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How to Nail Interview Questions with the STAR Method

You're a STAR!

Megan Hageman
Contributor

Star gif

Let’s face it…interviews can be nerve-wracking. And when you’re nervous, you might ramble, or worse, your mind might go completely blank. 

This is why the STAR method exists. STAR is a handy strategy for answering interview questions that will have you prepared for any situational or behavioral question they throw your way. 

What is the STAR method? 

STAR is an acronym that stands for situation, task, action, result. Most job seekers use this method for answering behavioral and situational interview questions, which focus on how you act in challenging situations. You’ll recognize these questions when you hear them, as they generally start with phrases like, Tell me about a time when… or Give me an example of…

Read More: 16 Interview Questions and Your Guide to Crushing Them 

How to use the STAR method

There are four steps in answering an interview questions with the STAR method.

Situation

Start your answer by providing background information: the problem at hand plus your job and relationship to the problem.

Task

The problem you were asked to solve, how you were involved in the situation, the task at hand.

Action

This part includes what you actually did: how you remedied the situation or completed the task. 

Result

What was the outcome? Explain how your contributions affected the situation and describe what you learned from the project or affair. Include concrete numbers when possible. 

Read more: How to Get a Better Job Sooner Than Later

STAR method examples

Question 1: Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult client. 

Situation

A couple years ago, when I was an account manager, I was in charge of product needs for 20 regional clients.

Task

One of my most profitable clients was very particular and always asked us to meet tight deadlines. She called me one day yelling about a late order. 

Action

I explained calmly that the delay was due to weather and that I had been tracking the shipment. I informed her the order would arrive that afternoon. I then offered to share all tracking information and scheduled delivery timelines going forward.

Result

This worked because it gave her more visibility and showed her that I too was concerned that she received her order on time. After this, she always seemed happy to work with me after. I built trust.

Read more: 5 Creative Interview Questions That Can Reveal Red Flags

Question 2: Tell me about a time you had to lead and motivate a team. 

Situation 

As the fundraising officer for St. Mary’s athletic program, my responsibilities included raising money for all expenses, specifically the money to send two of three teams to national tournaments at the end of the year.

Task

But this particular year, four teams were slated to qualify for tournaments. That meant I needed to raise nearly 100 percent more than a normal fiscal year.

Action 

I saw the problem coming early—the cross-country team had performed well during preseason and the new tennis stars were showing tremendous promise. So doubled the number of fundraising events, allotted for extra ad spend, and created two private events specifically aimed at a small group of particularly generous donors.

Result

We exceeded our goal by 18 percent, and the donors enjoyed the private events so much that three of them asked to attend again next year, as they hoped to bring contacts.

Read more: 93 Questions to Ask in an Interview That Will Actually Tell You About the Job

Tips for applying the STAR method…naturally

Remember these tips to get the most out of your STAR answer.

Prepare

Before your interview, study the job description for the important hard and soft skills required for the position—which is what behavioral and situational questions probe for.  They’re your chance to demonstrate skills like leadership, problem solving, and conflict management

Then, think back to occasions in former jobs where you applied those skills. If you don’t have extensive work experience yet or can’t think of such examples in paid roles, it’s okay to focus on your involvement in group projects, athletic groups, volunteering, other organizations, or even in the home.  

It’s okay to ask for a moment

If you draw a blank after hearing the question, it’s acceptable to ask for a minute to collect your thoughts and form your response.

Get to the point

Hit all four STAR components, but do so quickly. Approximately one to two sentences should suffice for each step. 

Don’t lie, don’t exaggerate

This should be obvious, but it is important to be honest since this information could be verified. 

End on a high note

Arguably the most important element of your STAR answer will be the positive ending. Ensure the situation ended with your valuable contribution to the project or at least a lesson learned for the future.  

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Preparing for an In-Person Interview

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