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Interview Preparation

How to Use the STAR Method to Succeed at Your Next Interview

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated August 6, 2021

Guide Overview

What does STAR stand for?The STAR method in detailWhat is the STAR method of interviewing?How can you use the STAR technique?What is a behavioural interview?How can you use the STAR method to answer behavioural interview questions?Best practice in behavioural interviewsHow to answer a question using the STAR method (with examples)Learning from the STAR technique

Guide Overview

The STAR method is a technique used by interviewers and candidates to make sure interview questions lead to valuable answers.

For candidates, it is a way to structure responses quickly, with just a few seconds of thought, and to provide the right level of detail without going off on a tangent.

Using the STAR technique can help you to give answers that sound logical, detailed and focused, especially when you have not been given the questions in advance.

Here we look in more detail at the STAR interview technique, how to work through the process in less than ten seconds, and some examples of STAR interview questions you might encounter.

What does STAR stand for?

Each letter in STAR forms part of your answer to behavioural interview questions:

  • Situation: What was the general background of the incident?
  • Task: What specific challenges or obstacles did you face?
  • Action: What did you do and how did you do it?
  • Result: What were the benefits, and did you receive recognition?

Together, the four elements of STAR help you to structure your answer in a matter of seconds, including all the essential information without getting distracted.

Preparing your answer is the fifth element of STAR. Always take 5-10 seconds to think before you start to speak.

The STAR method in detail

Now we know what STAR stands for, we can look in more detail at each element of the technique.

Preparing

In interviews, it is often sensible to take about five seconds of thinking time before you start to speak.

This is helpful in STAR questions, as it gives you a short amount of time to decide which details to include in your answer.

If you prepared STAR answers before the interview, try to quickly decide if one of them is relevant, or if you need to come up with a new example on the spot.

Situation

Briefly set the scene. This should give the general background to your anecdote, so the interviewer understands the context.

You can cover this part quite quickly, but it is an essential element if you want the interviewer to have a good grasp of the rest of your response.

It also gives you a chance to mention any limits that were out of your control, for example if you were working on a project with a tight deadline or small budget.

Task

Now you can move on to the specific challenge you faced. Here you can focus on one obstacle or problem you had to resolve.

Again, this should not be negative. Choose a problem that was challenging but that you were able to tackle head-on.

Ideally, you should choose an example that could have had a negative outcome, but instead ended in a positive result thanks to your actions.

Action

Give details of the action you took to overcome the obstacle. These should be your own actions – the interviewer will be more interested in your solutions to the problem than those of a manager or colleague.

Be as positive as possible. If the situation was stressful, focus on how you overcame that stress. If resources were tight, talk about how you did more with less.

This is your moment to shine. In a STAR answer, Action is the element with the strongest focus on you as an individual. Make the best use of it.

Result

Finally, what happened after you acted? Here you can talk about how you turned a potentially negative outcome into a positive result and any further effects, such as saving a contract that was in jeopardy.

Again, be positive – your actions overcame a significant challenge, so there is no need to be modest. The interviewer wants to hear the details.

If you got recognition for your excellent work, mention this too. That could be a pay rise or promotion, an award (e.g. employee of the month), or a mention in the company newsletter.

This shows the interviewer that your employer at the time thought your actions were beneficial – and not just yourself.

What is the STAR method of interviewing?

The STAR method of interviewing is not just a way to structure answers – interviewers can also use it to structure questions in a way that encourages detailed, useful answers.

For example, instead of asking a candidate about their flaws and weaknesses, you can ask them how they overcame or recovered from the challenges they faced in their previous job.

STAR is a more probing, open-ended question technique which in turn encourages richer responses that cover all the various aspects of the situation.

Remember not all candidates will know the technique, so they may give answers that do not perfectly follow the STAR structure.

But by asking STAR questions, you give them an opportunity to go into more detail, even if they do not know the method itself.

You can prepare follow-up questions just in case, so that if the candidate gives a one-word answer to a STAR question, you can probe further to give them a second chance to answer in more detail.

How can you use the STAR technique?

In a moment we will look at how candidates can use the STAR technique in behavioural interviews. First, how can interviewers use STAR questions to get the most value from each candidate’s answers?

Here are five top tips for using the STAR method in job interviews:

  1. Plan your questions in advance and have follow-up questions in case you need them.
  2. Focus on personality and behaviour to find out about the candidate’s judgment and resilience.
  3. Target areas you are most interested in e.g. leadership qualities, teamwork, or crisis management.
  4. Ask STAR questions tailored to the candidate’s career history if a specific past role catches your attention.
  5. Be ready to probe for more details if the candidate does not give a complete STAR answer to your first question.

