The STAR Interview Response Technique
During an interview, you will most likely be faced with either situational or behavioral-based interview questions.
Situational interview questions ask candidates about what they would do in hypothetical situations, whereas behavioral-based questions seek to find out how candidates have tackled similar situations through their previous experience. Companies may have preferences over which style of question they utilize, but in my experience, I preferred to utilize behavioral-based questions to learn more about real life situations candidates have encountered and how they have handled them. Situational interview questions are helpful when interviewing candidates who may lack the direct experience to draw from in their responses.
Here are examples of common behavioral-based questions:
Have you ever made a mistake at work? How did you handle it?
Tell me about a time you disagreed with your supervisor.
Give an example of how you set goals.
Describe a decision you made that wasn’t popular and how you handled implementing it.
Tell me about a time when you worked on a team.
Behavioral-based questions are all about telling a story, which is where some candidates can run into trouble. Common mistakes candidates make are giving long, drawn out stories that are difficult to follow, sharing stories that lack a resolution, or the information they share does not answer the question asked.
When preparing for an interview, one of my favorite tactics is to do a quick Google search of common behavioral-based interview questions and think about anecdotes from my work experience that could be used to answer these common questions. A helpful way to make sure you effectively answer a behavioral-based question is to utilize the STAR method for your response.
The STAR method is a way to structure your response: STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. This method helps you structure your response to ensure that you’ve hit all of the important details while you answer the question asked.
Let’s take a closer look at the components of the STAR method.
Describing the situation sets the scene for your response. You should include important details such as the who, what, where, when, and how needed for the listener to understand. The purpose of including these details is to give your listener context for your story.
What Happened? Describe the task you were responsible for in a clear and concise manner. Highlight any specific challenge you had to overcome.
What did you do? Describe what you did in chronological order to address the task at hand. Be sure to give all the details that are necessary, but do your best to be concise.
What happened? Don’t forget to tell the end of the story and specifically this should include what YOU did to handle the situation. Did you learn anything from the situation? What was the effect this outcome had on the business?
Let’s go through an example together using the STAR method – the behavioral-based question is:
“Have you ever had to work on a complex task on the job where you had little instruction given by your supervisor? What was the problem and what did you do?”
I started a new job that involved helping teams of coordinators plan and organize fundraising events for their companies. I had about 75 coordinator teams from different companies to work with over a four month fundraising period. Most companies ran their fundraising event around the same time each year, but each was different with how they ran their events and how much involvement each required from me. I had access to notes left in a database from my predecessor, but no instruction on how to organize contacting each company.
I had to figure out a way to organize contacting these coordinators to begin planning their events in a timely manner to ensure they had enough time to run a well-planned fundraising campaign.
Since I had access to notes from the previous fundraising year, I created an Excel Spreadsheet and organized the companies by the month in which they previously ran their event and the estimated involvement needed for each company. I developed a communication strategy that involved contacting each organization 4-6 weeks in advance of the month in which they would likely run their event to make contact with the company coordinator and begin the planning process. I kept detailed notes throughout the process about how each planning process went, the time each started, how many days each event needed, how much involvement was required, and any quirks that were helpful to know when working with each company.
I was able to make contact with all of the companies on my list and executed successful fundraising campaigns. I was also able to develop a manual for seasonal employees of how to reach out to their company coordinators to ensure all companies were contacted in a timely manner. This was also helpful to have each year as I prepared to begin the next fundraising season. As a result of my work, I was more prepared for my second year of fundraising in the role and ended up exceeding my fundraising goals from my first year on the job.
Just like that, I’ve answered the question and given the interviewer a bigger picture of how I might approach complex situations in the workplace. Before your interview, consider what skills are most important for the role you are applying for and think about how your previous experience might apply to the new role. It’s important to have an idea about what stories you might share and practice talking about them, but remember to keep it light and conversational as opposed to rehearsed word-for-word.
The next time you are asked a behavioral-based interview question, just remember – you are a STAR!