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Answering Interview Questions Using The STAR Method

Updated on July 28, 2013

How to Stand Out in a Job Interview

Interviewing for a job can be a very nerve-wracking experience. If you're anything like me, you will never fully overcome your nerves and that's okay. In order to compensate for your nerves though, the best thing you can do is prepare.

For years I thought I was just a bad interviewee, but as it turns out, my biggest problem was lack of preparation.

Preparation is the key to a good interview and since you've made it to this page, you're already on the right track!

Image purchased from iStockPhoto

Standard Preparation

While the standard interview preparation advice is still worth mentioning, I will not be covering it in depth on this page. This page is devoted to the STAR Method of Interviewing. These steps should not be overlooked when preparing for an interview...

  • Research the Company you are interviewing with - You should have knowledge of the company's history and what they do.
  • Dress to Impress - It doesn't matter what the dress code of the job is. The interview is a formal process and you should be dressed accordingly.
  • Arrive on Time - Generally speaking, in the business world, "on time" means early.
  • Don't Let Your Guard Down - Your interview begins in the parking lot. You interview is not over until you leave the premises. Stay professional. Stay classy.

The STAR Method [POLL]

Have you heard of The STAR Method before reading this article?

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Last year when I was job hunting, I had 5 interviews. They ALL required use of the STAR Method.

What is The STAR Method?

The STAR Method is a smart and elegant way for you (the interviewee) to answer tough behavioral interview questions. The STAR Method allows you to simply tell a well-structured story as you confidently and completely answer the interviewer's questions.

Many interviewers today, including those working for mass merchandisers such as Target and Walmart, have found that asking these behavioral type of questions in the interview can provide a better picture of future performance in the workplace. Therefore it is not likely that these questions will disappear any time soon. So it is to your great advantage to know what the interviewers are looking for when they ask these type of behavioral questions.

How to Spot Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions are very easy to spot. I'm sure you've actually heard them many times, but you just didn't refer to them as behavioral questions.

Behavioral Question Example 1:

Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get a job done.

Or sometimes the interviewer will make them even more obvious by expanding on the request for you.

Behavioral Question Example 2:

Tell me about a time when you came across a problem you didn't immediately know how to solve. Describe the problem, the steps you took to solve the problem, and what happened as a result of the action you took.

This should be a dead giveaway that they are looking for you to respond with the STAR Method. Pretty much any time that they ask you to "Tell me about a time..." or "Describe..." they will be looking for a STAR Method response. Now it's your turn to use this knowledge to your advantage.

What Does STAR Stand For?

Situation. Describe the situation. Give the setting of the story. Your interviewer does not know the inner workings of your previous employer(s). You need to describe, as best you can, the situation you were in so they can understand the rest of your story.

Task. Describe the task that you were presented with. This could be an order that your direct manager gave you or this could be a problem that another associate brought to your attention that you need to take care of. Whatever it may be, clearly explain the task or problem at hand.

Action. Describe the action that you took to resolve the problem. Or describe the steps you took to complete the task that was assigned to you. Even it was a situation in which you delegated the task you can still explain to whom you delegated the task to and why.

Result. Possibly the most overlooked portion of your story is the result. It's good to know that you took action, but what result did those actions yield? Did you get a positive result? Did you get a negative result? What would you do differently (if anything) next time? You should constantly be evaluating your actions so that you can improve your overall performance.

The STAR Method [POLL]

Have you ever used The STAR Method in an interview?

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Storytelling and The STAR Method

Once Upon a Time...

Believe it or not, The STAR Method is really just a structure for a story (although I would not recommend starting your answers with "Once upon a time..."). So really all you have to do is practice turning your experiences into stories.

The most important thing to remember when telling your story is to make sure that your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

In the beginning you will set the stage. Tell your interviewer the necessary details about where you are working and the people you're working with.

In the middle you really answer the question. This is where all the action takes place. Whether it was good or bad explain it to the best of your ability. Never assume that your interviewer is familiar with a process or technical terminology. Explain everything at a base level.

Finally, in the end you will wrap it all up in a neat little package. You will explain the results of your actions. Then make yourself stand out even more by evaluating your actions. Let the interviewer know that you are thinking about the big picture as well. If you were asked to do this task again, would you still take the same actions?

Thinking of your answers as a simple story can help to alleviate a lot of nerves. It will also make your responses flow and make you stand out above the other candidates.

Image purchased from iStockPhoto

How to Prepare for an Interview

Once you know what kind of responses the STAR Method requires it is very easy to prepare for the interview.

Take a look at your past year or two of work history. Consider any major problems you encountered or any tasks you were assigned. Get a notebook and write these events down.

Now think about these events a little more in depth and jot down some of the actions you took and the people that were involved. (Don't forget to cover the results.)

A day or two before the interview be sure to look over your notes so you will have some examples ready to go.

Bring your notebook along with you to the interview. Politely ask the interviewer if you can take a few notes as you proceed through the interview. This will allow you to make notes of questions that come up during the interview as well as give you access to the notes you made previous to the interview.

