Hilversum, the Netherlands

Stand Out in Your Next Interview: The STAR Method for Behavioral Questions

Stand Out in Your Next Interview: The STAR Method for Behavioral Questions

Ayu Rollman

Managing Partner

Behavioral interviews are becoming increasingly popular among employers as a way to evaluate job candidates. In a behavioral interview, the interviewer will ask questions about your past work experiences and how you handled certain situations.

The goal of behavioral interview questions is to get a better sense of your competencies, skills and fit for the role based on how you behaved in the past. The premise is that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance.

Employers use behavioral interviews because they reveal more about your potential capabilities than traditional interview questions about your skills, experience, education and qualifications. Anyone can say they have a desirable skill, but a behavioral interview lets hiring managers assess whether you actually used key skills effectively.

To succeed in a behavioral interview, you need to be prepared to use the STAR method to craft your responses. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. This method provides the interviewer with a clear, concrete example of how you handled a work challenge and the outcome you achieved.

Using the STAR method ensures you provide the relevant context and details to demonstrate the key competencies and accomplishments the employer is looking for. Well-structured STAR stories will highlight your qualifications for the role in a compelling way.

Explanation of the STAR Method

The STAR method is a structured manner of responding to behavioral interview questions by discussing the specific situation, task, action, and result of your experience.

STAR stands for:

  • Situation – Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example. Describe the task or project you were involved in and explain any challenges or constraints. Focus on specifics.

  • Task – What goal were you working toward? What were you required or expected to achieve in that situation? Explain the responsibilities and objectives you were aiming to fulfill.

  • Action – What steps did you take to address the situation and accomplish the task? Break down how you approached the problem or worked to deliver the desired outcome. Focus on your specific contributions and behaviors.

  • Result – What was the outcome of your actions? What did you achieve? Quantify your results and accomplishments as much as possible. Explain how your actions made a difference or impacted the situation in a positive way. Share any lessons learned or valuable takeaways from this experience.

The STAR method helps you construct concise yet descriptive responses using real examples of how you handled past situations, challenges, and achievements. This technique also enables the interviewer to gain insight into your thought process and assess your competencies based on how you contextualize your behaviors and results.

How to Identify Your Skills and Accomplishments

Before you can craft effective STAR stories, you need to identify your top skills and accomplishments that are relevant to the job. Here are some steps to help narrow down which experiences you should focus on:

  • * Carefully review the job description and highlight keywords that describe required skills, abilities, and qualifications. Make a list of the hard skills (technical capabilities) and soft skills (interpersonal abilities) you should demonstrate.

  • * Take an inventory of your skills and accomplishments. Examine your entire work history, activities, hobbies, and education to create a master list of your skills and achievements. Look for examples that back up the top skills needed for the role.

  • * Choose your strongest, most relevant examples. Pick stories that showcase your top-tier skills and abilities like leadership, communication, teamwork, problem-solving, initiative, adaptability, etc. Recent examples are ideal, but reach back further if needed.

  • * Analyze any potential gaps between your accomplishments and what the role requires. Identify skills you may need to develop and think of other professional or personal examples that help fill those gaps.

  • * Craft a final list of roughly 4-5 stories to cover the bases. Pick examples that highlight your skills in action and the positive results you achieved. This gives interviewers compelling evidence that you possess the necessary abilities to succeed.

The key is selecting stories strategically to prove you can handle the role. Take time to reflect on examples that highlight your most important and relevant professional abilities. That strategic preparation will help you ace behavioral interviews.

Crafting Your Situation

The Situation part of the STAR method sets the context for your story. You want to briefly describe the circumstances that led up to your accomplishment or challenge. Focus on providing the key details needed to understand the background:

  • Who was involved? Describe any team members, clients, customers, or stakeholders that were part of the situation.

  • What project, task, or objective was this related to? Provide any necessary details about the nature of the work.

  • Where did this take place? Was it a specific office location, job site, store, etc?

