The STAR method is the best way to answer behavioral interview questions.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, and will help you create structured, concise, and engaging responses. Whenever you need to tell a story to demonstrate your skills, STAR is your go-to.
If “telling a story” sounds intimidating, don’t worry. If you prepare a little in advance, it becomes a breeze. And this is what we’re here to help you with.
After reading this article, you’ll know:
- What is the STAR method and how to use it for the greatest impact
- How to make your STAR answers shine bright (samples included)
- How to easily prepare your answers before the interview
Don’t waste days compiling overused interview techniques. Get original answers to every single question you could expect.
What Is the STAR Method?
The STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) method, a.k.a. the STAR format, technique, framework, or approach, is a way to answer behavioral interview questions and other common questions that require storytelling.
The STAR framework helps you prove you’ve got the skills needed to excel in the position you applied for — by telling a story about how you put those skills to use previously.
When to use the STAR method?
Usually, you’ll need to use the STAR technique when answering questions that begin with:
- Tell me about a time when…
- Can you recall a situation in which…
- Give me an example of a time when you…
Those are called behavioral interview questions. Their aim is to discuss your past behavior at work, assuming it’s a good indicator of your performance in the future.
Relying on the STAR framework to answer these questions lets you provide the necessary details while remaining concise, structured, and interesting.
That said —
The STAR method can be super useful in answering any question, whenever you’d like to use a story or illustrate something with an example. For instance, questions about your proudest accomplishments or times you failed, strengths, or weaknesses.
You can use this method to answer situational questions, too. Although these questions are based on a hypothetical scenario (“Imagine that… what would you do?”), you can incorporate STAR into your reply.
“I recommend that when it’s possible, candidates add a short STAR example to the hypothetical. Like: ‘Here’s a description of how I would generally respond. For example, I recently had a situation…’ Not always possible but definitely helpful. A real example is much more memorable and convincing than theorizing.” — says Pamela Skillings, Interview Coach, Career Counselor, and Co-Founder of Big Interview.
For more information on behavioral interviewing and how to answer these questions using the STAR method, check out the video:
If you want to learn more about how to answer the most common interview questions, how to sell yourself in an interview, or negotiate your salary, sign up for our free course.
Why use the STAR method?
It gives interviewers a comprehensive picture of your abilities
The STAR method allows you to demonstrate your skills, abilities, and achievements, and back them up with evidence. It will tell recruiters about your preferred work environments, how you deal with high-pressure situations, if you take ownership of your work, and how you measure your results.
All of this provides a well-rounded image of your professional self.
It lets you tell engaging stories about the results you delivered
Following the STAR method, you’ll display how your skills and experience align with the requirements of the new role. Additionally, the STAR framework emphasizes results. This makes your claims stronger and proves what you’re saying is true.
Finally, following each element of the STAR method will create a compelling story. And interviewers, like most people, love stories. Stories keep your listeners engaged and make you memorable.
Check out how it looks in practice:
You can use STAR universally across all behavioral interview questions
The STAR method is versatile and customizable. It works for every single behavioral interview question, no matter what skill it investigates.
For example, let’s say you created a quality assurance checklist that increased your team’s efficiency by 20% and decreased the number of errors.
Using the STAR method, you can repurpose that story for different interview questions about:
- Problem-solving: because you spotted an issue and resolved it
- Leadership: because you took the initiative to fix something
- Teamwork: because you cared about your team and wanted to find a way to make the work easier
- Communication: because you had to use your communication skills to convince the team to try out a new checklist
- Analytical skills: because you were data-driven and focused on finding appropriate solutions to your team’s specific problem
How to Create Answers Using the STAR Method
Let’s break down each component of the STAR method and learn the best way to craft compelling stories.
We’ll use an example of a retail sales associate being asked the following question: “Tell me about a time when you initiated a successful project or an idea.”
Describe the situation so that your interviewer understands the context. There’s no need to be too detailed. Providing a general context with a few most important facts should be enough. This should take around 15% of the total answer time.
