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What Is the STAR Method and How Can You Use it in Your Interview?

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You can sail through the toughest job interview by learning and using the STAR method. STAR is one of the best methods for handling behavioral-based interview questions_._ Employers use behavioral-based STAR interview questions to avoid the pitfalls of hiring employees who look great on paper but underperform on the job. The assumption is that superstars in previous jobs will excel in their next position if it's the right fit.

What Is the STAR Method?

STAR stands for situation, task, action and results. Follow this format to describe a time that you showed initiative in a situation that presented you with a challenge or opportunity. Tell a story from your past with a beginning, middle and end. Conclude by proudly sharing your results. Employers perk up when they hear verifiable facts and figures rather than glittering generalities.

STAR Method Examples

  • Situation: Recall an actual event or specific situation from school, work or volunteering that you successfully managed. You can also use an example of an opportunity, such as recognizing a new potential market for a product or pursuing grant funding.  Example: In my previous job at a small-town newspaper, I noticed a decline in subscribers. 

  • Task (or Target): Define your target goal. What did you hope to accomplish? Example: I set a goal of winning back 40 percent of lost subscribers.

  • Action: Describe the action steps you took to achieve your goal. Use the first-person pronoun “I” to indicate what you personally contributed, not your team. Example: I conducted a phone survey of current and previous subscribers to assess customer satisfaction, and I learned that most people wanted digital access to content and a newspaper delivered early in the morning.

  • Results: Explain what happened as the direct result of your actions. Use success stories. Example: I worked with other managers to make changes in accordance with customer preferences to win back 60 percent of past subscribers.

STAR Interview Questions: Examples

Questions calling for use of the STAR method typically ask you to talk about a sticky problem with no easy solution. STAR questions and answers attest to your competencies, knowledge and judgment. Your body language and demeanor reflect how you handle yourself when put on the spot.

  1. Describe a situation you faced that required data, logic and problem-solving skills.

  2. Tell me about a time that you had to enforce a rule or policy that you didn’t personally support.

  3. Give me an example of a major report or project you had to complete in a short amount of time.

  4. Please explain what strategies you use to manage your time and meet deadlines.

  5. Tell me about a time that you found yourself with more work than you could manage.

  6. What is your typical approach to resolving workplace conflicts? Please provide examples.

Purpose of a Behavioral Interview and STAR Questions

Behavioral interviews ask pointed questions to assess how you handled yourself in past job settings. The assumption is that past behavior is a reliable indicator of how a person will behave down the road. In other words, if you didn't get along with your boss, the hiring manager may assume that you will have difficulties with your next boss.

How to Pass a Behavioral Interview With STAR Questions

You will do well in a behavioral interview if you use the STAR method to show that you have a track record of proven success. Traditional interview questions present hypothetical situations. Behavioral interview questions call for the STAR method.

Traditional Interview Questions and Answers

Q. How would you build rapport with your new colleagues?

A. I would memorize names, speak up at staff meetings and hang out in the break room talking about sports and stuff.

STAR Interview Questions and Answers

Q. How have you built rapport with new colleagues in past situations?

A. The first day of my internship, I introduced myself to staff, shared my goals and offered to help in any way possible. As a result, I was welcomed to the team and given exciting learning opportunities.

Effectiveness of STAR Interview Questions and Answers

The STAR method provides employers with evidence of past performance. For instance, asking how an employee would build rapport with colleagues or clients may or may not be indicative of what that person would actually do if hired. Use the STAR method to brand yourself as the type of person the employer hopes to find.

Why Is the STAR Method So Important?

Behavioral interviews are challenging if you are not prepared. Even if you are adept at thinking on your feet, you could stumble and make a mistake when trying to remember details, like how many clients you recruited. You will be knocked out of the running if your references contradict what you said in your job interview.

How the STAR Method Works in Interviews

Keeping the interest of a harried hiring manager who conducts countless interviews day after day is not easy. Telling a story grabs attention. The STAR method works because it is based on telling real-life stories of past experiences where you sized up a situation, determined what needed to be done, took decisive action and achieved measurable results.

Preparing for STAR Interview Questions and Answers

Come up with examples that required you to demonstrate leadership, problem solving, team building and organizational skills. Think back to paid jobs, internships, coursework, research projects, co-curricular activities, volunteer work and sports participation. Use the STAR method to describe how you set goals, took action steps and received special recognition or achieved quantifiable results.

How to Use the STAR Method in an Interview

The STAR method can be used for answering many types of questions, not just behavioral-based questions. When asked about your strengths, talk about activities and projects that helped you build skills and earn special recognition, honors and awards.

For instance, if the employer wants to know how you define success, share a story of how you bought a small business that was struggling and turned it around with a new marketing campaign that doubled sales in the first six months.

Job-Specific STAR Interview Questions and Answers

STAR interview questions and answers have everything to do with the type of skills an employee needs to competently perform the job that was advertised. Underline keywords in the job posting used by applicant-tracking systems and tailor your answers to the required and preferred qualifications.

Naturally, the skills needed for one type of job may be quite different from the next. For instance, a software project engineer applying for a job at Boeing can expect different STAR interview questions than a teacher interviewing for a job at a middle school.

Example of STAR Interview Questions at Boeing:

  1. Please describe a time that a project you were spearheading was at a standstill. What did you do? What was the result?

  2. Tell me about a situation that required you to persuade your team to go in a different direction on a project.

  3. How have you used 3D modeling in fresh and innovative ways?

Example of STAR Interview Questions for Teachers:

  • Describe a situation in which you had to address a situation with an upset, unreasonable parent of a student.

  • What effective strategies have you used to create a welcoming, inclusive classroom environment for all students?

  • Tell me about the most challenging experience as a student teacher. 

Dr. Mary Dowd brings decades of hands-on experience to her writing endeavors. Along with general knowledge of human resources, she has specialized training in affirmative action, investigations and equal opportunity. While working as a dean of students, she advised college students on emerging career trends and job seeking strategies. As director of equal opportunity, she led efforts to diversify the workforce and the student body.

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