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Master Behavioral-Based Interviews Using The Star Method

Written By Rachelle Enns on April 11th, 2020
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Rachelle Enns
Rachelle is a job search expert, career coach, and headhunter who helps everyone from students to fortune 500 executives find success in their career.
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In this guide, MockQuestions walks you through everything you need to know about the STAR method for answering behavioral-based interview questions. We break down STAR using specific examples and give you tips for preparing your STAR-based interview responses.

UNDERSTANDING BEHAVIORAL-BASED QUESTIONS

Behavioral-based interview questions require a candidate to deliver an answer using a specific story example from real-life experience.

When an interviewer asks a behavior-based interview question, they are expecting a highly detailed example, with concrete results, that prove the candidate's ability to perform in that particular scenario.

Typically, behavioral-based interview questions are open-ended. This open-ended nature is why the average person struggles with these types of questions.

Examples of behavioral-based interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you missed a deadline.

  • What is the riskiest decision you have ever made?

  • Talk about a time when you worked with a difficult person.


Thanks to the STAR method, you can answer these behavioral-based, open-ended questions with confidence.

STAR - THE ACRONYM

STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result.

We will roll into more in-depth detail on each section of STAR; however, here are the basics:

Situation: The background information an interviewer needs to make sense of your story. You are setting the stage, like a comedian, about to give the punch line.

Task: Continuing to set the stage, you then give the interviewer an idea of your role and responsibilities in this specific story.

Action: Next, you offer a detailed description of the steps you took to tackle the situation.

Result: Last, you talk about the specific achievements and outcomes that resulted from your actions.

When you frame an open-ended response using the STAR method, it helps you to keep your thoughts on track while allowing your interviewer to follow along easily.

WHEN TO USE STAR

Not all behavioral-based interview questions are created equal. It's essential to recognize when it's most appropriate to use the STAR method.

The questions that require you to deploy STAR may begin with:

  • Tell me about a time when...

  • When have you...

  • What action do you take when...

  • Describe a time...

  • Walk me through...
  • How did you...

  • Have you ever...

  • How would you...


PREPARING TO USE STAR

Readily answering behavioral-based interview questions requires some homework on your part.

Take the time to think of stories and experiences you have been through in the workplace, while earning your education, while performing volunteer work, or participating in organized sports.

Once you have a variety of fitting examples (try to have at least 10 story examples prepared), you can begin to draft your responses.

If you have many years of work experience, you can lean on career-based examples. If you are newer to your career, you can lean on examples from your time in school and sports.

First thing's first - figure out which examples to prepare ahead of time. Utilize this list to come up with 10-15 examples from your past.

Think of...

  • A time when you acted like a leader.

  • A time when you failed and got back up again.

  • A time when you missed a deadline. How did you react?

  • A time when someone needed your help.

  • A time when your integrity was tested.

  • A time when you were in a competitive situation.

  • A time when you used self-motivation to get through a challenge.

  • A time when you collaborated with a very difficult person.

  • A time when you delivered more than expected to a customer or stakeholder.

  • A time when you had to adapt to a major change.

  • A time when you had to solve a significant problem.

  • A time when you had to turn around an angry customer.

  • A time when you showed great initiative.

  • A time when you used creativity to solve a problem.

  • A time when you had to make a very difficult decision.


PART 1: SITUATION

Once you have decided which story you are going to use, it's time to describe the situation. For this example, we will use the question, 'Tell me about the most difficult career decision you have ever made.'

When setting up the SITUATION, carefully choose which details are most important to give (for instance, people's names do not matter as much as their job titles). Limit yourself to two or three sentences.

Example: Three years ago, I decided to leave my job as General Manager for my family's business...

PART 2: TASK

Often confused with ACTION, this section is sometimes overlooked or muddled. To sum up the TASK, try asking yourself why you were involved in this story in the first place. In your chosen scenario, why were you in that situation in the first place? Also, what was your overall objective?

Example: When I joined the family business, I wanted to make sure that my parents had a stable revenue stream and reliable workflow. I was able to set everything up and help the business to be successful. However, after some time, I knew that I needed to move on and focus on my own dreams...