Briefly describe your specific task or responsibility in that situation. No need to go into detail here either, just make sure to highlight what your role was.
This is usually the shortest part and should account for 10% of the whole answer.
The main part of your STAR answer. You need to be as detailed as possible when describing what actions you took to achieve something. The Action part should take up around 60% of your answer (it might seem a lot, but remember, you have to describe what you did — step by step).
Here, interviewers will look for clues about your experience and skills. Depending on the skill the question is supposed to assess, this bit will show them:
- How you think.
- How you organize work.
- How well you work with others.
- If you have an analytical mind.
- Your ability to take initiative (because you initiated a project)
- Your analytical skills (because you spotted potential areas of improvement)
- Your problem-solving skills (how you completed that project or idea)
- Your communication skills (because you had to successfully present an idea and get approval for its realization)
Here, you should mention the tangible results of your actions. Ideally, these will be quantifiable data (%, $), but you can also include qualitative things (bonuses, positive feedback, promotions, awards).
Here’s what the entire answer would sound like.
Sample answer using the STAR method
Interviewer: “Tell me about a time when you initiated a successful project or an idea.”
STAR Method in Action: Sample Questions and Answers
Sample STAR answer to a question about teamwork
Industry: IT Consulting
Interviewer: “Share an example of when you had to adapt to a team member’s working style.”
Situation: A few months ago, I was assigned to work on a project with a coworker from another department.
Task: Our task was to develop processes for several new services our agency introduced to our clients. After the initial meeting, I noticed pretty big differences in how he and I approach work. I’m flexible and tend to focus on the big picture. He’s detail-oriented and prefers a structured approach.
Action: We decided to split the work accordingly. I focused on the goals of these new services and how to best follow them through procedures. I also worked on identifying key milestones and major project components. He, in turn, worked on granular steps, created structured plans for each project phase, and developed in-depth documentation and manuals explaining the processes.
Result: We ended up completing the project a week before the deadline and with minimal reiterations from the management team. The experience taught me that such a big difference in working styles is not a disadvantage: on the contrary, it’s a complementary strength through which we can contribute to the team and the company in the best possible way.
Why we like it: The candidate saw a way to turn a potentially difficult clash into a productive experience, displaying positivity and great interpersonal skills. They also proved their problem-solving skills by devising a plan where both people could contribute to the project through their unique strengths.
For a detailed guide on all behavioral questions related to teamwork, check out How to Answer Teamwork Interview Questions (Tips and Examples).
Sample STAR answer to a question about problem-solving
Interviewer: “How did you approach a situation where you had multiple problems to solve at the same time?”
Situation: In my last position where I worked as a recruiter, we got into a high-demand hiring season where we had to fill in several key positions across several departments simultaneously.
Task: At first, I didn’t know what to focus on, as I was in charge of managing open positions and moving candidates through the hiring process effectively.
Action: I decided to structure my approach and began by researching each position thoroughly to gauge the urgency and criticality of the role. It helped me prioritize and allocate resources accordingly. I made strategic use of our applicant tracking system to streamline the sourcing and screening processes and to filter out only the best, relevant candidates. I also used industry-specific platforms and forums to track relevant people. This helped me learn a lot about open positions and gauge who’s a good fit.
Result: All of this helped me meet the hiring goals and decrease the time needed for hiring. 2 years later, all the people I hired then are still in the company, which proves they were a good fit. The experience taught me the importance of analyzing the situation and breaking the work down into small components for better results.
Why we like it: The candidate explained in detail their process for solving the problem, which gives the interviewer insight into their approach, problem-solving skills, prioritization, and analytical thinking.
If you want to learn all about how to answer problem-solving skills, we’ve got a super detailed guide for you: Answering Problem-Solving Interview Questions: Tips and Examples.
Sample STAR answer to a question about leadership
Industry: Email marketing
Interviewer: “Tell me about a time when you had to lead under pressure or a tight deadline.”
Situation: Last year, my team got a big ad-hoc project from one of our main clients.
Task: The deadline was tight, and we had to conceptualize and create 30+ BFCM promo emails.
