How To Answer STAR Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

By Abby McCain - May. 3, 2021

Find a Job You Really Want In

Ah, the job interview. It can turn even the most confident employee into a sleepless pile of nerves.

The most effective cure is preparation, but no matter how much you practice, you can’t prepare for every question that you’ll have to answer. The best you can do is come up with the major talking points that you want to be sure to hit and then use the STAR method as a formula for forming your answers on the spot.

We’ll cover what the STAR method is, how to use it in a job interview, and how to recognize behavioral interview questions that the method is designed to answer. We’ll also give you plenty of examples of the STAR method in action, so you can start preparing your own interview answers.

What Is the STAR Method?

The STAR method is a framework for answering behavioral interview questions so that you hit the points the interviewer is looking for and while keeping your response succinct and easy to follow. This is especially helpful to have when you’re asked questions that require a story or a hypothetical response.

The four points of answers that use the STAR method are:

  1. Situation. The first thing you should do when you’re answering a behavioral interview question is set the scene of your story. Be detailed but brief.

    Our sales teams’ conversion rate on cold calls was way down for the quarter.

  2. Task. This is the part where you explain what your job was in this situation. Did you have to meet a deadline, double your results, or solve a conflict?

    Our sales manager told us to work on a strategy for increasing our conversion rate by 20% for the next quarter.

  3. Action. Now you’re getting to the part that actually answers the question. Explain what steps you took to complete your task and solve the problem.

    I got together with other sales reps and we came up with a quantitative and qualitative list of reasons why customers weren’t interested in our products. We found that our entry-level price point was too big a bar for small companies and folks frequently cited a lack of proficiency with our software as concerning.

    We put together a report for the sales manager and I showed her that these were the two biggest sticking points for hesitant customers. She was able to get the software team to put together a free basic trial package and also had marketing put together training materials to help users get more comfortable using our software.

  4. Result. Wrap up your story by sharing the result of your efforts. This can be what you accomplished, but it can also be what you learned, especially if you’re talking about a failure.

    These changes made a massive impact on sales that quarter. We more than doubled our goal of increasing our conversion rate by 20%.

If you’re the interviewer in this situation, here is some more information about how to assess candidates using the STAR method.

What Are Behavioral Interview Questions?

Behavioral interview questions are questions about how you’ve handled work situations in the past. An interviewer asks behavioral interview questions because learning about how you’ve approached things in the past gives them insight into how you’re likely to handle situations in the future.

There are no right or wrong answers to behavioral interview questions, but there is a correct way of approaching them: the STAR method.

Even if you don’t have a lot of formal experience in the field, a lot of these questions leave the specific topic up to you. That means you can talk about experiences from school, volunteering, extracurriculars, etc. — as long as your answer addresses the heart of the interviewer’s question.

It’s easy to pick out a behavioral interview question. Many of them start with phrases like:

  • Tell me about a time…

  • Describe a situation where…

  • Have you ever…What was the result?

  • What do you do when…

  • Can you share an example of a time when…

Note that the STAR method is also useful for responding to situational interview questions. These questions are essentially the same as behavioral questions, but they take on a hypothetical tone.

Here’s a situational interview question:

How would you explain a challenging topic to a confused customer?

Compared to a behavioral interview question:

Tell me about a time when you explained a challenging topic to a confused customer.

As you can see, your approach is essentially the same. The only difference is that a situational question allows you to hypothesize about how you’d handle the experience — we don’t recommend doing this, though. An answer that pulls in real-world examples will always be stronger, so use the STAR method regardless of the question’s phrasing.

How to Prepare for STAR Interview Questions

The tricky part of preparing for STAR interview questions is that you can never be sure what topics will come up. And it’s impossible to prepare stories for every possible behavioral interview question.

But here’s the good news: behavioral interview questions can basically be boiled down into the following categories:

  • Stress

  • Conflict

  • Challenges

  • Accomplishments

  • Adaptability

  • Problem-solving

  • Attention to detail

  • Communication

  • Customer service

  • Integrity

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Leadership

  • Time management

  • Teamwork

  • Initiative

  • Setting goals

  • Creativity

Okay, so that’s still a pretty long list of stories you have to think about. However, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of crossover between the categories listed above. For example, a story about how you de-escalated an angry customer could be used for questions about stress, conflict, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, and customer service.

