just what are STAR interview questions, and how do you answer them? We’ll tell you everything you need to know.

What is the STAR method of interviewing?

STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Behavioral questions ask you how you have handled different types of challenging work scenarios in the past, and the STAR method guides the structure of your response. Behavioral questions are similar to situational interview questions, although STAR interview questions specifically ask you to recall past experiences rather than hypothetical ones. Still, you may find that using the method works well when responding to situational questions, too.

STAR interview questions give your interviewer insight into how you have dealt with situations such as conflict, deadlines, work pressures, and other challenges you may encounter in your prospective position. In addition, you will be able to show her that you’re thoughtful, own up to your mistakes, and work to adjust your behavior and modify your approach to prevent situations like these from arising again.

What are STAR-format questions?

STAR interview questions usually begin with a prompt like:

• “Tell me about…”

• “Describe a time…”

• “How have you handled…”

The job candidate should follow the acronym to format her response:

• Situation: Describe the experience.

• Task: Explain what you needed to do.

• Action: Go through the actions you took to resolve the problem.

• Result: Tell the interviewer what ultimately happened.

Of course, you don’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) explicitly state the acronym words. Instead, go through the steps naturally, providing enough detail so that the interviewer understands all the pieces of the story.

What are the common interview questions?

Here are 10 STAR interview questions that you’ll frequently encounter.

1. Tell me about a stressful situation at work and how you handled it.

2. Describe a time when you disagreed with your supervisor on how to accomplish something.

3. Describe a time you had a conflict with a coworker and explain how you resolved it.

4. Tell me about a time when a project you worked on did not meet expectations. What did you do?

5. Describe a time you made a mistake with a colleague or client. How did you work through it?

6. Have you ever missed a deadline? How did you handle it?

7. Tell me about a time you received criticism from a superior. What was your response?

8. Describe a time when you had to work under a tight deadline. How did you handle it? 

9. How have you prioritized when you were handling many assignments or projects at once?

10. Tell me about a time you were dissatisfied with an aspect of your job. What did you do?

Example of interview questions and answers using STAR

How do you respond to a behavioral question? Here are some sample responses using the STAR method.

1. Describe a time you had a conflict with a coworker and explain how you resolved it.

Example response:

Once, I was working on a project with a member of my team. I felt she wasn’t putting in the same amount of effort as I was, and as a result, I was stressed about finishing it on time. I spoke to her about the expectations of the team and my personal expectations, and she was very receptive to my feedback. As it turns out, she simply wasn’t aware of the parameters of the project, and once I filled her in, she redoubled her efforts, and we ended up finishing the project on great terms—and with great results.

2. Describe a time when you had to work under a tight deadline. How did you handle it? 

Example response:

Last year, a colleague with a similar job title had to deal with a personal emergency, and I was tasked with finishing her project with just a few days remaining before the deadline. I had to complete it in that time and hadn’t been involved in the early stages. I asked her for a brief rundown of the work she had already done and what I still needed to do. Then, I created a plan to work overtime without putting too many responsibilities on anyone else’s plate. I managed to finish the project on time, and the client was very happy with the end result.

3. Tell me about a time when a project you worked on did not meet expectations. What did you do?

The reality of working in a high-stakes environment is that sometimes, your work may fall short in the eyes of others. This happened to me at a previous job. Despite my belief that I had given the client the work she expected, as it turns out, she had something different in mind. This was ultimately my responsibility since I should have made an effort to communicate with her more clearly to better understand her goals for the project. We discussed a plan for revisions, and I made a greater effort to show her samples along the way. She was happy with the final result. I also developed a plan to ensure that it would never happen again and shared it with my manager, and it never did.

How to prepare

No one knows what questions her interviewer will ask. She may use the STAR interview method, a more traditional approach (such as “Tell me about yourself”), or a combination of behavioral questions and standard questions.

That’s why you need to prepare for a range of questions. Still, you should incorporate the STAR method into your planning.

1. Make a list of your qualifications and skills.

Using the job description and your own resume, write down the skills you have that apply to the job in question.

2. Match examples and experiences to each of your skills.

Come up with at least one concrete example for each of your skills.

3. Apply the STAR method to each example.

For each qualification and example, identify the situation, tasks, actions, and results.

4. Roleplay.

Have a friend, colleague, or family member act as the hiring manager in a mock interview, asking you common behavioral questions.

5. Ask for feedback.

Ask your mock interviewer for specific feedback about your response. What worked? What was unclear or needed more clarification? What points did she glean from your response? This will help you modify and hone your response accordingly.

Key Takeaways:

  1. STAR is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. STAR refers to an approach to answering interview questions describing the situation, explaining the task, talking through the actions you took to conquer the challenge, and sharing the results of your work.
  2. Common STAR interview questions include how you handled stressful situations in the past and describing how you learned from inevitable mistakes you've made.
  3. You can prepare for STAR interview questions by knowing your skills and qualifications, doing a mock interview to answer the most common questions above, and asking for feedback from your mock interviewer. 

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