Coming up with well-rounded answers to interview questions out of thin air can be a real challenge, unless you use the STAR interview technique. This is an extremely useful method used by interviewees to answer situational and behavioural interview questions.
Instead of improvising, the STAR method can help you craft your answers using an easy-to-follow story with a clear takeaway. Don’t get us wrong though; answering questions using the STAR interview technique requires some thought, preparation, and practice. In this article, we’ll break down the method into bite-sized pieces. Then, we’ll give you some useful examples to prepare for and ace your next interview. Don’t have time to read the whole article and just need a quick summary? We’ve got you covered; just scroll down to our key takeaways.
STAR method: Situation, Task, Action, Result
‘STAR’ is an acronym for the four different stages that make up an answer to an interview question. These stand for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. By covering each topic in your answer, you’re painting a picture with words for the interviewer. In turn, they’ll easily understand how you would handle certain situations in your new role. It also helps them determine whether you’ll be a good fit for the job, and if you have the experience to match your new responsibilities.
In this step of the STAR method, you’re setting the stage for the rest of your STAR answer format. In other words, you’re providing context to help the interviewer understand what eventually led you to take action. It’s best to describe a situation that is directly relevant to the role you’re currently applying for. If this proves to be difficult, you could use an example from an academic project or volunteering experience. Describe where you were, what the problem was, and the effect it had on you or the people you were working with.
In the second step of the STAR method, you’re going to describe what your responsibilities were when the situation happened. Make sure that the responsibilities you mention here are relevant to the story. As soon as you exit the boundaries of your narrative, the interviewer will question how it ties in with your actions. Name one or two responsibilities you had in the context of the situation. Better yet, try to tie all your duties into one core responsibility. This is the least important part of your STAR interview response, so don’t go into too much detail.
This part of the STAR method is where you’ll want to put most of your effort and time. Here, you’ll explain exactly what steps you took to address the situation. The interviewer will be looking for information on what you did, why you did it, and what the alternatives were. This is your chance to show what you’re capable of when presented with a problem, so be as specific as possible. Lay out why you think it was the best course of action under the circumstances, and what tools you used to achieve the results.
In the final step of the STAR method, you’ll want to elaborate on the result of your actions. How did you make a difference? What were the effects of your actions on yourself and the people around you? Obviously, make sure that your actions had a positive result. Even if you describe a situation in which you made a mistake, ensure that the end result was triumphant. You shouldn’t cut corners on this part of your STAR answer format. Describe the results from different angles, and make sure they tie in with your actions.
STAR interview method: how to prepare
Preparing for questions using the STAR interview technique can be challenging if you don’t know which questions will be asked. However, rest assured that they’re going to be relevant to your new role. If you’re applying for a job in HR, for example, the questions will likely be related to people management. Think about a situation in which you were required to make important decisions; these are the situations your interviewer will be most curious about.
STAR interview question examples
If you’re stumped about the questions you’ll be asked during an interview, we’ve got you covered. Here, we’ll lay out some example STAR interview questions to get you thinking.
- Can you give me an example of when you had to work under a tight deadline?
- Tell me about a time when you had to make a split second decision.
- What do you do when you have more tasks than you can handle in a day?
- Have you ever taken leadership of a group of people? How did you handle it?
- Describe a situation where you had to take on a new responsibility.
- Can you give me an example of when you had to come up with creative solutions to a problem?
- Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult person or customer.
- Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma? And how did you handle it?
- Can you give me an example of when you went above and beyond your normal duties or tasks?
- Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a sudden change at the workplace.
- Can you give me an example of when there was a miscommunication between you and someone else? How did you handle it?
- Tell me about your first job in the industry. How did you go about learning the ins and outs?
- Describe a situation where you made a significant mistake.
4 steps to prepare your STAR method responses
Now that you know what the STAR method is and the type of questions you can expect, it’s time to put it all together. Follow these four easy steps to prepare your STAR interview responses.
1. Use the job post as inspiration
The job description is a great place to start when preparing for STAR interview questions. Review the skills that are required for the role, and think about situations where you’ll need to use them to solve a problem. Try to think ahead and imagine yourself in your new role; what are some challenges that might arise, or obstacles you might come across?
2. Go over common behavioural questions
Behavioural interview questions are asked to determine how you act and react in certain situations. The objective for most behavioural questions is the same — how you handle tense situations. Researching behavioural questions related to stress, management, workload, communication, and safety are great topics to start with. Once you’ve collected a solid list of questions, you can start thinking about your STAR interview responses.
3. Brainstorm past scenarios
Now it’s time to reflect on your past experiences. Pick a few of your favourite behavioural questions, and think back to a scenario that would help you answer them. It’s important to think of scenarios that reflect the tasks in your new role. If you can’t think of any specific examples, consider a life experience you’ve had that mirrors how you would act in the workplace. Then, make an outline with the four sections that make up the STAR method. Need inspiration? Find some useful examples below.
Drill your answers
Apply the STAR interview technique by drilling your answers. You can do this with friends or family, or just read them out loud for yourself. You want to make sure that your answers are logical and straightforward. Think about the goal of your answer, and how it displays your abilities for the new role. The more you practice your answers, the more comfortable you’ll feel when answering STAR questions in the interview.