  • When did the situation occur? Providing a timeline and specifying dates or duration can help frame the context.

The Situation should be as concise as possible while still setting the stage properly. Only spend 1-2 sentences at most describing the circumstances before moving into explaining the Task. Avoid lengthy background information that doesn’t aid understanding of your actions and results.

Focus on highlighting the specific details that are most essential for the interviewer to understand the context of what you accomplished. Providing the pertinent who, what, where and when upfront will allow you to then focus the majority of the STAR story on yourself.

Describing the Task

The next part of the STAR method is describing the task or challenge you faced in the situation. This is where you provide details on the specifics of what needed to be accomplished, including:

  • What were the goals, requirements, or objectives you needed to fulfill? Provide specifics on what success looked like for this task.

  • What limitations, obstacles, or constraints did you face? Think about deadlines, budgets, resources, personnel issues, etc. that made the task more difficult.

  • What skills were required? Detail both the hard and soft skills needed to complete the task.

  • Who were the stakeholders involved? Describe who you needed to collaborate with or get approval from.

  • What was the scope or scale of the project? Quantify things like dollar amounts, number of people, size of audience etc. when possible.

The key is to be very specific about the precise challenge you faced and what needed to get done. You want to set up the context so the interviewer really understands the situation before you move into explaining the actions you took.

Explaining Your Actions

This is where you want to focus on the specific actions you took to address the situation or complete the task. Be detailed in walking through each step of your process, explaining how and why you approached it in that way.

For example, if the situation was noticing nearly expired food in the grocery store you work at, you could say:

  • * I first brought the issue to my manager’s attention and proposed we mark down items expiring that week by 30% off.
  • * Then I went through our stockroom and shelves and identified all food items expiring within 7 days.
  • * I carefully checked the expiration or sell-by date on each item and made a list of ones needing to be marked down.
  • * For items nearing expiration but not yet at 7 days, I made a note to re-check them the following week for discounting.
  • * I also noticed several items that had fully expired, which I immediately pulled from the shelves to be discarded.
  • * Throughout this process, I was careful to double check expiration dates and ensure no expired food was left out.

The actions section allows you to showcase critical thinking, problem solving, project management, and other relevant skills. Be sure to highlight the steps that had the biggest impact or were the most challenging to accomplish. Explain your thought process and any key learnings along the way. This part of the STAR method really enables you to prove why you were the right person for addressing the situation.

Highlighting the Result

The result is the final and most critical component of the STAR method. This is where you want to demonstrate the positive outcome of your actions. The result enables you to showcase how you successfully completed the task or project in relation to what was required or requested.

Some key things to focus on when highlighting your result:

  • Quantify your accomplishments with numbers whenever possible. For example, rather than saying “increased sales”, specify that “sales increased 30% over 6 months.”

  • Focus on the accomplishments directly tied to your actions. Don’t exaggerate or take credit for results caused by external factors.

  • Highlight how your performance compared to goals, expectations, budgets, or industry benchmarks.

  • Specify how you measured and tracked success. For example, “sales performance was measured by monthly revenue targets and customer satisfaction surveys.”

  • Outline the positive benefits of your actions for the company, clients, team, or project.

  • Did you come in under budget or ahead of schedule? Did you boost productivity, efficiency or engagement?

  • Impact is just as important as hard numbers. Qualify successes with context, if possible. For example, “this innovation reduced customer wait times by 50% during peak demand.”

  • Briefly recap how you delivered substantive, meaningful results aligned to the goals described in your task.

The result is your opportunity to drive home how your actions made a difference and positively impacted outcomes. Focus on quantifying and qualifying your accomplishments to provide a compelling summary. Demonstrating you can achieve ambitious goals will highlight you as an exceptional candidate.

Putting It All Together

The key to mastering the STAR method is bringing together all the components into a cohesive story. Here are some tips:

  • Structure your response in four sentences – one for the situation, task, action, and result. Keep it concise.

