How to Use the STAR Method to Answer Interview Questions

How to Use the STAR Method to Answer Interview Questions

Have you ever failed an interview? It is understandable because interviews are so unpredictable. You can never tell what questions an interviewer will throw at you or what mood they might be in. A formula or method to answer interview questions would come in handy in these circumstances.

The good news is that there are always people working behind the scenes to provide solutions to problems job seekers encounter. From effective job search methods to interview etiquette, there is something out there that can help you. You may have heard of the STAR Method for answering questions. Indeed, it is effective. However, the STAR Method is a unique system of answering interview questions of a special pedigree.

If you don’t know much about this method, rest assured this article explains the formula in full. And if you already know about the STAR Method, this article will provide more examples of real interview questions this method can help you to answer.


What are behavioral interviews?

First off, the STAR Method is not a panacea by any means. You cannot use this method to answer all types of interview questions, especially those related to IQ. The STAR Method is a formula for answering behavioral interview questions. Applying this method to other forms of interview questions would be a stretch.


What is a behavioral interview question?

These are interview questions an interviewer or hiring manager asks a job seeker to see how they have coped emotionally and intellectually in previous work scenarios. The integration of your comportment, skill, and knowledge to solving problems in your previous work is what the interviewer wants to know. It is majorly based on determining a candidate’s EQ. Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ) measures your ability to understand and manage your emotions, while acknowledging those of others, to ensure that your feelings or behavior do not get in the way of carrying out your tasks expertly.

Difficult times will come, pressure will rise, work will pile up, and you would be required to deliver as usual. How you see obstacles, approach them, and ultimately get your desired result while dealing with them is one of the important characteristics every employer wants to know.


What does a behavioral interview question look like?

Firstly, behavioral interview questions involve three vital aspects: an experience, explaining how you approach the situation, and the result. Behavioral interview questions are sometimes confused with trick questions. Examine the following examples:

  • Question 1: Tell us about a time when you had a tough decision to make that could have ended badly
  • Question 2: If you were in a situation where you had to make a tough decision, how would you handle it?

Looking at both questions, they are similar. However, one has the three important features of a behavioral interview question. That is Question 1. It talks of an actual period in the past, what happened, and an outcome that did happen. Question 2 is a trick question that aims to test your judgment in a made-up scenario.

Thus, when questions about your past work experience and how you dealt with the challenges come up, the STAR Method is an effective way to answer them.


How to prepare for an interview with the STAR Method

The emphasis on behavioral methods is because the STAR Method is mainly applicable to it. Like every type of interview both online and in-person, a candidate must prepare for it. Even though the STAR Method is effective in these scenarios, not everyone scales through such interviews using it. Certain protocols must be in place for the method to work.

Know your competencies off-book.

The essence of the STAR Method is to show that you have the skills, knowledge, and emotional intelligence to solve problems. These interviews also serve as an avenue to showcase your best attributes.

When asked certain questions based on your work experience, you are expected to come up with straight answers. Any major hesitation or attempt to deflect the question would send the wrong signals to your interviewers. For instance, if you were asked how you solved a problem under certain conditions, you should be able to tell them if you truly solved it. You need to know your competencies and how best you employ them.

Also, be sure that they correlate with the job you are applying for. Having a list of your attributes in the corner of your mind will enable you to mention them and how you apply them with ease. Knowing your competencies is a good first approach as the preparation should start with you.

Learn about the position and the organization you are joining.

Next, do your research on the company you want to work for. The reason is to understand how best your skills and experience best suit the organization and the nature of the job. You probably have a plethora of skills and knowledge in various scenarios. However, not all these skills will be relevant to where you are hoping to work next. Knowing what the company is about would give you an insight into what you would be expected to do there.

When you prepare using the STAR Method, see how and where your knowledge best suits the new organization. Doing so will help you focus on skills, experiences, and knowledge that you would need to mention. Hence, you will approach relevant questions with the appropriate answers without thinking too much thanks to the STAR Method. Only a few attributes impress interviewers as the ability to think on your feet.

Review your past experiences.

The third important phase of preparing for your interview with the STAR Method is revisiting your previous endeavors. Preparing yourself with the STAR Method is to keep yourself from thinking too deep or taking too long to recall past situations. What you have gone through in the previous jobs and how you handled them is key. Past experiences involving leadership, teamwork, self-discipline, planning, and more, should top the list for you.

