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How to use the STAR method for your next job interview

When it's time for your next interview, you want to be prepared. The working world is competitive and always changing, and it's more important than ever to stand out to an employer. The interview is your first opportunity to make a good impression. The interview helps employers connect the person behind the application to the job's necessities and company culture. Some of the top employers in the nation use the STAR method to filter the best talent from candidate pools.

It might help to find out if your interviewer uses the STAR method by doing some research. You can ask current employees about the interview process or go online to learn more from discussion forums and the company website. You might also want to rehearse STAR answers to anticipate this kind of interview. So, now that you understand how to use it, let's explore what it is and how it works. Upload a resume, take a seat, and get ready to learn all about the STAR interview method.

The STAR interview method: What is it?

The STAR method is an interview technique that helps applicants answer behavioral interview questions. These kinds of questions explore an applicant's potential behavioral responses to difficult situations or how you might have handled specific situations at work in previous positions. These questions are important to an employer because they showcase the applicant's reactions to stress and working conditions and how they interact with other people in the workplace.

STAR is an acronym that stands for:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

Why the STAR method works

The STAR method is effective because it can help you plan for and perform well during an interview by focusing on your core strengths more organically with more direct, focused answers. Breaking up an anecdote in this way can make it more digestible for your interviewer, which can be key to impressing them. Let's say you're giving an example of a time when you volunteered to stay after your shift to help close a retail store. It's not enough to just say you stayed late, because that doesn't provide any helpful context or explore your motivations.

The STAR method works because it allows you to describe the situation, providing important situational information, the task you performed, showcasing your skills, the actions you took, showing initiative and work ethic, and the specific results of your efforts, which show competency. With such a complete answer, employers are better able to draw accurate conclusions about who you are as a person and a prospective employee.

Answering interview questions with STAR

Let's talk about actually answering questions with the STAR method. The example you choose can be the deciding factor in whether an interviewer finds value in your answer, so the first step is to choose a suitable example. For example, if an employer asks you to describe a time you reacted poorly to a workplace incident, telling them about the time you tipped over a table might not be the best idea. Choose something that showcases some of your best qualities instead, like patience or compassion.

Once you choose a suitable example, it's important to describe the situation effectively. Give only necessary details to paint a picture of the situation and why you might have reacted the way you did. Keep details to a minimum while describing the situation as best you can. For example, if you want to talk about a time when you exceeded expectations, you don't have to talk about all the praise you received afterward or how you were the only one to do so. Focus on what contributed to your decision to exceed expectations, like staff shortages.

Describing how you can fit the role

With situational context established, you can begin describing exactly how you fit in your example. Highlight your specific role and objective and how it affected the situation. It's important to focus on the positives here–after all, you're trying to impress the employer and earn the position you're applying for. Describe your specific responsibilities in the scenario and the goals or objectives you wanted to meet to provide further information for the action phase of your answer. This is where you describe what actions you took and whether you met objectives, as well as any consequences of your actions.

Remember to keep any answers as concise as possible. Avoid excessive details and only describe yourself in a positive light. Be honest with your interviewer as well to help build that crucial trust between a prospective employer and a candidate. Honesty, efficiency, and positive answers are impressive to an employer and they might be more considerate of your application if they feel you were genuine during the interview.

How to use the STAR method to prep for an interview

Let's learn how to use the STAR method to prepare for an interview so you can be ready.


List job qualifications

First, you'll want to list your job qualifications. Think about anything that makes you uniquely qualified for your position or your prospective position. This can be certifications, experience, or familiarity with proprietary systems. For example, a software developer might list their six programming languages as a qualification.


Create interview question examples

One of the best ways to use the STAR method for interview prep is to create hypothetical interview questions and give your own answers. Start with some of the most common formats for behavioral interview questions, like:

  • Can you give me an example of when you went above and beyond at work?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you couldn't meet your job requirements?
  • What do you do when you're faced with a co-worker dispute?
  • Have you ever had to stand up to your manager?
  • Can you describe a difficult situation at work?


Match your skills to the position

The STAR method can also help you match your skills to the position you're applying for, so you can be sure you're the right fit. Consider questions like the ones above and then determine if your skills made you qualified to handle those situations effectively. Do you have the right skills for navigating tough working conditions? Co-worker disputes? Are you a good time manager? These are important factors to remember when you're prepping for your interview so you can sound more confident in your abilities.


Practice with a friend

Practicing with a friend can help you feel less nervous about your upcoming interview and help you nail the STAR method before you ever step foot in the interviewer's office. Enlist family or friends to role-play the interviewer for you and ask some common behavioral interview questions. Give them a genuine response using the STAR method and think about your answers. They can also give you some valuable feedback to refine those answers and make you a more confident interviewee.

Example questions and answers

Let's look at some example questions and answers using the STAR method so you can get a better idea of how to answer.

Can you tell me about a time when you went above and beyond at work?

Using the STAR method, you can structure an answer like this:

  • Situation: In my last job as a district manager, the company experienced a massive resignation that created a labor shortage.
  • Task: My job was to find temporary workers to fill lower positions and begin scouting for mid-level positions. I had a deadline of two months to hire 30 new employees.
  • Action: I contacted a local temp agency and began hiring temporary workers while utilizing web platforms to scan hundreds of applications each day for prospects.
  • Result: After a month and a half of 12-hour days and endless interviews, I was able to hire 30 new, qualified employees and contribute to the company's increased productivity the following quarter.

Can you tell me about a time you had a dispute at work?

Structure your answer with the STAR method like this:

  • Situation: One of my co-workers called off multiple times, and I had to come in on weekends and holidays.
  • Task: I had to find a way to confront them without being aggressive, despite being upset.
  • Action: I explained how their actions made me feel and that I was losing sleep.
  • Result: My co-worker started being more responsible and not calling off every weekend.

That's our guide to the STAR interview method. Use this method to ace your next interview by creating better, more informative answers with specific context and highlights of your best skills and attributes.


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