The STAR acronym refers to a method of answering behavioral questions in a job interview. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Structuring answers in this order helps you tell compelling stories about how you’ve handled specific workplace situations. STAR answers provide employers with clues about your experience, values, personality, and how you’ll perform in the position you’re applying for.
Behavioral questions can be challenging to prepare for and answer, as they require you to recall details of your professional history and deliver stories on command. With practice, you can master the STAR method, discover new ways to describe your qualifications, and compel employers to see you as a valuable asset.
It’s helpful to learn to recognize behavioral questions when they come up during an interview by listening for phrases like, “Tell me about a time when,” or “How have you handled,” followed by the scenario that your interviewer wants to know more about.
Here are three career-specific examples of behavioral interview questions:
Data analyst: “How have you handled getting project results that surprised you?”
User-experience designer: “Tell me about a time when a UX project did not succeed.”
Social media marketer: “Tell me about a time that you launched a social media campaign that exceeded the expectations of your team.”
When this type of question comes up in an interview, remember to use the four components of the STAR method to structure your answers.
Begin your answer by describing a specific workplace situation that is relevant to the interviewer's question. Include details about when the situation occurred and the company you were working for at the time.
Describe your role in the situation, including what was expected of you and any tasks or projects you needed to complete.
Next, describe the actions you took to resolve the situation, complete tasks or projects, and fulfill your responsibilities.
Finally, describe the result of your actions. Was the situation resolved? What was the measurable impact on others on your team, the company at large, or customers? What did you take away from the experience that helped you improve?
To better prepare for your next interview, research common behavioral questions in your career field, including tougher ones such as “Can you describe a time you failed?” or “How have you handled negative feedback in the past?” Prior to the interview, use the STAR method to prepare potential answers.
Here are three examples of behavioral questions and STAR answers for you to draw from.
Behavioral question:“What do you do when you disagree with someone at work?”
Situation: “At company X, my managers decided to consolidate our three products into one, while still trying to sell to three target customer segments. Because I knew the needs of our three segments well, I believed that we needed to keep three separate products to meet customers’ needs, but the managers did not follow my recommendation.”
Task: “I was responsible for gathering insights into our customer segments and redesigning the marketing of the one product to generate more leads and drive sales.”
Action: “While marketing the generic product to specific customer segments was a challenge, I spent extra time on market research and enlisted the help of other teams within the company to gather fresh insights. I then split-tested ad campaigns to find the most effective versions of the ads.”
Result: “Sales initially suffered after the product change, then rose while the ad campaigns took effect. Then, sales leveled off for several months and the managers decided to reinstate the three separate products and even add new, unique features that were better than the original. Within three months, sales quadrupled, as a result of better customer segmentation and product placement.”
Behavioral question: “Describe a time when the requirements of a project changed in the middle of it. How did you handle this situation?”
Situation: “While working for company Y, my team was responsible for deploying a new software program for our customers’ users. Halfway through, the customer requested very specific changes that would extend the deployment by two months.”
Task: “My role was to monitor the deployment to our test servers and keep the customer abreast of those results leading up to the live deployment with the goal of accommodating their mid-point requests and beating the extended two-month deadline.”
Action: “Building from prior deployments, I implemented a method of communicating weekly updates to the customer and requesting their feedback using a Google form.”
Result: “We experienced minimal interruptions during the live deployment and beat our extended deadline by two weeks. The customer was very happy and contracted our team for another project.”
Behavioral question: “Tell me about a time when you handled a high-pressure situation.”
Situation: “At company Z, I was given a large media assignment and a short turnaround period to complete it. This was for a big initiative by the public relations team to improve company Z’s image after a big controversy.”
Task: “My role was to reach out to media contacts to secure favorable coverage. However, it was difficult to achieve this as the controversy escalated.”
Action: “As the deadline loomed, I asked for an extension and increased my efforts to find friendly media contacts. I reached out to dozens of media outlets, sent personalized messages, and set up meetings over the course of three weeks.”
Result: “The result was that several top media outlets published favorable stories about company Z and we were able to retain a large percentage of our loyal customers.”
As you continue along your career path, keep a list of common behavioral interview questions handy so that as situations arise that you think would be illustrative in an interview, you can capture valuable insights while they’re fresh. Record your experiences using the STAR method and use them to prepare for future interviews.
Improve your storytelling skills for multiple workplace purposes, including crafting STAR answers to behavioral questions, with Storytelling and Influencing: Communicating With Impact from Macquarie University.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.