How to Ace Interviews with the STAR Method [9+ Examples]
Behavioral job interview questions are hard.
Everything is going seemingly well, until the interviewer drops the “Can you tell me about a time when you…” question.
Shoot, what now?
You try to think of a coherent answer, but you just can’t think of anything on the spot.
So, you blurt out something awkward (which you instantly regret) and pray that the interviewer will just let this one slide.
...But it didn’t have to go this way. There IS a way to give a good answer to every single behavioral job interview question:
The STAR Method.
In this guide, we’re going to teach you what, exactly, that is, and how to use it to ace your upcoming job interview!
Keep on reading to find out:
- What the STAR method is and when to use it
- 4 tips to keep in mind when answering with the STAR method
- 9 sample job interview answers that follow the STAR method
What is the STAR Method and When You Should Use?
So, first things first - what is the STAR method, exactly?
In short, the STAR method is a structured answer that can be used to answer most behavioral interview questions.
Here’s what it stands for:
- (S) Situation - What’s the context? Describe the situation or the background first.
- (T) Task - Talk about your responsibilities or the tasks you had to complete (i.e. what was the challenge for the specific task?)
- (A) Action - How did you fix the situation? Describe your process and the steps you took.
- (R) Results - Describe the results of your actions. If possible, use numbers or hard data (e.g. by what % did you increase the overall sales? What changed?).
While you can use the STAR method for ANY interview question, it’s most useful for answering behavioral interview questions.
So, what ARE behavioral interview questions, exactly?
In short, they’re just like any interview question, but their main focus is on real-life work situations.
- What’s your #1 strength?
Behavioral Interview Question
- Give us an example of how you used your #1 strength at work, and what kind of results did it drive?
Makes sense, right?
Now, here are a few examples of what those questions might look like:
- Can you give me an example of when you had to take charge in your previous position? What happened and how did you react?
- Tell me about a time when you were faced with a tight deadline. Did you still manage to complete your tasks? How?
- Have you ever set specific goals for yourself at work? How did you make sure you would meet your objectives?
Now that you know what behavioral interview questions are, let’s take a look at a sample answer that follows the STAR method:
Behavioral Interview Question:
“Give me an example of when you had to be very strategic in your tasks to meet all of your responsibilities under a specific deadline.”
Situation - “I typically like to plan out my work weeks in advance if possible. But in my previous sales manager role at Company X, I had to suddenly move the team to a new customer relationship management (CRM) software. The software we were using before unexpectedly changed their pricing model, which made it too expensive for us.”
Task - ”I had to find new software that met our requirement, by the end of Q3 (when the price increase hit), while making sure my own sales numbers did not decrease. The new tool also had to be intuitive and easy for our employees to adapt to.”
Action - “In order to do that, I had to be very careful with how I managed my time. The first thing I did was ask our sales associates what the number one problem was with our current CRM, so I knew what to look for in a new one aside from the price factor. After that, I dedicated 1-2 hours each day to research, and once I found the new software, migrating our data. I made sure to delete any old contacts, update the missing information on our current leads, and caught the team up on how to use the new software. All the while, I was still handling my daily responsibilities as usual, without any decrease in performance.”
Results - “Finally, we managed to complete the transfer 1 week behind the deadline. I finished the quarter 12% ahead of my sales goals, and the team was satisfied with the new CRM. By planning ahead and with proper time allocation, everything worked out well.”
This is pretty much a perfect answer that follows the STAR method.
It gives the right amount of background, clearly shows the challenge without getting too detailed, presents the process when approaching the problem, and ends on a high note using data and numbers to show their results.
By using the above formula, it’s much easier to structure your answer so that the HR manager doesn’t get lost following your story.
Now, if you really want to nail your answer, here’s what you need to keep in mind when following the STAR structure:
4 Tips on Getting the Most Out of the STAR Method
Knowing what the acronym stands for is only the first step.
Here’s how to really get the most out of the method:
1) Keep It Relevant
Sounds obvious, right?
But here’s the thing:
Even if you’re following the STAR formula down to the T, it won’t amount to much if your answer is not relevant.
Think about this: what are you trying to communicate with your answer?
