Many of us have experienced the dreaded “tell me about a time…” questions in interviews. These types of interviews that require anecdotes and assess your past behavior and competencies are becoming more and more common. After all, your past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, so before making an offer, employers want to know how you would act in particular situations.
Although many interviewees find these behavioral interview questions particularly challenging, with some preparation, they don’t have to be. And they can even provide you an opportunity to shine and wow your prospective employer. One particularly effective technique to use for behavioral interview questions is known as the STAR method. Keep reading to learn how you can use this method to shine in your next interview.
What is the STAR method?
The STAR method is an effective interview technique for answering behavioral (also called competency) interview questions. STAR is an acronym that stands for situation, task, action and result, which are the essential components of an effective answer to behavioral interview questions.
Like every great story, when using the STAR method, you’ll want to ensure you’re setting the scene. Providing a bit of context at the start of your answer will go a long way in ensuring your interviewers have an understanding of the general situation. An example is: “While I was working as an Human Resources Assistant, I was responsible for processing payroll.”
Next, you’ll explain your responsibility in the situation and the task that was required of you or your responsibility in the situation. An example is: “The payroll system was down on the day payroll needed to be processed so that employees could be paid on time.”
Then you’ll describe the action you took that solved the problem or overcame the challenge. You’ll want to focus on your actions more than the actions of the team or the group. An example is: “After contacting the system administrators, I learned the payroll system wouldn’t be back up for a few days. Therefore, I processed all payroll by hand.”
Here is your opportunity to really impress the interviewers by showcasing the impact that you made. If possible, try to quantify your contribution so that it is more impactful and memorable. An example is: “I worked an extra three hours’ overtime to ensure that the payroll was processed and that all 100 employees were paid on time.”
When to use the STAR method
The STAR method can be used for questions that prompt you to share a specific anecdote from your past. Each question will typically assess one particular competency or type of behavior. Some competencies, or behaviors, that are commonly assessed are problem-solving skills, initiative, customer service, leadership, creativity or teamwork. A good indicator of whether the STAR method will work for a particular question is whether the question is in one of the below formats:
- “Tell me about a time…”
- “Can you provide an example…”
- “Describe a time…”
- “Have you ever been in a situation…”
Tips for using the STAR method
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the STAR method, you’ll want to make sure you use it to really shine and stand out from the other candidates. Below are 10 tips to help you succeed when using the STAR method in your next interview.
1. Understand the question
In order to properly answer the interview question, you want to make sure you fully comprehend it. Therefore, before answering, take a moment to consider what you are being asked. If you aren’t sure, you could always state the question back for confirmation, or ask the interviewer to repeat themselves.
2. Be specific and quantitative
Being detailed and specific in your answers will help to provide your interviewers will a clear picture of the situation and your role in it. If you have figures that could enhance your story, it’s a good idea to provide those as well. For example, instead of saying, “I increased revenue significantly,” you could say, “I increased revenue by 10%.”
3. Focus on your contribution
If you’re someone who is team-oriented, it can be tempting to use the term “we” when discussing past work situations. However, the interviewers are interested in the impact that you made. Therefore, particularly when discussing the action and result part of your story, try to focus more on your role as opposed to the actions of the team.
4. Prepare in advance
When you’re under the pressure of an interview, thinking on the spot can sometimes be a challenge. This is why interview preparation is key for behavioral interviews. A good way to prepare is to make a list of certain situations that stood out during your career or education background, such as achievements, conflicts or challenging situations. Try telling the story out loud a few times for practice. However, avoid memorizing it word for word, as you don’t want to sound too scripted.
5. Use relevant experience
Although competency interviews typically assess your behavioral fit for the role, as opposed to your technical fit, it is a good idea to keep your stories as relevant to the role as possible. For example, if you are applying for a job as an entry-level accountant, your voluntary experience as Treasurer for the university club may be more relevant than your customer service experience while working in a clothing store. Try to use examples from your past that are most suited to the job, so the interviewers can really picture you in the role.