Action: As soon as we got the brief, I scheduled a meeting to organize and divide the workload and set clear timelines. I prioritized tasks based on the email’s scheduling date and offer importance. I established the order of operations, and account associates were the first to complete their part before copywriters and designers could proceed with their own. This is because we had several variations on each campaign, and the copy and design slightly varied based on the segment of recipients. As soon as they would finish their part, designers and copywriters would start working on their respective tasks simultaneously, which is not something we generally practice. Still, to be able to complete the project on time, we had to improvise. Then, our quality assurance leads would jump in to confirm everything is fine and emails are ready for scheduling. From there, I would take over the reporting and communicating with the client.
Result: My team was fantastic. It was like watching a well-organized sports team — their efficiency was admirable. We finished all emails on time and generated $850K in revenue from them. The client was thrilled.
Why we like it: The candidate kept their cool in a high-pressure situation and relied on their leadership and organizational skills to set an efficient process and inspire their team to give their best.
If you want to learn more about how to answer leadership questions, check out Behavioral Interview Questions: Leadership [How to Answer + Examples].
If you’re applying for your first leadership position, head here: 20+ First-Time Manager Interview Questions and Answers + Tips
Sample STAR answer to a question about communication
Interviewer: “Tell me about a situation when you persuaded someone to see things your way at work.”
Situation: Two years ago, I thought that it would be nice if the school I worked at tried to integrate some practical, real-world examples into classes and courses.
Task: I especially wanted to do this in my lessons and I wanted my students to get some hands-on experience in marketing.
Action: For this, I thought about involving a local retail business. So I had to convince my coworkers teachers and school administration to apply this unconventional approach. To make it convincing and enjoyable, I decided to create a little game called Retail Challenge Extravaganza. I created a mini-lesson plan where teachers would play the role of students engaging in a simulated marketing project. Before the game, during the presentation, I put a lot of emphasis on how students could benefit from this and apply their theoretical knowledge to real-world situations. Plus, it would help them gain an advantage over other students in a competitive job market, as they would have at least a bit of experience in the practical realm. And who knows, perhaps there could be some internship opportunities for those who stand out. The staff saw the potential, plus they had a lot of fun playing the game.
Result: They appreciated my efforts and ideas and agreed to explore the possibility of collaborating with one of our local businesses. Eventually, we did manage to make it happen, and I learned how important it is to be relatable, creative, and fun when pitching new ideas.
Why we like it: The candidate found a new angle for persuading someone to see things their way — they were relatable and used humor and entertainment as their main weaponry.
If you want to learn more about how to answer questions about communication and working in diverse teams, check out Answering Behavioral Interview Questions: Intercultural Fluency.
Sample STAR answer to a question about initiative and ownership
Interviewer: “Tell me about a time when you worked with little to no supervision.”
Situation: I worked in an internal marketing department in a marketing agency. We used to launch quarterly reports about industry trends and events that shaped the previous quarter.
Task: During a particularly busy season, the entire company was focused on client work. Me and my coworker were left to write, design, publish, and promote the report without any help. No designers, no tech people to help us set up the landing page, and no manager to approve the final version — people who usually collaborated with us on this were all super busy.
Action: My coworker and I decided to split the tasks: I wrote the report, she edited it and added insights from industry experts we got in touch with. She designed the report, and I wrote the copy for the landing page and other promotional materials. Finally, we found a simple drag-and-drop page builder and created the landing page, connected it to our website and email service provider, and tested everything. Everything went more or less smoothly, and we managed to publish the report on time, as if nothing had happened.
Result: We got a lot of positive feedback from the readers. I realized I wouldn’t have been able to do it all by myself, and this experience taught me how important it is to work with someone you trust. I also proved to myself that I could be resourceful and work with no help or supervision. It is a bit stressful, but it’s also rewarding.
Why we like it: The candidate displayed resourcefulness and the ability to do the work independently. They also showed they can get along with others in high-pressure situations, and that they’re a reliable person who can deliver the work even if the circumstances are not ideal.
