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What Is the STAR Interview Method?

The STAR interview method is a strategy for effective communication.

It is commonly discussed in conjunction with interviews because it is a powerful tool used to argue that you achieve work results!

Remember the acronym STAR to make it easier to recall the steps you must take to tell a convincing or complete story about your work experience.

Here’s what each letter stands for:

S
Situation: A description of the circumstances where your story takes place.
T
Task: Outlining the desired outcome or objective you were trying to achieve.
A
Action: The solution or strategy you planned, organized or executed.
R
Result: The overall success of your outcome.

Using the STAR method to describe your work experience will make it easier for you to show your impact on a business problem with greater clarity, allowing others to follow your story easily.

How to Use the STAR Approach to Answer Interview Questions

In practice, you use the STAR approach by making sure that you follow each step of the acronym in order: describing the situation, the task, the action and the result.

Of course, it can be stressful to think up great responses to questions when you’re on the spot and feeling the interview pressure.

That’s why it’s in your best interest to:

  • Prepare before your interview! Arrive with a few anecdotes already in mind that you consider some of your most outstanding work achievements.

    Better yet, be sure that you’re selecting the best stories from your work experience by reviewing the job ad or description again.

  • Focus on the critical keywords or tasks that the employer emphasizes!

  • When you structure the stories, you want to tell them in the STAR format, selecting examples that will speak directly to the employer's needs! It will make the effect of your explanations much stronger.

  • Another good tactic is to try and include quantifiable metrics that demonstrate the success of your actions — use them in the “R” or results portion of your STAR process.

    Using numbers or quantifiable metrics will catch the attention of the hiring manager! Statistics are hard evidence of what you’re capable of achieving work-wise. Plus, they make a clearer point to your story!

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Star Method Questions and Example Answers

It always helps to look at some good examples to understand better how the STAR method works in practice.

So, we’ve included some samples that illustrate how a candidate can use the STAR method to respond to various types of interview questions.

The main kind of question that you want to be prepared to answer in a STAR method is the type of question that requires you to tell a story to answer it.

It’s something along the lines of, “How do you respond to challenges/face obstacles/overcome setbacks, or achieve a goal?”

A variation of this question is bound to pop up in every interview.

Here’s an example of how someone applying to be a teacher could use the STAR method to answer, “Can you describe to me how you overcame a classroom challenge you’ve faced?”

  • SITUATION: “Certainly, I’ve overcome many challenges since becoming a teacher. But the one that felt the most meaningful to my growth was my second year working at Carl Sandburg Elementary. In that role, I had 27 third-grade students.

    The administration had mandated that teachers focus on improving the students’ performance in standardized testing for math because school funding was on the line.

  • TASK: After some practice testing to assess where my students were, I determined that I had six students in my class whose test performance was a concern.

  • ACTION: So, I contacted their parents to inform them about their children’s risk of underperformance and began an after-school math program geared toward this group. In these sessions, we reinforced lessons from class and reviewed the complete list of math concepts that would come up in the test.

  • RESULT: In the end, five out of the six students tested well on the exams, outperforming the 40th percentile of their peers. This contributed to the 7% average rise in test scores that we saw for the third grade that year!“

See how cleanly this anecdote sticks to the STAR script? Let's break it down:

Situation: A third-grade class of 27 students at Carl Sandburg Elementary has standardized tests to take.

Task: The school has put necessary focus on student math scores showing improvement.

Action: The teacher involved parents and created an after-school math program to give the at-risk students extra time and attention to improve their abilities and test performance.

Result: Students showed improvement, and the school’s objective was reached.

Also, take notice from this example that the teacher cited numbers in the story. Numbers are essential details that give a more accurate picture of the situation, especially the successful results!

In the above example, the question more or less prompted the interviewee to tell a story to answer it. However, there are also ways that you can use the STAR method to respond to other types of interview prompts!

For instance, an interviewer could use the STAR method to respond to a typical interview prompt like, “Tell me about yourself.”

Here’s an example of a strong STAR response for an entry-level journalist:

“Ever since I first saw the movie LA Confidential when I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to be a journalist. So, I was very motivated to make the most of my education at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. I've developed meticulous, clear and effective writing principles through my experience editing the student magazine and personal blogs I’ve created. I’ve built a portfolio that I’m proud of, and I’m excited to discuss all the contributor ideas I bring to the table for your readers.”

Next, here’s a great sample of how someone up for an administrative assistant role can give a STAR answer to, “What makes you think that you’re qualified for this role?”

“Well, I’m an administrative assistant with 7+ years of experience, and I’ve got great attention to detail, multitasking and proactive skills.

For instance, when I started with my last employer, Benson Partners, I had noticed the filing system wasn’t the most efficient — we had vendor invoices mixed with our receipts to clients. After bringing it up to my manager, I was entrusted with reorganizing the entire system.

After I executed my system, there was a notable difference in the productivity of our administrative processes. Invoices got paid faster and the company saved over $2,000 in late fees in comparison to the previous year.

So, between my motivation and enthusiasm to improve the business I work for, I think that I could be a great asset to Langley Solutions.”

As you can see, the STAR method helps these job candidates portray themselves in a more actionable and convincingly accomplished way!