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STAR Method of Acing Job Interview Questions

STAR method

Do you know what the STAR method is for answering job interview questions? If you don’t, you’re missing a great opportunity to impress employers. It’s a technique for answering behavioral interview questions using real-world examples of how you tackled a problem or behaved in a certain type of situation.

How do you know an interviewer is looking for a STAR answer?

“Sometimes it’s obvious. Classic behavioral questions will start with ‘tell me about a time you…’ or ‘have you ever…’ or ‘give me an example…’ or even ‘how would you react if…,’” says The HT Group Founder and CEO Mark Turpin. “But it’s smart to use the STAR method even for questions that aren’t obvious behavioral interview questions. Citing specific examples of how you work and what results you achieved will always be appreciated by a hiring manager.”

Turpin says there’s a hidden benefit of getting comfortable with the STAR method, too. “It gives you a game plan of how to answer interview questions which can reduce anxiety,” he adds.


Ready to move your career forward? Connect with The HT Group today!

So what IS the STAR method? The acronym stands for:

  1. Situation: Briefly set the stage. What was the challenge or project?
  2. Task: What were you tasked to do/What did you determine needed to be done?
  3. Action: What steps did you take/decision did you make to complete the task?
  4. Result: What was the outcome of your effort?

You may have learned a similar method for answering behavioral questions. Sometimes STAR(R) includes an additional R that stands for reflection (what you learned), for instance. The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts touts the PARL method, which stands for problem, action, result, learn. There’s even a method called PAR (problem, action, result) that condenses the steps. The techniques are all quite similar, with comparable results. In fact, the more flexible you can be with the STAR strategy, the more you can use it to answer a wide variety of questions.

Let’s use a real example to explore this idea. We pulled this actual Samsung Austin Semiconductor engineer interview question from Glassdoor:

What would you do if you were under a time constraint and did not know how to solve a problem?

This is more of a situational question that isn’t asking for a past example. But giving them one via a STAR formula would showcase not only how you THINK you’d act in the situation, but how you actually have. And the answer doesn’t necessarily need to be work-related when the question is phrased this generally.

An answer we’ve gotten to a similar question was, “It’s easy to feel like you alone need to have all the answers, but it’s amazing what can be accomplished when you seek the right help. The question reminds me of a situation I faced recently: My friend’s husband procrastinated on planning her birthday party until the last minute. He begged me to help him pull off a miracle, but I’m not an event planner, so I wasn’t sure where to start. I took a moment to consider what talents our friends had and quickly tapped a florist, baker, band, chair masseuse, and friend with a pool, and we all worked together to solve the problem. We had an amazing ‘instant’ backyard pool party complete with decorations, cake, entertainment and pampering. My friend said that it was the best birthday party she ever had. Plus, it was easy to pull together because I called on her friends who quickly and easily fit each piece into place, and they were more than happy to help, too.”

The Muse offers these 30 behavioral interview questions that can help you practice your STAR answers. We previously provided tips on answering “tell me about a time you failed,” “why should we hire you,” and other difficult questions using the STAR method, too. Don’t let the sheer number of possibilities overwhelm you, though. Many of your answers can overlap different questions that likely won’t be asked in the same interview. For instance, an example of an innovative idea to solve a problem could also be an excellent example of how you overcame a stressful situation or learned from a mistake.

“Practicing with some of the most common behavioral interview questions will improve your ability to think on your feet, too,” Turpin adds. “Once you have the STAR formula down, you’ll amaze yourself by how well you can plug new situations into the framework. Your ability to handle interview-induced anxiety and high-stress situations like the ‘gotcha’ interview should also improve.”

Be sure to check in with your recruiter before every interview they line up for you and ask them what types of behavioral interview questions they think you might be asked. Then, use that intel to practice your STAR method.


Ready to move your career forward? Connect with The HT Group today!