How to Use the STAR Method for Interview Questions

star method

A successful interview requires preparation, especially if you’re a new or recent graduate. And one of the best ways to ace your next interview is by understanding the STAR method.

This handy tool will allow you to craft the perfect answer to any interview question an interviewer might throw at you. In this guide, we’ll review the basics, how to use the STAR method, sample questions and answers, and common mistakes.

What Is the STAR Method?

The STAR method is a technique used to structure your answers to behavioral interview questions. As a reminder, behavioral questions require you to respond with examples that demonstrate past behavior. They ask you to tell a story, including specific details. You’ll recognize many of these questions because they begin with statements like “Tell me about a time …” However, most interview questions can be answered using the STAR method.

Interviewers love behavioral questions, so the STAR method is guaranteed to become your new best friend.

Why do interviewers love them? Because past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. If you did something well in the past, chances are you will do it well in the future. 

STAR is an acronym, with each letter representing one component of your interview response. If you include each component, you’ll have the perfect response to any behavioral interview question.

STAR stands for:

S – Situation: Who, what, where, when, and why?

T – Task: What was your role, assignment, or goal in this situation?

A – Action: What did you do?

R – Result: What happened? What did you accomplish?

How Do You Use the STAR Method?

“Show, don’t tell” is wise advice, and it’s true for interviews, too. A good interview response should include a story with specific examples from your past. The STAR method helps you organize your experiences by working through each letter of the acronym.

  • The Situation is where you set the scene and provide context. You should share who was involved, where it took place, and when it happened.
  • Next, the Task explains what you were asked to do or what your goal was.
  • Then, the Action focuses specifically on what you did. This is your chance to highlight your individual role, so try to use “I” rather than “we.”
  • Finally, you round out the story with the Results. Describe what happened and why, as well as any lessons you learned.

STAR Example Questions and Answers

Here’s an example of a common behavioral interview question:

Tell me about a time when you failed. How did you deal with it?

This is the type of question that can make a candidate freeze up. Who likes to admit to failure? But failure is fine as long as you learn something from it—and the STAR method can help you demonstrate that.

Here’s how to apply the STAR framework to create a great response to this question.

  • (S)ituation: My first semester of college was a big adjustment. I was on my own for the first time, living six hours away from my parents. Honestly, I probably wasn’t ready for that much independence. I was staying out late and prioritizing time with my friends. I even missed a couple of morning classes.
  • (T)ask: The problem was I needed to maintain a GPA of 3.5 to keep my scholarship. I earned a C in one of my classes, and it caused my GPA to slip below 3.5. I ended up losing my scholarship. My parents were furious. I was so embarrassed because I had always been such a good student. I needed to find another way to cover the cost of my education.
  • (A)ction: I applied for jobs all over campus. My goal was to get a part-time job that would allow me to continue with classes while earning some extra cash. Luckily, the school bookstore hired me on as a cashier.
  • (R)esults: Hitting that low was a huge blow to me. I almost had to return home and give up my dream of attending XYZ University. The next semester, I vowed to turn things around. I worked really hard, stopped pulling all-nighters, and got my GPA back up. The money I earned at the bookstore went to pay for my education. It gave me a sense of ownership. With more skin in the game, I really made school a priority. I continued working at the bookstore for the next three years. I gained great work experience and graduated with honors.

This type of story shows your recruiter that you’re honest. You admit to your failure and prove that when you do stumble, you do what it takes to turn it around. Everyone makes mistakes at some point. It’s how you respond and what you do—those actions and results—that matter most.

Let’s look at some other common STAR interview questions:

  • How do you handle conflict?
  • Tell me about a successful team project you worked on.
  • What’s a difficult decision you had to make in the past year?
  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • Describe a time when you were disappointed in the outcome of a project.
  • Give me an example of a time when a client or colleague got mad at you.
  • How do you handle stress?
  • 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?
  • Tell me about a time you helped motivate a colleague or classmate.

How to Come Up with STAR Examples

The best way to prepare for behavioral interview questions is to come up with a solid list of success stories. You don’t need a different story for every question. Instead, you need a half-dozen or so great stories. With that many, you can find a relevant example for almost any question.

How do you do that? Review the job description, noting keywords and themes. Then, research the company, noting their culture and values. Take these two lists and craft stories around any frequently mentioned skills and qualities. Ask yourself: What experience do you have in these areas? Did you take any relevant courses? Join relevant clubs? Do you have any internship or work experience that highlights key terms?

Once you have a story in mind, don’t worry about answering a specific question. Jot down the STAR details for each experience and consider what you learned. The rest will follow naturally.

STAR Mistakes to Avoid

Now that you know how to use STAR, here’s a couple of things to avoid. Keep these common mistakes in mind as you structure your answers.

  1. Don’t exaggerate. You may feel the urge to embellish your stories to make them sound better or impress your recruiter. Resist that urge! You could get confused and mix up the story, which will throw up red flags, or maybe the interviewer knows someone who can verify the facts. Honesty is the best policy.
  2. Keep it short. Keep the story to the point. Don’t drag it out and add details that aren’t relevant to the job at hand. It’s easy to get off track and overshare.

Once you have a solid list of stories, the only thing left to do is practice. Continue until you’re comfortable with your delivery. Then, get out there and ace that interview!


Check out our “How to Answer” interview questions to help you practice using the STAR Method:
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