How to Use the STAR Method to Ace Your Interview

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    Going into an interview is nerve-racking for most people. Maybe you are the kind of person doing every bit of research possible on the company and the interviewer. Practicing your answers to common interview questions is surely recommended. But then there are the kind of questions that you may not be able to practice word-for-word. The kind of questions that tend to add the most anxiety to jobseekers, behavioral questions. Before you panic, the STAR method is your best asset to answering these questions.   

    There may be other challenging questions you may be concerned about such as questions regarding employment gaps or why you left certain companies. However, with the right coaching and practice, you can have a well-prepared answer drafted in your mind. Behavioral questions vary and will require you to think on the spot, remain calm, and provide an answer that is both relatable and highlights you well. 

    We are going to walk you through some commonly asked behavioral questions, what the STAR method is, and how to apply it. We even have some examples!

    Commonly asked behavioral questions

    Even though you will likely have to think on your feet, there are common behavioral questions you can prepare for. Most behavioral questions are going to focus on your ability to work collaboratively, lead, adapt, communicate effectively, and handle the pressure. 

    The kind of role you are applying for can also provide you with insight into what kind of behavioral questions the interviewer may ask. 

    For example, if you are applying for a customer service focused role, you can anticipate a question that will provide them with context on how you handle disgruntled customers or went above and beyond for a customer. 

    1. Tell me about a time when you were in conflict with a peer and how the situation was resolved.
    2. Discuss a time when you had a disagreement with a manager. How did you handle the situation?
    3. Tell me about a mistake you made, how did you handle it?
    4. What is your biggest professional accomplishment, why?
    5. Tell me about a time you handled an angry customer?
    6. Tell me about a time you had to work under a lot of pressure and how you handled it. 
    7. Tell me about a time you had an unexpected obstacle and how you handled it.

    The STAR Method

    The STAR method provides you with a clear map of how to answer behavioral questions. 

    STAR method

    Have you ever told a friend a story, only to forget where you were going with the story? We see our clients do this almost every time when we first begin working with them. 

    While chatting too long with no clear structure with a friend poses no risk, doing this in an interview can be detrimental. Interviewees often spend too much time explaining the problem and rush through the solution with an awkward ending. You do not have to be afraid of behavioral questions, on the contrary, these questions provide you with the ability to share a lot of your personality and accomplishments. This part of storytelling is what can set you apart from other candidates.

    Before the interview, think of a time you had a problem at work and practice using the STAR method to explain the issue. Be sure that the example you share ends in a positive manner and paints you in a good light. 

    Start by identifying the Situation, or the problem. Give a few details to explain the severity of the issue at hand and how it would affect the company.

    Then, explain the Task or the objective to fix the situation. In other words, what needed to be done to fix the problem?

    Next, explain the Action taken to alleviate the situation. When explaining the action, use action verbs. Take more time to explain this section than the first two. Use a great deal of detail here as it showcases your initiative and ability. 

    Finally, share the Results. If the results were quantified, include those numbers. For example, saying “I created a computer software that increased productivity by 45%.” Numbers show rather than tell how effective the applicant’s input was. 

    STAR responses help you organize your answer, provide necessary details, and fully answer the question. Answers based on examples are far more effective than vague, general responses that do not highlight your skills. 


    Example 1: A time an unexpected obstacle came up

    “I was the Operations Manager of a large distribution company. One year, one of our manufacturing factories closed down unexpectedly and stalled over 1,000 shipments from our warehouse. I knew this problem would cause a large issue so I called my director to ask if I could approve a discount for our clients’ next purchase and she approved it. I personally called each client to apologize and offered a discount for the inconvenience. The next month, our clients ordered 30% more than the previous month. Clients expressed gratitude for our proactive customer service.” 

    Example 2: A time when you disagreed with a manager

    “As a Human Resources Generalist, there was a time when one employee provided me with a verbal complaint against another employee. I went to the Human Resources Director to move forward with filing a formal complaint to make sure it was on record and we could address the problem with all parties involved. My Director did not want to run the paperwork and instead wanted to go straight to speaking with each individual, I did not agree with this process. I requested a quick meeting with him to communicate my concern over not having a paper trail for this verbal complaint and provided a time when this happened in the past at a previous role and it turned into a big mess. I offered to take on the paperwork and complete the paperwork the same business day. The Director agreed and within 3 business days, we had resolved the issue at hand to ensure all our employees felt safe and heard. The person that filed the complaint came to me and thanked me for handling everything so quickly. And I think it’s this attitude to strive for my employees to feel safe that increased employee satisfaction by 30% during my tenure at my previous job.”

    Example 3: Tell me about a mistake you made, how did you handle it?

    “Early in my executive assistant career, I made the mistake of double booking The Major Gifts Officer for two important meetings with two potential major gift donors. I was going back and forth with both individuals and pitched two separate times, one replied and asked for the time that I had pitched to the other donor. I did not notice the overlap and booked the call. Only for the other client to confirm the time I provided. As soon as I realized the overlap, I was mortified. All parties, my manager, and each donor were very busy people and we had finally decided on a time. I began to panic and then quickly calmed myself down because that wasn’t going to help me find a solution. As an EA, I understand I am the problem solver. I picked up the phone and called the second individual and apologized profusely for the confusion in time. I told her I’d like to make sure I schedule her in as we are very excited to meet with her. Over the phone, we found a time that worked for everyone. Afterward, I told my manager what had transpired and that moving forward, I will add a time block labeled TBD for every time I pitch while I await confirmation to ensure this does not happen again. My manager laughed it off and said she appreciated that I had not come to her trying to solve the problem and instead handled what I knew I could handle.”

    What NOT to do


    Do not speak ill of previous employers or colleagues. This is often tricky for job seekers who have had terrible job experiences but it is imperative that you not add your opinions and speak badly of a former employee or manager. The interviewer does not know you, and it will reflect poorly on you. Stick to the facts and refrain from drama.

    If you are discussing an obstacle you had to overcome that is not associated with a person (e.g. last-minute venue cancelations) by all means, paint the dramatic picture of the situation you had to handle. But when the obstacle is in regards to a person, tread lightly and stick to the positive outcome.  

    Fact: My Director did not want to run the paperwork and instead wanted to go straight to speaking with each individual, I did not agree with this.

    Opinion: My director hated doing any kind of paperwork especially on Fridays when he left early to golf. To top it off, he had favorites and the complaint was filed against his golf buddy. He wanted to just give him a free pass and I did not agree with this.


    The STAR Method


    To recap, the STAR method is a great way for you to efficiently and effectively answer questions. Think of a few different scenarios that can apply to different questions and focus on STAR – Situation, Task, Action, Results. Do not get stuck trying to memorize your story verbatim. This is how you get yourself confused and then panic when you realize you missed a word or sentence. Instead, focus on STAR and the general story. When you decide on which story you are picking, proceed to move through the situation, task, action, and result. 

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