Using the STAR response technique during interviews

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

Imagine you are sitting in an interview which you have been preparing for, since the past few weeks. Everything seems to be going smoothly and you are nailing every technical question asked by the interviewer. Just as you begin to feel confident, you hear “Describe a situation when…” You frantically search and try to recall any experience you can use. Finally, you are only able to form a mediocre and surface-level answer. You know that with a couple of more minutes, you could have come up with a far better response.

When it comes to such behavioral interview questions, the STAR method is very effective for creating impressive and powerful responses which thoroughly answer the interviewer’s question. This response technique allows for easy preparation and will minimize the anxiety you may feel when faced with a difficult question. Additionally, you are guaranteed an elaborate but concise answer.

All behavioral-based questions start off similarly:

  • “Describe a situation when…”

  • “Tell me about a time when…”

  • “Have you ever had to…”

  • “Where do you see yourself…”

Most behavioral-based interviews will have some emphasis on various challenging situations which demonstrate critical thinking, leadership skills, and working under pressure. These questions require you to discuss scenarios where you exhibited your skills. Because each of these questions is intended for highlighting your strengths and abilities, structured and thoughtful preparation is necessary to answer confidently. The logic behind asking behavioral-based questions is that they give the interviewer a good idea of how you would handle any potential similar situations. When you describe a successful anecdote, you will be clearly showing that you can achieve the same successful results in the future.

What is STAR?

  • Situation- Describe the challenging event or situation you faced (set up context for your story)

  • Task- What task were you trying to complete and what responsibilities did you have?

  • Action- Explain what specific steps or procedures you actually took to accomplish the task.

  • Result- What was the outcome and how well did the situation play out? What did you accomplish and learn?

Common example question:

Tell me about a time when you performed well under enormous pressure”

Situation- My manager once assigned a major project to my team which we had to finish with a 2 month deadline.

Task- One weeks in, my manager told us that the project actually needed to be ready in 45 days. This cut down our time by two weeks.

Action- However, being a project manager, I was able to quickly suggest that each team member add 2-3 hours of work time to their schedules. I also delegated specific tasks to each team member as this would ensure maximum productivity. I explained that distributing the tasks would allow us to alter the original timeline and accomplish everything by the new deadline.

Result- With the collaboration and efforts of my entire team, we were able to present our finished project to my manager, who was very impressed with the outcome. While my entire team worked very hard and all contributed to the overall success, I believe my quick thinking of re-allocating tasks created a significant impact.

Notice how this description gets the point across while incorporating a sufficient amount of detail. The star method allows the explanation to be clear and concise.

How to prepare for using STAR

  1. Memorize the acronym- When you face a difficult question that you feel unprepared for, you will have STAR in the back of your mind. It is ready to guide you through formulating an answer on the spot.

  2. Review the job description and qualifications- Consider the obstacles you may have to overcome with this position. Think of how you will be able to use your skills to tackle these challenges.

  3. List specific examples of instances in the past when you demonstrated those leadership and behavioral skills. For each one of these examples, name the situation, task, action, and result (STAR).

  4. Match your skills to your position- make sure you can clearly relate the examples you chose to the job you’re interviewing for.

  5. Practice using STAR through mock interviews. This will help you speak naturally when delivering the answers during a real interview.

With just a little strategic and thoughtful preparation, you will soon see that behavioral interview questions are not so intimidating. You will realize that they are actually just opportunities to showcase your stunning capabilities. Utilizing the STAR method will ultimately allow you to confidently and effortlessly answer any behavioral question that comes your way.



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