Ideally, it should be related to your position and show that you come equipped with skills that will be helpful in the job you’re seeking.
For example: if you’re applying for a job in graphic design, you wouldn’t start talking about your greatest accomplishment in accounting, right?
If your answer is not relevant for the job, it basically doesn’t even count.
2) Have a Few Examples Ready
There’s no way for you to know in advance what type of behavioral interview question the interviewer will ask.
But it’s still a good idea to have a few examples ready that follow the STAR method.
This way, you can tweak and adapt your answer on the go depending on the question.
Keep in mind, though, that your answers shouldn’t be a word-for-word memorized script.
You’ll want to sound natural when answering.
And if you’re having a hard time coming up with an answer during the interview, don’t be afraid to ask for a minute to come up with an example.
It’s ok to take a few seconds and structure your answer in your head first. If anything, the HR manager might appreciate that you’re not rushing in your answers.
- While you’ll never know what questions they’ll ask during the interview, you can still prepare for the most common ones. Check out our complete list of most common interview questions and answers here!
3) Give Proper Context
Imagine you’re telling a story about how you saved a client’s project at the last minute.
You swooped in, took charge, and made sure everyone knew what to do.
That’s awesome! That’s what the interviewer wants to know about.
However, you don’t have to:
- Go in-depth about how you found the client in the first place.
- Describe your whole working relationship with them from the beginning till the end.
- Give their whole backstory and explain why you’re such good friends with the client.
As we mentioned before, your answer should be relevant and straight to the point.
So, when talking about the situation, try to only summarize the buildup to your story in only 1-2 sentences.
4) Show Your Work
Finally, it’s your time to brag a bit.
Don’t be afraid to go all out and show how you made a difference. Make sure to mention the following:
- What kind of impact did your actions have on your department/company?
- What were the EXACT results? use numbers and data to back it up.
- What did you learn from the experience?
No interviewer will be satisfied with a lackluster ending like “Yeah so, and then, we finished the project in time, and everyone lived happily ever after”
See how boring that sounds?
Even if the ending of your story isn’t all that amazing, you can at least say what you learned.
9 Job Interview Answer Examples with the STAR Method
Your answer following the STAR method will depend on the specific behavioral interview question being asked.
So, to help you prepare, we’re going to give you 9 more common behavioral interview questions (with their corresponding sample answers)!
The questions we’re going to cover include:
- What’s your greatest achievement?
- How do you set and accomplish personal goals when under pressure?
- Have you ever faced conflict or disagreement with a coworker? What Happened and how did you resolve it?
- How do you handle unexpected challenges? Give me an example
- Have you ever been in a situation when the client was wrong, and you had to correct them? Give me an example.
- Tell me about a time you failed. What happened and what did you learn?
- How do you handle irate customers? Give me an example.
- Can you tell me about a time when you went above and beyond to deliver excellent customer experience?
- Can you give me an example of a goal you set, but couldn’t meet? How did you handle it?
Now, let’s dig right in!
1) What is your greatest achievement?
S - “When I was a manager at Cafe X, we would always get a lot more customers than usual during the summer. It would almost always be packed, and sometimes, there were not enough servers to handle the work. And if someone got sick or unexpectedly could not show up - things were only worse.”
T - “So, I had to come up with a system so that we would not get overwhelmed during those 3+ months.”
A - “To make sure we were prepared, I realized we needed a better schedule. For the next summer, I had a very strict shift schedule ready, and a reward system in case someone couldn’t show up for their shift. If someone called in sick, whoever filled in for them would be rewarded with extra pay. And if there was absolutely no one else available, I would personally fill in for them instead.”
R - “Overall, the summer went pretty smoothly with minimal accidents. We didn’t get ANY negative reviews on TripAdvisor for the summer (whereas for the summer before that, we had several for slow service).”
2) How do you set and accomplish personal goals when under pressure? Give me an example.
S - “Sure! To give you some context, during university, I had a very limited financial aid, and my parents couldn’t help co-pay the rest of the tuition. So, while studying, I also had to work to pay for the university. At the same time, I also took up a lot of extra curricular activities (and internships when possible) to get as much professional work experience as possible before graduating.”
