The STAR Method: Answer Behavioral Interview Questions Like a Pro

Updated: August 23, 2023

After reading this article, you’ll:

  • Understand when and how to use the STAR method to answer behavioral interview questions.
  • Know mistakes to avoid when using the STAR method.
  • Be prepared to craft your own STAR stories to impress the interviewer.

Preparing for a job or internship interview can be a nerve-wracking process. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to make it less stressful? Happily, there is, and we’re going to walk you through it from start to finish. It’s called the STAR method, and it will allow you to craft the perfect response to any behavioral interview question. With our help, you’ll be able to get inside your interviewer’s head and stand out from the crowd, putting you one step closer to landing your dream role.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide:


What is the STAR method?

The STAR method is a way to structure your responses to behavioral interview questions. A quick reminder: behavioral questions require you to respond with examples that demonstrate past behavior and, implicitly, show what you would do in similar situations going forward. The idea is that past performance predicts future success.

You can recognize common behavioral questions by how they’re structured. They begin with phrases like “tell me about a time,” or “describe a time,” or “give me an example of …” To answer them, you need to learn how to craft compelling stories that fit the internship or job. A good STAR response ensures that you hit on all those juicy details that interviewers so love.

STAR is an acronym. It stands for:

  • S– Situation: Think of a relevant situation that fits the interviewer’s question and set the scene. Who, what, where, when, why?
  • T– Task: What was your role, assignment, or goal in the situation?
  • A– Action: Be clear and concise in describing your specific actions, and focus on qualities and skills that are applicable to the job. What did you do?
  • R– Result: What happened? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?

Prospective employers are looking for details, not fluff! By using the STAR method, you can clearly communicate your value.


How to use the STAR interview technique

The STAR method helps you organize your experiences, and the lessons you learned from them, into concise, impactful stories. By hitting on each of the letters, you’ll remember what to include in your response.

A few top tips for answering behavioral interview questions using the STAR interview method:

  • Be concise. Two minutes or less is a good guideline.
  • Stay positive. No one wants to hear a story about failure in an interview, unless it ends with an important life lesson.
  • Stay focused. Don’t go off on a tangent; everything you share should be relevant to the job.
  • Be honest. Behavioral interviewing often requires the interviewer to drill down and ask more questions. Made-up experiences can trip you up. Plus, lying is bad.

Okay, let’s craft a sample STAR response. The great thing about STAR responses is that they can be applied to many different questions, but we’ll start simple. Let’s say you’re looking at an internship helping a finance team with reporting. The interviewer asks, “Can you tell me about your experience with Excel?”

For this example, we’ll assume you have no prior work experience. And that’s no problem! You still have transferable skills from school. Think about a time when you used Excel for a class project. Then, refer to the STAR letters to craft the perfect response.

Here’s what STAR stands for:

  • Situation: Set the scene. What class were you in? Was it a group project?
  • Task: What was the project? What was your goal?
  • Action: How did you use the software program? Focus on “I” instead of “we.”
  • Results: What happened? Was it a success? How did it end?

Now, let’s put it all together:

  • S: Last year in my business class, we were asked to create a business plan for a start-up company.
  • T: We could choose any type of business we wanted. I love CrossFit, so I chose to start a CrossFit gym. As part of the project, I had to create financial statements.
  • A: I researched a variety of areas, including start-up costs and estimated income, and determined when I expected the company to earn a profit. I used Excel to create my financial statements and reporting. Thanks to the marketing plan I created, I determined that I could expect a profit in six months. Not bad!
  • R: I taught myself so much about Excel, and I earned an A on the project.

Most students would simply state that they had used Excel in some of their class projects. By using the STAR method, your interviewer learns specific details about your accomplishments. It helps them visualize you in the role, putting you ahead of the competition.


STAR example answers

Let’s look at a couple of other STAR examples.

Sample question:

Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a customer or team member.

This question is a bit tricky. You want to avoid negativity and instead focus on the lessons learned and how (gracefully and skillfully) you handled the situation.

Sample STAR response 1:

In my ethics class, I had to partner with a classmate to write a paper. We had to choose a solution to a presented employee problem and talk about why it was the right decision. Initially, we didn’t agree on the direction. My partner felt the hypothetical employee should only be reprimanded. I thought it warranted termination. We took turns explaining why we felt each of our decisions was correct. We still couldn’t agree. After doing some research, I headed to the library and found a real case study with a similar situation. After reading it, I agreed my partner was right. I think it’s important to approach disagreements with respect and clarity, and to be open to changing your mind. Our recommendation was to reprimand the employee. By working together and doing our research, we wrote a great paper.

Let’s do one more.

Sample question:

Tell me about a time when you stepped up into a leadership role.

