How To Use the STAR Interview Method (With Example)
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When you interview for a job, it's important to provide strong, concise answers to the questions the interviewer asks. The STAR method is a technique for creating such responses. Using this technique can help you organise your ideas and develop effective answers. In this article, we define what the STAR interview method is, explain how to prepare for an interview using this method and provide examples of effective interview responses.
What is the STAR interview method?
The STAR interview method is a technique for creating effective, easy-to-follow responses to interview questions. A response that follows the STAR method consists of four parts:
The situation portion of a STAR response provides the context of the circumstance you plan to discuss. It may briefly define a challenge you addressed, while the other parts of your response describe how you handled it. When describing the situation, you can draw from either professional or personal experience. Try to select a situation that highlights a skill or characteristic relevant to the position you're interviewing for.
The task portion of the STAR method describes what you were responsible for accomplishing. A supervisor may have assigned this task to you or you might have assigned it to yourself. The task portion of your response may be brief. You can use this section to provide further context before talking about the specific action you took.
The action portion of your response states exactly how you resolved or overcame the situation you've described. Include specific details and all the steps you took to achieve your goal. It's important to describe how your actions were directly relevant to the task you were responsible for. This can help you show how you handled the situation effectively. Focus on the most important steps you took and describe them thoroughly in this section of your response.
In the result portion of your STAR response, explain the outcome of your actions by briefly stating one or two achievements. For example, if you're describing a mistake you made during your professional history, you might explain what the result was after you corrected your error. Focus on the impact your actions had on the situation and what you learned from this experience.
How to prepare for an interview using the STAR method
Follow these steps to prepare for an interview using the STAR method:
1. Learn about behavioural interview questions
To give effective responses to behavioural interview questions, it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with what they are and why interviewers ask them. These questions ask you to describe how you've behaved in past situations to help interviewers understand how you might respond if a similar situation arises again. Try to reflect on events in your professional history that required you to take specific actions to achieve positive results. You can refer to these events during your interview.
2. Review the job description
A job description lists the responsibilities, expectations and requirements of the position a company is hiring for. You can use the job description to help you predict what questions the interviewer might ask. For example, if the job description mentions project management, the interview may include questions about common project management obstacles, such as communication barriers or personality conflicts. Identifying these topics in advance can help prepare responses that detail how you've strategically resolved similar challenges in the past.
3. Study common behavioural interview questions
There are several online resources that list popular interview questions hiring managers often ask. While the questions may address a wide range of topics, the intent is typically to understand how you responded to a situation or what you learned from it. Try searching for behavioural interview questions related to your desired profession so you know what to expect in your interview. Here are some common behavioural interview questions to help you prepare:
How have you handled conflicts with colleagues or between other people?
Think of a challenge you encountered on the job. How did you resolve it?
Have you ever made a mistake at work? If so, how did you handle it?
Tell me about a time you had to make a difficult decision at work.
Describe a time when you needed to perform under stress. How did you keep it from affecting your work?
What is your greatest professional failure and what have you learned from it?
How do you motivate the people you work with?
4. Create written outlines of your responses
Once you understand what to expect during your interview, identify events from your professional history that relate to questions the hiring manager may ask. Then outline potential responses using the STAR framework. You can divide a page into four separate sections to organise each response. In the first section, describe the situation by providing context. Next, describe your role and the tasks you were responsible for. In the third and fourth sections, explain what actions you took and what result you achieved.
5. Time your responses
STAR interview responses are usually between one and three minutes long. To ensure your responses are the appropriate length, time yourself with a stopwatch as you improvise from your outline. If your response exceeds three minutes, consider which parts of your outline you can leave out and then try answering the question again.
6. Rehearse your responses
You can use your outline to rehearse responses to common interview questions. Try to avoid reading directly from a script. Instead, use your outline to guide your responses. This can help you deliver your responses naturally. You may also write down key phrases you want to mention in each response. This can provide structure to help you stay on track. As you practise your responses, pay attention to the tone of your voice and how you use your body to complement your language. This can help you engage with hiring managers more effectively.
Related: How To Prepare For an Interview
Examples of STAR responses
You can use these examples of effective STAR outlines and responses to help you create your own:
This is an example of a STAR response to a question addressing behaviour under pressure:
Question: "Describe a time when you needed to perform under stress. How did you keep it from affecting your work?"
Situation: A colleague fell ill shortly before the deadline for an important project.
Task: I was familiar with the project, so our supervisor asked me to finish it. I had my own work to complete as well.
Action: I called my sick colleague to gather information and resources, re-prioritised my tasks and delegated some tasks to other team members.
Result: We completed the project before the deadline and had time to review it for quality assurance.
Response: "At my last job, I was one of two junior team leads in my department. Five days before the deadline of an important project, the other junior lead became ill. Since I was familiar with the project, our supervisor asked me to finish it. Although I had other obligations, I accepted the challenge. I approached the situation strategically by calling my sick colleague to gather information and resources. Then I delegated some tasks to my co-workers and re-prioritised my other obligations. In the end, we completed the project before the deadline and had time to review it for quality."
This STAR response addresses problem-solving abilities:
Question: "Think of a challenge you encountered on the job. How did you overcome it?"
Situation: I was a senior copy editor at a digital textbook publishing firm. We discovered that one of our contributing writers had plagiarised some work.
Task: Having worked with this writer for a long time, I felt responsible for handling the problem.
Action: I had a conference with the original writer to get their side of the story and learned it was an innocent mistake. I asked the writer to revise the content.
Result: We published the revised content and the original writer learned to be more vigilant.
Response: "Six years ago, I was a senior copy editor at a digital textbook publishing firm. We'd recently put out a new history e-book, but learned that one writer had plagiarised some of their content. Having worked with this writer for a long time, I felt responsible for speaking with them directly.
My first step was to see whether the writer had plagiarised anything else. I compiled all of their previous work and ran it through plagiarism-detection software. Fortunately, this was an isolated incident. I spoke with the original writer and learned that this was an innocent mistake. They'd placed the plagiarised content as a placeholder but had forgotten to replace it. I advised this writer to be more vigilant and asked them to revise the content. We updated the e-book and we haven't had any issues since."
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