T - “To keep up with the workload, I realized I had to manage my time very efficiently. So, I set up Google Calendar and got a personal notepad for my daily tasks and responsibilities.”
A - “Through hard work and dedication, I managed to balance studying, a part-time job, and all extracurricular activities. Sure, it was pretty tiring at times, but by the end of each day I would always go over and edit my calendar for the rest of the week. This way, I knew pretty much everything I had to get done daily, and never missed an assignment or a deadline either!”
R - “In the end, I graduated with a 3.7 GPA, no student loans, and a personal design portfolio which landed me my first real job at Company X within a month of graduating.
3) Have you ever faced conflict or disagreement with a coworker? What happened and how did you resolve it?
S - “Yep! During my internship at Company X, my team and I were supposed to work together and brainstorm new talent sourcing ideas for a client. The client was a large supermarket chain located in a very rural area, so they were struggling to source new talent. ”
T - “Basically our task was to meet on a daily basis, brainstorm and finally settle on 3 great ideas. After a couple of meetings, we did have SOME ideas, but none of them were too exceptional. The management wanted something that they could confidently present to the client (that would, for sure, drive results for them).
Some of my teammates wanted to just give up, say “well, here’s our ideas, we don’t have anything else!” and be done with it. Me and another teammate, however, wanted to work on it a bit more and come up with something that WOULD work.
There was a LOT of back and forth from there, the tensions were high, and the team kept shutting down all the ideas we were proposing. The deadline was super close, and had to figure out a way to move forward.”
A - “So, I gave it some thought, and realized that we’d forever be in a deadlock if we continued like this. They wouldn’t agree with our approach, and we wouldn’t agree with theirs. So, we decided to bring in an unbiased third party who didn't have any emotional investment here.
We then conducted a longer meeting without any time restraints (so we’d get everything done ASAP in a single meeting), where we went through each idea one by one, and the third party acted as a sort of mediator. When someone pitched something, they also had to back it up with as many facts as possible, otherwise it wouldn’t count.”
R - “This really helped bring in something new to the table. The “mediator” helped sort through all the bad ideas, as well as infusing the team with some new energy.
We eventually DID end up coming up with completely original ideas, which were also something we all agree upon. We finished the meeting in approx. 2 hours, and the management had 3 awesome ideas they could pitch to the client. The client DID implement one of the ideas, which eventually resulted in 3 new hires.”
4) How do you handle unexpected challenges? Give me an example
S - “One time, while preparing for a presentation at a conference for Company X, one of our guest speakers had to unexpectedly cancel due to an emergency. We found out only a few hours before the event, and there was now a 1-hour gap in our schedule we had to fix.”
T - “So, we didn’t have a lot of time, and had to somehow fill up the time slot to keep the event going.”
A - “As one of the main event organizers and community managers at the company, I decided to take initiative. Instead of the guest speaker, I wanted to present our CEO as the speaker instead - which was definitely a possibility because he was working behind the scenes as well. I personally spent an hour working with him one-on-one, trying to get him to transform his decade’s worth of experience into a presentation. With 30 minutes to spare, everything was ready to go and all that was left was to present.”
R - “From the one 1 hour gap, the speech lasted about 45 minutes, and for the rest of the 15 minutes we took some questions from the audience. After that, everything continued on track, and most of the audience members loved the presentation.”
5) Have you ever been in a situation when the client was wrong, and you had to correct them? Give me an example.
S - “Yes, that happens every so often.
I can think of one example which happened during my first job as a recruiter. I had sent out a candidate over to a client and the hiring manager had rejected him based on CV alone. They said that the candidate was too junior of a profile for the position, no experience with X, Y and Z.”
T - “I went through the resume and my notes several times, and I was 100% sure that this had to have been a mistake on the client’s part - the candidate was an exact match for the job ad they gave me.
So I had to somehow let them know about it without seeming to be telling them how to do their job.”
A - “I contacted my candidate, I got exact and thorough information on his experience with X, Y and Z, wrote it all out in an email and obviously with a very calm and professional tone explained to our client’s hiring manager that my candidate did in fact have experience in all areas pointed out, proven by this and that project, etc. And I kindly asked him to review his application.”