The STAR Method Continued...

More Interview Tips...

For an even more detailed look at the STAR Method, check out The STAR Method HQ.

There you will find all the resources you need to successfully make it through your next interview.

Share an experience you've had with The STAR Method or let me know how this Lens has helped you...

Let me know you were here!

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    • MTSonnenberg profile image
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      MTSonnenberg 4 years ago

      @anonymous: I agree wholeheartedly. You're lucky that so many of your interviewers mentioned the STAR method before the interview. Usually I find that you just have to be aware of the methods and know what to look for in their questions.

      I hope your interviews went well.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @w3bmast3r lm: three out of the four interviews I've been to recently used the ST

      Four of the five interviews I've been on in the last three weeks have used the STAR method of behavioral interview. Three of them said that they would be using it and the fourth used it but didn't mention it. It is imperative that a person is not only familiar with this method of behavioral interviewing but well prepared for the "story telling" form of answer they are looking for.

    • MTSonnenberg profile image
      Author

      MTSonnenberg 4 years ago

      @w3bmast3r lm: It's the exact same thing except that an interview is live. Responding to selection criteria you can take your time, but knowing and using the STAR Method can help you in both cases.

    • w3bmast3r lm profile image

      w3bmast3r lm 4 years ago

      Generally speaking when people refer to the STAR Method it is for responding to selection criteria for an advertised position not the interview. An interesting spin though.

    • MTSonnenberg profile image
      Author

      MTSonnenberg 4 years ago

      @anonymous: That's exactly why I like to have 4-6 good stories ready to go. Chances are at least one of them will be applicable to each question.

      The nerves will never go away completely. That just means that you actually care about the interview and want to do well. Just don't let the nerves control you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I went on an interview never hearing of this method before and ended in disaster. I'm glad I know of it now but it makes me nervous not knowing the questions that will be asked. My nerves get the best of me and I just babble, no point to my story.

    • MTSonnenberg profile image
      Author

      MTSonnenberg 4 years ago

      @CoverLetterINterview: I would agree that it's all about the stories you have to tell. I always like to have at least 6 solid stories ready when I go into an interview. That way I should have a story for just about any topic they might question me on.

      The STAR Method is really a guide for beginners to help them develop their stories and make sure they are complete. If you've been in the game for a while, it comes naturally.

    • profile image

      CoverLetterINterview 4 years ago

      I have found there is no shortcut for learning the STAR method. It boils down (in my opinion) to acting -learn the part, memorize your lines and have your stories at the tip of your tongue.

      If you practice each story about about a hundred times, it will become second nature to you. It did for me.

      Thanks for the informative lens.

      Dave P

    • chadwik05 profile image

      chadwik05 5 years ago

      I took a class on this method for interviewing potential employees. Great info!

    • MTSonnenberg profile image
      Author

      MTSonnenberg 5 years ago

      @Mistl: Very true. A friend once told me, if you're not nervous it probably means you just don't care. So being nervous isn't the problem, it's just how you handle the nerves.

    • MTSonnenberg profile image
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      MTSonnenberg 5 years ago

      @John Dyhouse: Easy to understand is what I aim for. Thanks!

    • Mistl profile image

      Mistl 5 years ago

      I get quite nervous before an interview but i think that is a good thing as long as you can channel the nervous energy in a positive way. Good advice you give here!

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 5 years ago from UK

      Clear and concise indication of what the STAR method is and how to use it.

    • MTSonnenberg profile image
      Author

      MTSonnenberg 5 years ago

      @raelcalu: That's awesome that you use it naturally. Giving it a name like The STAR Method just makes it a whole lot easier to teach.

    • raelcalu profile image

      raelcalu 5 years ago

      i hate interviews and at times I fail and brings low confidence...throughout those attempts I've tried to make up for my failure and be prepared the next time. Learn from the previous mistakes I've had.

    • raelcalu profile image

      raelcalu 5 years ago

      Wow...this is a good one...well done...I think lately I've been using this one, upon my research, but it was never really called STAR Method.

    • MTSonnenberg profile image
      Author

      MTSonnenberg 5 years ago

      @Zebedee32: Glad I could educate.

    • MTSonnenberg profile image
      Author

      MTSonnenberg 5 years ago

      @LittleLindaPinda: It's true. Standing out can be a tricky thing. I'm glad you found another way to make things work.

    • LittleLindaPinda profile image

      Little Linda Pinda 5 years ago from Florida

      This is very good advice. I never heard of the Star method but I have heard of some of these types of questions being asked. This is so helpful especially now with the unemployment being so high. You need to standout from the crowd. My excitement usually made me stand out in getting jobs but I have been self employed most of my life but even as a Realtor, you are still being interviewed by potential clients and customers.

    • Zebedee32 profile image

      Zebedee32 5 years ago

      Wow! never heard of the start method before. Nice lens.