The STAR Method: Answer Behavioral Interview Questions Like a Pro

By Emily Graham
Published May 30, 2017

Preparing for a job or internship interview is a nerve-wracking process. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to make it less stressful?

Of course it would! Luckily, we're going to show you how by using a technique called the STAR Method. It will allow you to craft the perfect response to any interview question. With our help, you'll be able to get inside your interviewer’s head without them even knowing it. Furthermore, you’ll stand out from the crowd, putting you one step closer to securing that job or internship.

What Is the STAR Method?

The STAR Method is a formula for responding to behavioral interview questions. So, why do you need to know it?

Well, many recruiters use these types of questions to target specific experiences you’ve had that relate to the job they’re trying to fill. The answers you provide give them insight into how you handled those situations or tasks and whether you might be successful in their environment. The idea is that past performance best predicts future success.

Behavioral questions are more focused than traditional questions. You recognize them because they usually start with phrases like, “Tell me about a time ...”

STAR is an acronym. It stands for:

  • S – Situation – Who, what, where, when, why?
  • T – Task – What was your role, assignment or goal?
  • A – Action – What did you do?
  • R – Result – What happened? How did it end?

Prospective employers are looking for the details, not fluff! By choosing to follow the STAR Method, you clearly communicate your value.

How Does the STAR Method Work?

The STAR Method helps you organize your experiences into short, detailed stories. By hitting on each of the letters, you’ll remember to include exactly what your interviewer is looking for.

Begin by reviewing the description of the job you’re considering. What type of experience is the employer looking for? This will help you anticipate the type of questions you’ll be asked to answer.

For example:

Let’s say the position is working within an office building. You would be helping the finance team with reporting. The job description will likely include software they use or prefer experience in. From this information, you can begin to think about how your experience applies.

No prior work experience? No problem. You’ll still have transferrable skills from school. Think about a time when you used the software program they mention for a class project. Then, refer to the letters to craft the perfect interview response.

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

Sample STAR Response

Now let’s put it all together into a response that you might use in an interview:

"Last year in my business class, we were asked to create a business plan for a startup company. We could choose any type of business we wanted. I love CrossFit, so I chose to start a CrossFit gym. Part of the project required me to create financial statements. I had to research startup costs, estimate income, and determine when I expected the company could earn a profit. I used Excel to create my financial statements and reporting. I determined with the marketing plan I created that I could expect a profit in six months. Ultimately, I earned an A on that project."

Most students would simply state they had used Excel in some of their class projects. By using the STAR Method, your interviewer has gained specific detail about your experience. It helps him or her visualize you in the role, therefore placing you ahead of the competition.

Want More Practice for the STAR Method?       

Think about generic skills that would be beneficial for the job you’re applying for. Maybe customer service focused. 

Here’s a practice question: Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a customer or team member.

This may seem a little more difficult. Just try to avoid presenting something in a negative way. Not all disagreements are bad or filled with drama.

How can you create a STAR response? Here’s an example of what you might say:

"In my ethics class, I had to partner with someone 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 employee should only be reprimanded. I thought it warranted termination. We took turns explaining why we felt our decision was correct. We still couldn’t agree. After doing some research, we found a real case study with a similar situation. After reading it, I agreed my partner was right. Our recommendation was to reprimand the employee."

Some Pitfalls to Watch Out For

Seems easy enough, right? Just make sure to avoid the following pitfalls:

  • Always use your own experience. Don’t make it up. Part of behavioral interviewing requires the interviewer to drill down and ask more questions. While using the STAR Method will help ensure you give them a lot of detail, they may still surprise you with a follow-up question or two. Made up experiences can trip you up. Plus, it’s best to always be honest.
  • Don’t forget to do your research on the company. Understand their mission, values, and culture as best you can. Use this information as you craft your answers. Choose experiences and stories that best match the employer and relate to their job opening. Make sure they know you’ve done your homework and are excited.

Now Practice!

It’s important to practice your responses. Say them aloud. Think about different ways the interviewers could ask about the skills they require in the job.

Come up with multiple scenarios from your experience that fit and make sure to complete your STAR with your response. Does every response tell a full story? It will if you follow the STAR Method.

Now that you’ve had a peek inside the interviewer’s head, your interview prep work should be a breeze.

Go get that job!