  • Use transition words like “however,” “therefore,” and “consequently” to demonstrate the logical flow between each component.

  • “Situation” – Start by briefly describing the context – where you were, your role, the challenge at hand. Keep this to 1-2 sentences.

  • “Task” – Explain the objective, expectations, or requirements you were trying to accomplish.

  • “Action” – Share the steps you took, skills utilized, and process followed to address the situation and accomplish the task. This is the meat of your story.

  • “Result” – Close with the outcome or impact of your actions. Use numbers or facts to quantify the results.

  • Practice crafting stories ahead of time so the STAR structure comes naturally in interviews. Have go-to stories that showcase leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, resilience, communication, and other key skills.

Here’s an example STAR story:

*”Situation” – As a sales rep at ABC Company, I was struggling to meet my quarterly sales quotas in a highly competitive market.

“Task” – My goal was to increase sales by 10% to satisfy my targets and demonstrate growth.

“Action” – I researched our top losing accounts to identify upsell opportunities. I also optimized my outreach strategy by segmenting my prospects and providing tailored messaging.

“Result” – Through this targeted approach, I increased my sales by 15% that quarter and exceeded all my quotas.*

Answering Different Types of Questions

Behavioral interview questions typically focus on a few key competencies like leadership, teamwork, overcoming conflict, and dealing with failures. It’s important to have a relevant story ready that highlights your skills in each of these areas.

When preparing for an interview, review the job description and research the company to get a sense of the competencies and values that are most important to that role and organization. Then reflect on your own experiences and choose stories that demonstrate those competencies.

For leadership questions, think of examples that show skills like:

  • Motivating a team
  • Delegating effectively
  • Setting a vision
  • Managing projects successfully

For teamwork, consider stories that highlight:

  • Collaborating with colleagues
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Contributing as part of a team
  • Valuing others’ input

To demonstrate overcoming challenges, prepare an example that shows:

  • Dealing with a difficult coworker
  • Facing opposition to an idea
  • Handling a miscommunication
  • Working through red tape

For failure stories, focus on what you learned from the experience and how you grew. Don’t be afraid to tell stories where you made a mistake but were able to fix it or bounce back.

It can help to write down stories under common behavioral interview topics so you can quickly match a relevant example to the type of question being asked. Practicing telling your stories out loud is also key to making sure you can provide concise yet compelling responses.

With preparation and practice using the STAR method, you’ll be ready with impactful stories that emphasize the abilities any hiring manager wants to see.

Practicing Your STAR Stories

One of the most important things you can do to prepare for a behavioral interview is to practice telling STAR stories. Here are some tips:

  • * Come up with 6-8 stories that demonstrate the key skills and accomplishments you want to highlight. Identify skills listed in the job description and think of examples from your work experience that show you possessing those skills.
  • * Practice telling your stories out loud. Verbalizing the story will help you refine it and tell it more smoothly. Time yourself to make sure it’s concise.
  • * Get feedback from others. Have friends, family, or colleagues listen to your STAR stories and provide feedback. Ask them if the story makes sense, if they can follow the progression from situation to task to action to result, and if the result highlights your skills.
  • * Refine and adjust your stories based on the feedback. Practice telling the story again focusing on areas identified for improvement.
  • * Vary your tone and speed when practicing. Say the story slowly and quickly, varying your vocal inflection. This will prepare you for telling the story comfortably on the spot.
  • * Make the stories your own. Use natural language and avoid reciting them robotically from memory. Use vivid details and paint a picture for the interviewer.
  • * Be prepared to tailor your stories to various types of behavioral interview questions. Identify ways each story could apply to questions about leadership, teamwork, challenges, successes, etc.

With practice, your library of STAR stories will become a powerful asset to demonstrating your qualifications during behavioral interviews. Preparation and repetition will help ensure you can smoothly recount them and highlight the desired skills.

Contact us at Navon International to explore how our expertise can help you.

Subscribe to our Blog

* indicates required


Intuit Mailchimp

Leave a Reply