How to Prepare STAR Answers Before the Interview
Preparation is key for a relevant, informative answer and confident delivery. Let’s figure out how to think of relevant stories and prepare your STAR answers in advance.
Research the job
You can’t properly prepare unless you know what exactly you’re preparing for. So you’ll need to research the job to understand what skills and competencies the position requires, and what kind of experience an ideal candidate would have.
Your best bet is the job ad itself. Read it carefully, and pay special attention to sections like “What you’ll be responsible for” or “Your duties.”
You can also check the company website — perhaps you can find the company structure there, and details about the team your potential position is in, as well as how it’s connected to other teams internally.
Check out the company’s social media and website for clues about company culture, as that can help you gauge what soft skills might be a nice addition to your experience and existing skills.
Reflect on your past
Think about your achievements that might be similar (or identical) to what’s expected of you in the job you’re interviewing for.
- Things you achieved on your own
- Things you achieved with your coworkers
- Your failures and weaknesses
- Your strengths and interests
- Lessons you learned from certain experiences
Then, think about typical skills that behavioral questions tend to explore. These are usually:
- Initiative and ownership
Then, connect the dots. What is your proudest accomplishment, and what’s the skill that helped you achieve it? What’s your biggest failure? What caused it?
Write down these ideas and details and include them in the final version of your answer.
Finally, connect your past achievements or duties to potential interview questions. Draw parallels between the skills and experiences you have and the ones they need. Find a way to illustrate how you can contribute to their company.
More tips below:
Practicing for interviews is key, but especially so when it comes to delivering STAR-based answers.
If you don’t practice, here’s what will happen:
- You won’t have relevant stories to illustrate your skills.
- Even if you manage to think of something on the spot, you won’t provide all the relevant details.
- You won’t figure out the key skill they’re looking to assess.
- You’ll be nervous and scramble to find the right words.
- Your delivery will be a mess.
Practicing will prevent all of these problems and make sure both your answer and your delivery are perfect — it takes some time, yes, but it also makes all the difference between “we’ll call you” and “you’re hired!”
You can practice in front of a mirror or with a friend or a family member. If they have relevant experience with interviewing and can provide meaningful feedback to help you improve, that would be perfect.
If not, you can use an Interview Simulator to practice for just about any behavioral question. The tool will assess the quality of your answer and suggest how to make it better by adding more power words, improving your pace of speech or vocabulary, reducing filler words, and much more.
You can have as many takes as you like, until you feel confident and excited about that interview.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Being too general
Get specific in all the components of your STAR answer! Sure, you already know that the Action part needs to be the longest and most detailed, but don’t skip over important info in other components.
If a piece of information is relevant to the story, contributes to the context, and illustrates your experience or skills, include it.
Missing the point
If a piece of info doesn’t contribute to your point in any way — drop it. There’s no need to use irrelevant details. Although there’s no fixed limit to the length of a STAR answer, it should be long enough to provide only key details that illustrate your point.
If you’re having doubts about whether or not to include a detail, ask yourself “So what?” If you can’t find a direct that detail contributes to the story, skip it.
Focusing on the wrong story
A story that doesn’t connect to the job you’re applying for or that doesn’t illustrate the right skill is useless, no matter how fun.
Anticipate common behavioral interview questions, research them, and think about what skill(s) they’re trying to assess.
The situation in question will reveal what skill they’re trying to assess (usually what goes after “Tell me about a time when”). Once you discover what it is, you can think of additional, complementary skills that would be nice to have.
Below is a list of common behavioral questions and skills they’re seeking to uncover. The bolded elements are the main skill the question is targeting, the rest are complementary, desirable skills to display.