Sample STAR response 2:

In my collective bargaining class last semester, we had a project worth a quarter of our grade. The professor divided us into teams; my team was management and the other was union. We had to successfully negotiate a union agreement. Each side was given a copy of the current agreement, with a list of demands from both sides. Basically, the union side wanted a raise, and management had no additional money to fund it without massive layoffs. Then, there was a secret document that included points we weren’t willing to concede on—but we didn’t realize that these points were in direct opposition to the other side’s points. Prior to class, my team prepared our initial proposal. As expected, arguments began to get heated. Each time someone mentioned what they thought were reasonable demands, the other side wasn’t willing to budge.

While the rest of the team got stuck arguing, I stepped in to start asking questions. I knew the clock was ticking, and we would never come to an agreement if we didn’t better understand what the other side was willing to give up. We learned there were aspects of the benefit package that were underutilized. There were also concerns that the union didn’t feel they had a voice. My team stepped out to discuss our options. After running the numbers, we realized we could restructure the benefits and save enough money to cover 90% of the salary increase they were requesting. As a show of good faith, we offered to review it again in a year. We also invited their leaders to our monthly management meetings. It helped close the deal!

Here’s how this response used the STAR method:

  • Situation: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
    • Collective bargaining class
    • Team project to negotiate a union contract
    • Last semester
    • To successfully reach an agreement
  • Task: What was your role, assignment, or goal?
    • Team of people
    • Given details (public and secret) to guide our terms
    • Don’t spend more money than our current contract
  • Action: What did you do?
    • Stepped in to ask questions when the team got stuck arguing
    • My questions helped inspire creativity to find a solution
  • Results: What happened? What did you accomplish? Note: Using numbers (financial, percentage, or analytical data) adds that extra oomph.
    • We reached an agreement
    • Union got 90% of their increase and a voice
    • Management saved on benefits to cover the raise, with no net increase to spend


Other behavioral interview questions

In addition to the questions above, here are some other popular behavioral interview questions. All of these are best answered using the STAR method.

  • How do you handle conflict?
  • Tell me about a successful team project you worked on.
  • Have you ever mentored or coached anyone to be successful?
  • What’s a difficult decision you had to make in the past year?
  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • Tell me about a time when you were disappointed in the outcome of a project.
  • Give me an example of a time when you improved a process or approach.
  • How do you handle stress?
  • What’s your experience with PowerPoint? Java? WordPress?
  • Tell me about a mistake you made and how you fixed it.
  • It’s 5:00 and you don’t have your work done. What do you do?
  • What’s a goal you’ve achieved? A goal you failed to achieve?


So, how do you come up with great stories to use?

To craft great answers like the ones above, you need a collection of strong success stories. The best way to brainstorm stories is to look at the original job description for keywords and themes, research the company (especially their culture), and talk to people who work there. Then, craft stories around those qualities and skills. You’ll find that with a half-dozen stories, you can apply one of them to almost any situation or interview question.

For example, say the job you’re applying for is in marketing. You learn that it’s a creative role in brand marketing, which includes some social media. There are a few programs listed in the job description: PowerPoint, Photoshop, Instagram, and Facebook. The description also says that you’ll assist with creating ideas for brand campaigns and designing elements that will be used on social media to drive brand awareness. Don’t forget they want you to attend a couple of tradeshow events.

We now have a list of skills and experiences to help us brainstorm story ideas:

      • Brand marketing/creative
      • PowerPoint
      • Photoshop
      • Design
      • Social media (with a focus on Instagram and Facebook)
      • Teamwork and brainstorming
      • Customers and tradeshows

Ask yourself: What experiences do you have in these areas? Did you take any brand marketing classes? If so, did you do any creative projects? Do you have any work experience in brand marketing? What have you done that relates to creating brand awareness?

Once you have a story, don’t worry about answering a specific interview question. Start asking yourself the STAR questions.

      • Situation: In my brand marketing class during my junior year, I had to complete a project that required us to build a marketing plan around a product. I chose to market Uber’s car service to local college students, since Uber had just opened in our area.
      • Task: It was a solo project, so once I decided on Uber, I thought about why students might need them. Things like difficulty in finding parking on campus before a class, needing a ride home from a party, or not having a car on campus at all. From there, I built my brand awareness and communication strategy.
      • Action: I created and printed flyers, which I designed in Photoshop, to be posted around campus in high-traffic areas. The college has a digital newsletter and student email system, so I created a short, branded video for YouTube, showing all the reasons to love Uber. I also came up with the idea to set up Uber drop-off zones in front of all the main buildings to draw attention to the curbside benefits and generate hype. It was a lot of fun.
      • Results: The project allowed me to stretch myself as a designer and think across different target audiences. My teacher was especially impressed by my creativity, and I received an A.

See how well the story flows? How all the details are included? There aren’t many follow-up questions an interviewer could ask. You gave them everything they need.


Now, it’s time to practice.

There’s a reason they say practice makes perfect. Read over your stories. Say your responses aloud. Think about different ways the interviewer could ask about the skills they require in the job. Come up with multiple scenarios from your experience that fit. Does every response tell a full story? It will if you follow the STAR method.

Now that you know what the interviewer is looking for, your interview prep should be a breeze. Go out and get that job!