Take some time to recall the previous tasks you had carried out at your former job and analyze them. Review what they were and the nature of the tasks. Important details of your mental or emotional condition at that time should come to mind. These will help you appear more relatable and truthful to the interviewers.

The methods, including the skills you used to complete the task, should all be noted. Note that these past experiences must be related to the present job you are applying for.


What is the STAR Method

The STAR Method is a systematic approach to answering behavioral questions by giving an answer based on the situation at the time of the incident, the task in question, the way you approached the situation, and the result. In fact, STAR is an abbreviation of the main features of the method.

  • S – Situation. This relates to a real-life situation you were in where you needed to see a task or project through. What was the problem that had to be solved or the situation that needed urgent attention? The key is to give a particular- not generalized- experience of a certain scenario that had an impact on you. To connect better with the interviewer, the situation has to be related to the job in question. Give detailed information that shows you recall the situation vividly.
  • T – Task. This is basically what you needed to accomplish in that situation. It is the goal of being involved in the situation. Mostly, it could be a project of reasonable significance. Give details of the complexity of the task and how it could have ended badly.
  • A – Action. How you approached the situation is what you need to explain here. What actions did you take to solve the problem or get the task completed? This is where you have a chance to impress. List the steps you took while taking action. From the preparation to the execution of the plan, the details you give here are important. Focus on what you did on the task even if it was a team project.
  • R – Result. This is the outcome of the steps you took to solve the problem or carry out the task. Firstly, what was the result? If it didn’t go as planned, you should say why and how you handled it. In the end, what lessons did you take home from the experience?


Be sure to be truthful, honest, and as direct as possible while using this method. Now that we know what the STAR Method is, let’s examine some interview questions you can answer while applying it.

Tell me about a time when you took the lead on a big project for the first time.

STEP 1: Describe the situation

It was my second year in the organization and our superiors gave the junior staff a surprisingly big project to handle. It was one of their biggest client campaigns.

STEP 2: State the task

We were to launch a new product for the client’s company on a big budget. I volunteered to take the lead since not many of us were ready to take such a risk early on in their career.

STEP 3: Explain the action you took.

I was inexperienced at that time, but all I had was confidence and a desire to make a good impression. Recalling some of the books, seminars, and especially, reality shows like The Apprentice, I made a plan.

Firstly, I called a meeting where I delegated tasks to each teammate based on their strengths. Then, I made sure I handled the most important aspects- finance, and meetings with stakeholders. I did a survey on what the target customers would love the product to be, then I met with the client for their thoughts on my discovery.

After making the product, we made promotional materials for it and put it on the market.

STEP 4: What was the outcome?

The reception was impressive. There were orders for the product and it became one of the client’s best-selling products for that decade. I became the first to be promoted thanks to that project.


Describe when you had to be responsible for carrying out a project with an impossible deadline

STEP 1: Describe the situation

It was a few years ago in the summer. I was in charge of a project with a 3-week deadline that was brought forward by a week.

STEP 2: State the task

My goal was to somehow speed up the process to ensure that I meet up the deadline. It was almost “mission impossible” for me at the time.

STEP 3: Explain the action you took.

At first, I met with the management to speak for myself about my concerns, the complexity of the situation, and our expectations. Next, I reviewed the project plan and added extra hours and more tasks to the previous ones for each day. Seeing that I could never get the job done before the deadline, I interviewed and hired freelancers from reputable platforms. I was able to delegate, work, and supervise them.

STEP 4: What was the outcome?

With additional help, we got the job done and I paid the freelancers for their service. The client and my superiors wondered how I managed to get it done because we all knew it was nearly impossible. I got a bonus for the project and requested a day off to recharge. 


Final thoughts

How to answer interview questions will always be one of the prominent challenges in people’s job search experiences, especially at the start. The STAR Method is an efficient way to answer some of the most complex questions, especially regarding a candidate’s behavior. This method requires that you prepare first before going for the interview. Once you understand the simple method, you will always be able to give a sound response that will impress your interviewer. Have you ever tried the STAR Method? Let us know about your experience and, of course, the outcome in the comments section.

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