That’s six potential question categories covered with one good story. The key is to prepare a wide enough range of examples from your previous experiences that you have plenty of great stories to pull from, regardless of the particular question.

Just be sure that you actually answer the interviewer’s question — that’s more important than telling a perfectly crafted (and perfectly irrelevant) story.

Tips for Using the STAR Method

  1. Research the company and role. The more you know what the company values and what the role requires, the easier it will be to formulate impressive answers. Look into the company’s publically stated values and how they interact with the public through social media to get an idea of the corporate culture.

    Also, read the job description carefully. Words that come up a lot or are otherwise emphasized are important — note them and try to incorporate them into your responses.

  2. Keep your stories short. The beauty of the STAR method is that it gives you an easy framework for telling quick and efficient stories.

    Remember — the “Situation” and “Task” part of your answer should only be one sentence each. You can even combine them into one sentence like, “When sales started to drop (situation), my boss asked me to look into the problem (task).

    The “Action” part of your answer is the longest part of your answer, and even that should be kept to a few sentences. The “Result” should also be short, impressive, and easy for the interviewer to recall. Don’t worry if you feel you’re leaving out key context — if the interviewer feels the same way, they’ll ask for more details.

  3. Use numbers. Hiring managers and recruiters love candidates who can back up their claims with hard data. Whenever possible, quantify your accomplishments. The thing about qualitative information is that the interviewer has no way to know if they would agree with your assessment of the situation you’re describing.

    But 25% is 25% and $100,000 is $100,000 no matter where you are or who you’re talking to.

  4. Make your impact known. With that in mind, our final tip is to make sure your role and influence in the story are crystal clear. The great thing about behavioral interview questions (from the interviewer’s perspective) is that you can’t dodge around them with vague language and nice-sounding buzzwords (not successfully, anyway).

    Give interviewers what they want: short, punchy, declarative sentences that emphatically state that you had such-and-such an impact on whatever situation you’re discussing.

Common Mistakes When Using the STAR Method

  • Not answering the question. You might have the perfect story queued up about a time when you faced conflict at work, but unless that question comes up, don’t try to shoehorn your story into a different question.

    If you really don’t have anything prepared for the topic the interviewer wants to discuss and you can’t think of anything on the fly, it’s okay to turn the question into a hypothetical. For example, if you can’t think of a time when you had to communicate complex information to a non-expert, explain how you would go about it.

    It’s much better to address the question somewhat imperfectly than to ignore the question entirely.

  • Sounding like a robot. Stories are supposed to be fun and conversational, not boring and memorized. If you want to write down notes, go ahead and jot down bullet points. They’ll help make sure that you hit all the key points while keeping the exact language natural and fresh.

    Don’t write out an entire script and rehearse it in a monotone voice. Your communication skills are being tested just as much as how you handled past situations.

  • Telling a story that makes you look bad. A lot of behavioral questions are about negative situations (e.g., disagreeing with a coworker, making a mistake, etc.) That doesn’t mean your answer should paint you in a negative light.

    Always make sure that the story ends on a positive note (what lessons you learned, how you’ve improved since, etc.) even if the journey was a little rocky. Also, never make yourself look totally unqualified.

    For example, if the interviewer asks about a mistake you made, don’t tell a story where you made a truly terrible decision that had dire, long-term consequences.

Sample Questions and Answers Using the STAR Method

To help you get a handle on how to use this method effectively, here are some common questions you might be asked in an interview and some examples of answers that use the STAR method.

  1. Tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work . How did you handle it?

    Situation: “A coworker who I regularly worked with on projects was out sick for a week and a half.”
    Task: “I had to figure out how to finish our projects on time without her.”
    Action: “I first created a timeline with all the tasks I had to complete. Then I blocked off time in my schedule to dedicate to working on the project.”
    Result: “Through hard work and prioritizing tasks, I was able to successfully finish the project on time.”