R - “He responded, agreed that the candidate did in fact have the required experience and admitted that it was an error on their end. So, they DID invite the candidate for an interview. Given, he wasn’t chosen for the role, but oh well, at least we gave him a chance.”
6) Tell me about a time you failed. What happened and what did you learn?
S - “During my last job, I was managing the web dev team in charge of setting up an online e-commerce store for one of our clients. In hindsight, I was too ambitious with the project, and over-promised the turnaround rate for the website. I told them we’d be done within 2 months, as it seemed like a very cookie cutter project at the time. However, around 2 weeks into the project, we realized we were off by at least a month, as we would have to hand-code a bunch of stuff that we thought was open source or sold as packaged plugins.”
T - “So, I had to inform them about the issue, give an updated deadline for our team, and fix my mistake.”
A - “After the meeting, they were understanding, but not very happy. I then assembled our web developers and started working hard on the project the very next day. We focused 100% of our time on fixing the issue, outsourced some of the small tasks to save time, and ended up fixing everything before the new deadline.”
R - “In the end, their site was a success and I learned a valuable lesson on managing expectations. I realized that sometimes it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver, and learned how to better set and manage deadlines for my team.”
7) How do you handle angry customers? Give me an example.
S - “I always try to be calm and collected. Recently, when I was serving a customer behind the checkout, I had a customer shout at me for not being eligible for a refund. The customer was getting louder and there was a large line starting to form behind him.”
T - “I had to remain calm, move the conflict somewhere else, and make sure the other customers could go about their purchases.”
A - “I realized the best thing to do was to move the situation away from the cash register. I asked my colleague to take over for me so that I could talk to the customer one-on-one and better explain the situation. I explained that I could understand his frustration, but I made it clear that sales items were non-refundable, even though he had a receipt.”
R - “In the end, he began to calm down and accepted my explanation. While he still wasn’t happy about it, I managed to dissolve the situation before he made any more of a scene. I believe that by being calm and empathetic, it’s possible to dissolve most (if not all) such situations.”
8) Can you tell me about a time when you went above and beyond to deliver excellent customer experience?
S - “When I was working at Company X, we were preparing for a video presentation for a client when I learned that someone on their team was deaf. The presentation was due the next day in the morning and I was the only one left in the office after 5PM.”
T - “I realized there was only one solution and that was for me to stay behind in the evening and add the captions myself.”
A - “It took a few hours, and around 8PM, I was done. Then, I let our team know about the update.”
R - “In the end, the client enjoyed the presentation. They were very impressed (and surprised) by our attention to detail, and we ended up closing them soon after.”
9) Can you give me an example of a goal you set, but couldn’t meet? How did you handle it?
S - “In my previous job, one month, we decided to focus most of our marketing efforts on growing our blog. I was charged by the CMO to take over the blog and create content. The issue was, I had ZERO experience with content, but we didn’t have anyone else to own the channel.”
T - “I had to write 5 total articles in that month, create the social media posts for them, and work on promoting them.”
A - “Halfway through the month, I realized I couldn’t write. At all. It just wasn’t my thing, and I had NOTHING to show for the month’s work. So, here’s what I did: I explained the situation to the CMO, and we came up with an alternative solution. We’d find outsourced content writers on UpWork, and I’d manage them as a content strategist.”
R - “Overall, we ended up hiring a content writer, who managed to pump out the 4 articles before the deadline. I worked hand-in-hand with them to ensure that their writing was on-brand, and I also created the social posts for them and promoted them. Overall, the articles performed pretty well, even landing us a handful of new leads.”
Yes, interviews can be quite scary.
With the STAR method, though, you’ll stand a much better chance at acing them!
Now, let’s recap everything we’ve learned:
- To answer behavioral job interview questions, you need to give real-life examples and stories. To answer it right, you need to follow the STAR method.
- As a reminder, the acronym stands for: S - Situation, T - Task, A - Action, R - Results.
- The format is quite straightforward to follow. Just make sure your answers are relevant, give proper context, describe your thought-process, and finally, include real facts and figures.
- And for sample answers, you can always consult with the examples above for some inspiration.
Are you looking for more ways to prepare for and to ace the job interview? Then you should look no further than the Novorésumé career blog for the latest career advice and other actionable guides!