6. Stay concise
A common problem that many job seekers struggle with in interviews is rambling. However, it could be a red flag to the interviewer that you have difficulty with organized and clear thinking. So you should take steps to avoid rambling and try to stay concise. One way to stay on track and concise during your interview is to pause and take a breath before answering. This will give you time to organize your thoughts and put you in a better position to answer more to the point.
7. Highlight your achievements
Interviews are one of the few social situations where it is okay to brag about your achievements — the trick is to not go overboard. You want to ensure that the interviewers are aware of your past accomplishments and talents without coming across as arrogant or overly confident. One way to sell yourself without boasting is to simply state the facts. As opposed to saying, “I’m an accomplished sales representative,” you could say, “I consistently overachieve on my targets by 10%.” This way, it isn’t coming across as bragging, but simply stating the facts.
8. Be honest
Honesty is always the best policy, particularly in interviews. So, if you are ever asked a question for which you don’t have an anecdote, be honest with the interviewer. You could offer to provide another anecdote that displays that competency. For example, “I have never come across that situation specifically, but I have another example of a time I displayed problem-solving skills that I could share.” The interviewers will always appreciate your honesty.
9. Keep it positive
People like to work with coworkers that have a positive attitude and disposition. Therefore, while it’s important to be honest, you do have the option to leave certain information out if it could put you or your past coworkers in a bad light. It’s important to make sure you never speak poorly about any previous coworkers and to keep the tone positive.
10. Be relatable
Oftentimes, when telling stories, the goal is to entertain or impress. However, in interviews, the goal isn’t always to impress, but to show them that you are the right person for the role. Therefore, try not to fall into the trap that your achievements and anecdotes must be out of this world. You’ll get farther if you show that you are human and that you’re the right fit for the job.
Below are three common behavioral interview questions and example answers using the STAR method:
Can you give me an example of a time you took initiative?
Situation: “In my previous job as events assistant, I was responsible for managing large conferences.”
Task: “Normally, the conferences were in person, but I was tasked with managing an online event. It was my first time managing an online event and I wanted it to be a success.”
Action: “Therefore, I took the initiative to do extensive research on event software and best practices for virtual event management and compiled my findings in a report.”
Result: “I presented this report to my supervisor, and we were able to make an informed decision about the virtual event. The event went off without a hitch and I was formally recognized for my initiative.”
Can you tell me about a time you had a conflict or disagreement with a team member?
Situation: “While I was working as a project manager in my previous role, I was working on a new software development project with a coworker in my team.”
Task: “We had an important deadline coming up for the project and I noticed that my coworker was falling behind. Therefore, I approached him about it, and he became very defensive and wouldn’t give me a clear answer or status update.”
Action: “Even though he didn’t seem happy with me approaching him, I knew we wouldn’t make the deadline. Therefore, I asked what the issue was and if I could help. He told me he had another project and was over capacity. So, I suggested we go to our supervisor and prioritize the workload to ensure deadlines are met are adjusted accordingly.”
Result: “Our supervisor adjusted the workload, so that we were able to meet our deadline and my colleague was satisfied with the proposed solution. We ended up delivering the project to a high standard.”
Give me an example of a time you created a goal for yourself and then achieved it.
Situation: “At my previous company, I was working as a sales representative and was consistently meeting my targets each quarter.”
Task: “I decided that I wanted to not only meet my targets but set a goal for myself to exceed my targets by 10% in the third quarter.”
Action: “I created a plan where I broke down tasks by week and by day. For example, I would contact a specific number of prospects per day and ensure I was meeting the weekly targets I set for myself.”
Result: “By the third quarter, I exceeded my targets by 20% and had overachieved the goal I had set for myself. My manager was so impressed that I received a promotion to senior sales representative.”
Check out and save this infographic for some quick tips:
Interviews can be some of the most stressful events in the course of a career. However, there are certain techniques and tips you can use to better prepare and increase your chances of making a good impression and landing the job, and the STAR method is one of those techniques that all job seekers should have in their back pocket.
When using the STAR method, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
- Be specific, quantitative and concise
- Focus on your contribution by using “I” instead of “we”
- Be honest, positive and relatable
Through using the STAR method formula and above tips, you can feel more confident in your next interview. You’ll be able to better articulate your skills and achievements and also show your future employer why you’re the best candidate for the job.