- Describe a time when you had to handle a conflict between two team members (Conflict resolution, teamwork, interpersonal relations, communication, leadership)
- Can you share an instance where you went over and above to help a team member? (Teamwork, taking initiative)
- Can you give an example of a time when your team disagreed with your decision, and how did you manage it? (Conflict resolution, leadership, persuasion, communication)
- Describe a situation where you had to make a tough decision with limited information (Decision-making, resourcefulness, analytical thinking, calculating risk)
- Discuss a situation where you implemented a creative solution to a problem (Problem-solving, analytical thinking, creativity)
- Share an experience of leading a team through a major organizational change (Leadership, problem-solving, interpersonal relationships, communication)
- How have you handled a non-performing team member? (Interpersonal relationships, handling feedback, leadership, problem-solving)
- How have you persuaded someone to see things your way at work? (Persuasion, communication, interpersonal relationships, teamwork)
- How have you handled communicating with a diverse group of individuals? (Communication, teamwork, creativity)
- Talk about a project or task you started on your initiative (Taking initiative, task ownership, problem-solving, analytical thinking)
Not preparing ahead of time
As we already said, preparation is key. Not preparing your stories and STAR answers in advance will seriously mess up your chances of landing that job for all the reasons discussed in the headings above: your answer will be messy, you’ll miss the point and tell the wrong story, you’ll sound unconvincing, you won’t be able to provide relevant detail, and you’ll probably get confused and start stuttering.
For this reason, anticipating the most common behavioral questions and preparing a few stories in advance is key.
Plus, a single story can serve you multiple times for multiple different questions.
Not to mention, you’ll be ready for job interviews that will come in the future. All it will take is just a bit of refreshing your memory.
Summary of the Main Points
- The STAR method stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
- STAR is used for answering all behavioral interview questions, but it can be useful whenever you want to tell a story, regardless of the type of question you get.
- When using this framework, you should provide enough relevant information to set the context, describe the problem and your part in it, your action (how you solved it), and the results.
- The Action part of your answer needs to be the longest and most detailed: it needs to take up around 60% of your STAR answer.
- Always include quantifiable results. If this is not possible, mention qualitative results like bonuses, promotions, positive feedback, and similar.
- It’s best to mention the lessons learned in the Results part, especially when answering questions about your less flattering side: your failures and weaknesses.
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What is the START method? Is it different from the STAR method?
START stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result, Takeaway. Essentially, it’s the same as STAR, with another component, Takeaway, in which you talk about lessons learned from the experience. That said, you should list lessons learned in the Result section whenever possible, so essentially, START and STAR are the same.
Can I use the STAR method when answering questions other than the behavioral ones?
Yes, you can use the STAR method whenever you want to tell a story to illustrate your point — at pretty much any time during the interview, not only when asked a behavioral question. You can also use it when answering situational questions, to add a realistic picture in addition to your hypothetical reaction.
Why do I find the “tell me about a time” questions so hard?
You might find the behavioral questions hard or challenging in case you don’t prepare in advance. In such cases, it’s hard to think of relevant stories on the spot, it’s difficult to properly describe relevant skills and experience, and your delivery will be poor because you’re nervous. This is why preparing and practicing answers for these questions is crucial for informative, engaging answers and confident delivery.
How to use the STAR method if I can’t think of an example of a specific situation?
If you haven’t experienced the exact situation that a question refers to, think of a similar one, or analyze the question, figure out which skill it seeks to assess, and provide a story where you displayed a similar skill. If this doesn’t work, think of situations that share similarities or certain aspects with the question asked. If that doesn’t work either, create a hypothetical scenario that demonstrates the skills from the question. However, you’ll need to be transparent and communicate that this is a hypothetical situation. In the Situation and Task parts of your answer, briefly describe the scenario you’re using as a basis for your response. In the Action part, describe what actions you would take in a situation, explaining why you made that particular choice. In the Result part, discuss the potential outcomes or the expected results.
Can I use the STAR interviewing technique effectively if I have no experience?
Yes, because your answers don’t need to be based solely on your work experience. You can draw upon other aspects of your life, like education, volunteering experience, internships, extracurricular activities, personal projects, hobbies, or any other situations where you demonstrated relevant skills or qualities.
Which interview questions, in particular, should I answer using the STAR format?
Primarily behavioral interview questions (the ones that begin with “Tell me about a time when” or “Can you recall a situation when”). But you can use the STAR method regardless of the type of question, whenever you want to showcase your experience and skills through storytelling.