How to Use the STAR Method for Interview Questions

star method

The interview process requires preparation to be successful. And especially if you’re a new grad or early on in your career, knowing where to start and what to focus on is key.

Do you want to know how to ace your next interview?

Of course you do!

That’s why we’re going to let you in on a secret that can help you answer any interview question a recruiter will throw at you.

One acronym is all it takes: S.T.A.R.

What Is the STAR Method?

The STAR Method is a technique used to answer behavioral interview questions. It’s guaranteed to become your new best friend because it makes interviewing a lot less painful.

Recruiters love to ask behavioral interview questions. You’ll recognize these questions because they begin with statements like “tell me about a time” or “describe a time when.”

Behavioral questions force you to tell a story—to give specific details from your past that demonstrate your experience.

Why do recruiters love them?

Because past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. If you did something well in the past, chances are you will continue to do it well in the future. 

So, What Does STAR Stand For?

In the STAR Method, each letter represents one component of your interview response. Include each component and you have the perfect response to any interview question you’re asked.

STAR is an acronym that 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?

Why Is the STAR Method So Important?

When answering an interview question, the goal is to provide detail in an organized, succinct way. The STAR Method provides a framework or a simple checklist in your mind. It helps ensure you don’t leave anything important out. It also keeps you focused so you don’t ramble on.

Most companies provide behavioral interview training to their employees. Part of that training includes the STAR Method. For a recruiter or interviewer, they’re taught to listen for you to complete a STAR. That means you’ve shared the situation, the task, the action, and the result.

If any component of the story is missing, the interviewer continues probing and asking questions until they get the missing piece. When you feed them STAR perfect responses, you’re making their job easier. And recruiters love candidates that make their job easy! It’s a great way to stand out from the crowd.

How Do You Use It?

Every good interview response includes a story. Remember, they want to hear specific examples from your past. With each interview question, identify a story you will use to answer it.

To keep your story organized, work through each letter of the acronym (STAR) as you tell it.

The Situation provides the background of your story. All the little details the recruiter needs to know to set the scene. You should share who is involved, where it took place, and when.

The Task explains what you were asked to do or what you were tasked with.

The Action focuses specifically on what you did.

Then, you round out the story describing what happened and why. These are the Results.

Let’s See It in Action

Here’s an example of a common behavioral interview question recruiters like to ask:

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

This is the type of question that makes a candidate freeze up. Who likes to admit to failure? But it shows great character when someone can talk about it. Failure is good as long as you’re learning something from it.

Let’s apply the STAR Method framework to create the perfect interview response:

  • (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. The independence was probably a little more than I was ready for. I was staying out late, prioritizing friends, and going out before school work. I had even reached a point where I was missing a lot of morning classes.
  • (T)ask – The problem was I needed to maintain my GPA at a 3.5 to keep my scholarship. I earned a D 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 to continue 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 took a chance on me. They 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 worked hard 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 started to apply myself and make school a priority. I continued working there the remainder of my years at XYZ. I gained great work experience and graduated with honors.

This type of story tells your recruiter you’re honest. You admit to your failure and 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.

Proceed with Caution

There are a couple of things you need to keep in mind as you structure your answers. These things could trip you up if you aren’t careful:

  1. You may feel the urge to exaggerate your stories to make them sound better or impress your recruiter. Resist that urge! The truth has a way of coming out. You could get confused and mix up the story throwing up red flags, or maybe the interviewer knows someone who can verify the facts. Honesty is the best policy.
  2. Keep the story short and to the point. Don’t drag it out and add details that aren’t relevant or don’t demonstrate your ability to do the job. It’s easy to get off track and overshare. Remember to share details, but keep it concise.

The only thing left to do is practice! Create sample interview questions and practice creating your STAR responses. 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 STAR Method:
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