STAR interview questions and answers
You can apply the STAR method to answer all kinds of interview questions. Need some inspiration? Here are three STAR method example answers and questions you can use as inspiration to craft your own.
STAR method example 1:
What do you do when you have more tasks to do in a day than you can handle?
Situation: I’m usually very organised and plan my days very carefully. One morning, as I was planning my day in my role as [Position] at [Company], I realised that I was overloaded with tasks. I just knew that I wasn’t going to be able to finish them by the end of the day.
Task: At the time, my responsibility was to call a long list of suppliers for an upcoming event that week. I also had to contact the venue, and communicate with them in detail about our schedule. I wasn’t going to be able to juggle both tasks at once without significantly slowing down the planning.
Action: The moment I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to complete my tasks, I immediately called in a meeting with my team. They were all at the office at the time, and I was aware that some of us weren’t as busy as others. I presented my problem with them, and delegated some of my tasks.
Result: Because of my actions, we were able to complete all the planned tasks before the end of the day. In fact, we even had extra time to spend chatting about other important topics that needed to be completed that week. I didn’t have to stress about finishing my tasks, and my team was happy to help. It was a win-win!
STAR method example 2:
Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult person or customer.
Situation: In the hospitality scene, it’s quite common to come across a difficult customer. Last year, I was working as a receptionist at a large 300-room chain hotel. During peak tourist season, large numbers of guests would gather in the lobby. Guests started complaining to me about waiting times, and were getting quite aggressive.
Task: At the time, my responsibility was to help customers get checked in and out of their rooms. I was also responsible for answering inquiries by phone and email.
Action: I applied the L.E.A.S.T model to handle the situation. First, I listened to the customers, allowing them to share their frustrations. Then, I emphasised with them, and let them know I understand how frustrating it can be to have to wait for long periods of time. After that, I apologised for the situation and let them know we’re doing our best. I solved the situation by offering them free drinks, and called in extra staff to help at the desk. Finally, I thanked them for bringing the problem to my attention, and for simply being a customer.
Result: As a result of my actions, the customers were able to calm down, and even made a few jokes. They were happy that I was able to speed up the checkout process, because they had to catch a flight later that afternoon. They even thanked me for the free drinks, and wished me a great day!
STAR method example 3:
Have you ever taken leadership of a group of people? How did you handle it?
Situation: A few years ago, I joined a volunteering programme overseas. We were responsible for the construction of a well in a small rural village. The project was led by an experienced team leader. One day, the team leader became ill. However, we were working with a tight deadline and had to complete the project by the end of the week.
Task: My main responsibility was to lay the foundation of the well together with two other team members. However, it wasn’t the most complicated of tasks, so I knew that I would have some extra time and energy at the end of the day.
Action: The team leader called me in the morning to report that he was ill, and that we should postpone the project. However, I offered to lead the team and explained that my tasks weren’t very intensive that day. I had been working for the programme for quite some time, and I roughly knew the tasks that had to be completed. He was happy that I took the initiative, and briefed me on the tasks to delegate. That morning, I called a team meeting and took charge of the planning for that day.
Result: I was a little bit nervous to take on such a responsibility, but the rest of the team was extremely grateful that they could continue working and complete the project. In fact, by the end of the day, we were ahead of schedule. Due to my leadership, we were able to complete all our tasks that day.
STAR interview technique: in short
Do you think you’ve got the STAR interview technique down to a tee? Then you’re all set to ace your next interview.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result
- Situation: Set the stage by giving context clues.
- Task: Sum up your responsibilities in the situation you described.
- Action: Explain the steps you took to solve the problem and your reasoning.
- Result: Share the (positive) outcome of your actions.
How to prepare your STAR interview response:
- Use the job post as inspiration: Review the skills required for the role.
- Go over common behavioural questions: Collect a list of common questions.
- Brainstorm past scenarios: Answer the question by matching it with a situation you experienced in the past.
- Drill your answers: Practice your answers with friends or family, or out loud by yourself.
Do you need some more tips on how to prepare for an interview? Click through, and you’ll find a whole guide dedicated to preparing for an interview. If you find yourself getting nervous for an interview, you can also check out our interview nerves tips. There, you’ll find all sorts of tools and techniques to calm your nerves before an interview. Have you just started your job search? Update your CV with our free CV maker. Good luck on the job hunt.
FAQs about the STAR interview technique
What can I do to prepare before a STAR interview?
How long should a STAR interview answer be?
YThe best way to prepare for a STAR interview is to do your research. First, look over the job description and think about the qualities and skills that are most important to the role. Secondly, try to prepare a few example stories that highlight those key skills and qualities. Finally, practice your storytelling with a friend or family member, and write down any key detail on a piece of paper to take with you.
If you’ve used the STAR interview technique correctly, you should be able to respond with a 2-3 minute timeframe. You don’t want to risk losing your interviewers' attention by taking up too much time. As a rule of thumb, try not to spend more than 30-45 seconds on each section of your STAR answer.
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