The STAR method is a tool to make your interviews more effective. But you can combine it with other interview techniques and simple yes/no questions where sensible.

In the end, if you get the information you need from the candidate, your interview is a good one.

What is a behavioural interview?

Behavioural interview questions probe a little deeper into the way the candidate acts or behaves in certain circumstances.

The questions can be quite specific – for example, if the interviewer wants to hear more about an incident the candidate has already mentioned in their application or cover letter.

Or it can be quite general, to give the candidate the chance to direct the answer and focus on an experience of their choice.

Overall, the interview goes beyond the basics to give good insight into the candidate’s personality.

Answers should be anecdotal. Behavioural interviews are very personal, and candidates should try to avoid generic, impersonal answers.

Because of this, it is important to prepare for behavioural interviews. Candidates should try to think of examples of problem-solving, teamwork and leadership from their past jobs.

If possible, use these examples when answering questions in the interview. However, you should always make sure the answer you give is relevant to the question the interviewer asked.

How can you use the STAR method to answer behavioural interview questions?

We will look at specific examples of STAR questions and answers below. But first, how can you apply the STAR technique to behavioural interview questions in general?

As with all job interview preparation, practice makes perfect. Make sure you know what STAR stands for and how to construct a STAR response from start to finish.

That means making sure your answer includes all four elements of STAR, flows smoothly from one to the next, and does not drift into irrelevant other information.

Here are three top tips to answer a STAR interview question:

  1. Take 5-10 seconds to think before you start to talk.
  2. Work through the four elements of STAR in order.
  3. Stop talking before you start to drift off-topic.

If you can remember the four elements of STAR and these three top tips for giving your answer, you should be all set to answer any STAR question effectively.

Best practice in behavioural interviews

When you come to give your answer, here are three simple examples of best practice to keep in mind.

Behavioural interviews often focus on problems you have faced in the past. Be ready for this – it should not mean your answer is negative.

The interviewer is not interested in the problem itself, but in the way you dealt with it.

Be positive

Describe the problem you faced, but then move on to the positive aspects of any action you took.

A good STAR answer should have a positive ending, so make sure this is the part the interviewer remembers.

Put your own actions at the heart of your anecdote. Your answer should be all about you, even if you need to mention your managers and teammates to tell the story.

Be relevant

If you took the time to prepare answers for the STAR questions you expected to be asked, it can be frustrating if the employer takes a different direction.

Resist the urge to give an irrelevant answer you have already prepared. Instead, try to think of something relevant when preparing your reply.

If one of your prepared answers is a good example, but not a perfect fit for the question, ask if the interviewer would like to hear it as you think it will still give them the information they are looking for.

Be concise

Planning an effective answer also means knowing when to stop talking. The STAR technique has just four elements (plus 5-10 seconds to prepare your answer) so stick to these.

Give the most significant details and let the interviewer ask if they want to hear more. You can make your answers firm, focused and positive, without any irrelevant minor details.

When you finish your answer, stop talking. If you structured your response well, you should have covered all the crucial parts of the anecdote in enough depth.

How to answer a question using the STAR method (with examples)

Here are three examples of STAR questions in a behavioural interview, with ways to go about answering them.

1. Give an example of a time when you had to finish more than one important project at the same time?

This is a way to check your judgment and ability to prioritise tasks. It also evaluates how well you manage stress and deadlines.

You can prepare an answer in advance and this is a question that employers often ask in behavioural interviews.

Still take around five seconds to think before you speak. You might want to tweak your answer slightly, just to make sure it fits the interview as well as possible.

2. Describe an unpopular decision you made and how you carried it out?

Not every decision you make in your career will be popular, but they can still be important.

This question covers decision-making, leadership, and how you get the job done when there is no perfect solution.

You can use your answer to show your powers of persuasion and communication, and how you got your team or subordinates back on side after a disagreement.

3. Tell me about a time when you had to take control of a situation under your own initiative?

Sometimes you must go beyond your usual role, especially if a colleague struggles to cope with a situation.

This question is a chance to talk about how you did this, the innovation and initiative you showed, and if you shared that responsibility with a co-worker or superior.

Learning from the STAR technique

As you attend more job interviews, you can polish your STAR technique and improve your stock answers.

Pay attention to what works well in your prepared answers, as well as the things you find difficult when thinking up a STAR response on the spot.

Over time, this is a method you can get better at, so your performance in behavioural interviews gets better too – not only for STAR questions, but across the board.

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