How to Use the STAR Interview Response Technique

Updated 5 May 2023

Hiring managers ask behavioural interview questions to determine whether a candidate is the right fit for a job. While the skills you listed in your application and resume may align with the needs for a role, the interviewer also wants to make sure you’ll be able to handle specific situations associated with the position. The STAR interview response method can help you prepare for this portion of the hiring process.

STAR stands for: situation, task, action, result. This method will help you prepare clear and concise responses using real-life examples. By using this strategy, you can make sure you’re fully addressing the interviewer’s question while also demonstrating how you were able to overcome previous challenges and be successful.

Here is some additional background on behavioural questioning and a few tips to help you leverage the STAR method in your next interview.

What are behavioural questions?

The behavioural interview is used to learn how you have behaved in previous work situations. In your answers, employers are looking for examples of your past actions that may be predictors of how you’ll act when you face these situations again. Generally, these questions are more open-ended and usually ask you to share stories or examples from your previous jobs.

Here are a few examples of behavioural questions:

  • Share an example of a time when you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve this problem?

  • Describe a time when you were under a lot of pressure at work. How did you react?

  • Tell me about a mistake you’ve made. How did you handle it?

  • Share an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision. What did you do?

  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss. How did you resolve it?

  • Describe a time when you had to deliver bad news. How did you do it?

  • Share an example of a time when you failed. What did you learn from the experience?

Related: How to Answer the Interview Question ‘How Do You Define Success?’

How does the STAR method work?

The STAR method helps you create an easy-to-follow story with a clear conflict and resolution. Here’s what each part of the technique means:

Set the stage for the story by sharing context around the situation or challenge you faced. Share any relevant details.

For example, “In my last role as lead designer, my team was short-staffed and facing a significant backlog of work. The account managers were setting unrealistic deadlines, which was causing stress for my team and affecting morale.”

Describe your responsibility or role in the situation or challenge.

For example, “As a team leader, it was my role to not only ensure my team met our deadlines, but also to communicate bandwidth to other departments and keep my team motivated.”

Explain how you handled the situation or overcame the challenge. If the action was carried out by a team, focus on your efforts.

For example, “I set up a formal creative request process including project timeline estimates to set better expectations. I scheduled weekly meetings with account managers to discuss my team’s bandwidth and share progress updates.”

What was the outcome you reached through your actions? If possible, quantify your success or provide concrete examples of the effects of your efforts.

For example, “By providing more transparency into my team’s processes and setting better expectations with the account managers, we were able to re-prioritise the design team’s to-do list and complete everything in our backlog. The following quarter, we shortened our average project timeline by two days.”

How to use the STAR method to prepare for an interview

While you won’t know the interview questions ahead of time, most behavioural interviews will focus on various work-related challenges that demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving, and situations that showcase leadership skills, conflict resolution and performance under pressure.

To prepare for your interview, review the job description and required skills, and consider what sorts of challenges might arise or what obstacles you may have to navigate in the position. Then, make a list of the various situations you’ve handled in your professional history that would display the sorts of strengths you’ll need to succeed in the role.

If you’re new to the workforce and don’t have a lengthy professional history to draw from, consider examples from internships, volunteer work or group projects you completed for school. In some cases, employers may ask you to share a non-work-related example, so consider challenges or obstacles you’ve overcome in your personal life, too.

No matter what stories you decide to share, make sure you define a situation, task, action and result, and showcase skills and abilities most relevant to the job.

Related: 5 Common Competency-Based Interview Questions with Example Answers

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

Here are three examples of how to answer popular behavioural interview questions using the STAR method:

  • Share an example of a time when you faced a difficult problem at work. How did you solve this problem?
    “I was working as a retail manager at a department store. A customer purchased a dress online and had it delivered to the store. One of my associates accidentally put the dress back on the rack, where another customer immediately purchased it. Before calling the customer to let her know about the mistake, I located the same dress at another store location nearby. I ordered it to be pressed and delivered to her home the morning of her special occasion, along with a gift card to thank her for her understanding. The customer was so thankful, she wrote us a five-star review on several websites.”

  • Describe a time when you were under a lot of pressure at work. How did you react?
    “In my previous job as an account executive, one of my co-workers quit immediately after signing the biggest client our firm had ever taken on. Although I was already managing a full load of accounts, I was assigned this new client as well. I knew the stakes were high and if we lost this deal, then we wouldn’t hit our quarterly goal. I made myself completely available to the client and took calls on evenings and weekends until the project was delivered. The client was so impressed with my dedication, they immediately signed an annual contract that netted our company $5 million.”

  • Tell me about a mistake you’ve made. How did you handle it?
    “I was working for an events company, and I was responsible for ordering the floral arrangements for a private event hosted by a high profile client. Unfortunately, I mixed up the information from another event, and the flowers were delivered to the wrong venue on the other side of the city. I admitted my mistake to my boss, took an early lunch break, drove to the other venue, picked up the flowers and delivered them to the appropriate venue an hour before the event. The client never knew about my mix-up, and my boss was very grateful.”

When it comes to behavioural interviews, the STAR response technique will help you craft responses that are compelling and succinct while thoroughly answering the interviewer’s question. Just make sure your answers are honest and share only positive outcomes.

Consider writing your stories down and practise saying them out loud, editing to make them short and clear where necessary. While questions may vary, having at least three to five experiences to draw from will ensure you’re able to deliver a confident response no matter what the interviewer asks.

Related: Job Interview Tips: How to Make a Great Impression

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