PART 3: ACTION

Now that you have provided the interviewer with the right background information, it's time to explain the ACTION you took to solve your problem or reach your goal. It's very common for candidates to give a generic answer like, 'I worked overtime.' Be sure to offer quantifiable details to which the interviewer can picture and relate.

Example: I had a tough conversation with my family, and I explained to them that I felt confident in the future of their business, and I was ready to pursue my career dreams. Of course, I promised to help them find a replacement before I left...

PART 4: RESULT

The RESULT portion of your answer is where you shine, showing the interviewer that you are highly capable of getting the right results. The more detailed you can be regarding the final result, the better. If applicable to your job, introduce numbers and percentages.

Example: Although they were disappointed that I was leaving, they fully supported my decision. I quickly found and trained a great replacement GM before I left. As a result of this career decision, I have had the opportunity to pursue my passions more aggressively. My family is off to a great start, and I couldn't be more proud of their hard work.

Now that you have some examples and starter questions take the time to write or type your stories out using the STAR method to organize your thoughts. Then, start rehearsing and reciting your responses out loud.

MORE EXAMPLES OF STAR

#1: Tell me about a time when you worked with a difficult person.

(Situation) When I was a Project Manager for Company ABC, I worked cross-departmentally, collaborating with other PMs to reach the finish line on a variety of client projects. These projects often ran behind schedule since one particular PM was slower to push deliverables forward.

(Task) Most of our team had difficulty working with this Project Manager. As the most seasoned PM, it was up to me to solve the issue.

(Action) I approached this person one-on-one and asked them how we could better collaborate on items that required a more zealous approach. Together, we mapped out our vision for the stages of each project and discussed our strengths. We decided to leverage each of these strengths to build on each others' ideas and approaches.

(Result) In the end, not only were our open projects completed ahead of time, but our teams also appreciated the well-oiled machine our departments were becoming. Our hybrid approach to communication was well received by our clients as well. Overall, our projects closed three weeks earlier than before we implemented the change.

#2: When have you had to adapt to a major change in the workplace?

(Situation) Last year, my company was struggling with profits by the end of Q1. This situation was unusual, given our strong history. Our head office responded by laying off 50% of the sales team and stretching the remaining sales team members to handle the additional territories.

(Task) As a Territory Sales Manager, this meant that it was up to me to lead my team of 20 sales reps to do the work of 40. I had a great rapport with the remaining 20 reps, as well as the 20 unexpectedly laid off. I knew that I needed to come up with a fast strategy to succeed and avoid resignations from the remaining team members.

(Action) First, I held a team-wide virtual lunch event so that everyone had the opportunity to get to know each other and make meaningful connections with reps who were going through the same struggles associated with a doubling workload. Second, I reached out to all 20 laid-off sales reps. I let them know that I was highly empathetic to their situation and asked for their brief cooperation while transitioning client accounts.

(Result) Because I showed so much involvement, action, empathy, and respect, I was the only Territory Sales Manager with zero resignations and significant territory growth by Q3. Our team became closer, and we exceeded sales goals by an additional 36%.

#3: Describe a time that you failed.

(Situation) You can see on my resume that I had a misstep in my sales career a couple of years ago. I worked for Company X as an Engineer for only 6 months.

(Task) Before joining Company X, I did not ask enough questions regarding their success level and profitability as a company. As a candidate, these were questions that I was responsible for asking, and I failed to dig deep enough.

(Action) I tried to make an impact by working overtime as much as I could, without billing extra hours. I came up with a few creative ways to cut costs in our department, but in the end, it was too late to save the situation. The company went into receivership, and I lost my job.

(Result) After that situation, I decided to ask many more questions in my interviews, and I became much more selective in the job applications that I made. My success and the company's success should go hand in hand, and I understand that now.

IN CONCLUSION

It's normal to feel overwhelmed with STAR and behavioral-based questions. The more you prepare and practice your behavioral-based interview questions, the better you will perform in your interview.

If you want further practice, MockQuestions has a variety of resources available to you, including our behavioral-based interview question and answer set.