  2. Have you ever had to make an unpopular decision? How did you handle it?

    Situation: “ My manager put me in charge of a team project and we were down to the wire on meeting a deadline.”
    Task: “ I had to choose whether we’d stay late even though we were exhausted or come in on the weekend to finish it.”
    Action: “I decided that our end product would be better if we finished it over the weekend. I explained why I decided this and told my team that I would bring breakfast for them to help sweeten the pot.”
    Result: “While no one was happy about having to come in on a Saturday, they did understand my reasons and appreciated the food I brought, and we finished the project with no errors.”

  3. Describe a time when you were under a lot of pressure at work. How did you react?

    Situation: “During the holidays, I ended up being the only one on my team who was able to come into the office one day.”
    Task: “I had to screen my usual number of customer service calls in addition to covering everyone else’s phones.”
    Action: “I rearranged my desk to create a ‘command central’ so that I had all the information I’d need ready to go and enough note taking supplies ready to take messages for my coworkers.”
    Result: “I was able to remain calm and cheery the entire day and didn’t drop a call or forget a message. My supervisor even received a positive review about my customer service that day.”

  4. Tell me about a mistake you’ve made. How did you handle it?

    Situation: “I forgot to give a message from one of our biggest clients to my boss, which resulted in the client waiting for a call that my boss never made.”
    Task: “I had to make sure my boss knew the situation and could take care of it.”
    Action: “I told my boss what had happened and apologized. I offered to speak to the client if he thought that would help. Then, I set up a new notetaking system to help me keep better track of the messages I received.”
    Result: “My boss was able to repair the damage with the client, and I haven’t missed a phone message since.”

  5. Explain a situation where you used data or logic to make a recommendation.

    Situation: “Part of my responsibilities at my last job was to examine the performance data from our social media marketing campaigns.”
    Task: “I had to tell the graphic design team what direction they should go for their next batch of graphics, and I noticed that posts with more colorful graphics received twice the number of clicks that our other posts did.”
    Action: “I pulled the relevant statistics for each post and put them in an easy-to-read chart that showed the results. I presented this with my recommendation to create more brightly colored graphics.”
    Result: “The designers took my suggestion, and the next social media campaign performed twice as well as the one before.”

  6. Tell me about a time you unintentionally offended or upset somebody. What happened, and how did you handle it?

    Situation: “At my first job as an administrative assistant, I didn’t realize that my boss didn’t like others knowing when he went to the dentist or any other personal appointments. One day, when another department head asked where he was, I told him he went to the dentist and would be back soon.”
    Task: “When my boss found out what had happened, he was upset. I had to make it right and earn back his trust.”
    Action: “I went to him in person and apologized. I explained that I hadn’t meant to offend him and had simply assumed too much. I promised that it wouldn’t happen again and even asked what he would like me to tell people in the future.”
    Result: “My boss was understanding and gave me a preferred answer for the future, and I haven’t offended him since.”

  7. Describe a time when you had to deliver bad news. How did you do it?

    Situation: “My team had lost an important client to one of our newest competitors through no fault of our own.”
    Task: “I had to tell our supervisor what had happened.”
    Action: “I met with her one-on-one and started with the good news that we had been increasing our new contacts each day and then told her that we lost another client. Then I finished with more good news, saying that the team was even more motivated to make more sales.”
    Result: “My supervisor was encouraged by the end of the meeting and thanked us for our hard work.”

  8. Tell me about a time you worked with other departments to complete a project.

    Situation: “I was on a team project that involved both the IT department I worked in and the graphic design department.”
    Task: “As team lead on our side, I had to help facilitate the cooperation between the two departments.”
    Action: “I set up a shared database where we could all track project progress, share files, and communicate updates with the whole team.”
    Result: “Both departments loved the system, and the project went smoothly.”

  9. Tell me about a time when you set and achieved a specific goal.

    Situation: “I set a goal at the beginning of the year to become proficient in Photoshop.”
    Task: “To do this, I had to find a way to both learn and practice the techniques.”
    Action: “I found a reputable online class and then created a schedule for myself that allowed me to complete the class and 12 Photoshop projects by the end of the year.”
    Result: “At the end of the year I had completed my classes and practice projects, which I showed to my supervisor. She was impressed and asked me to complete a couple of extra projects for our overloaded graphic designers.”

  10. Tell me about a time when you had to persuade someone to do something.

    Situation: “The computers we accountants used at our firm were old and slow.”
    Task: “As the most senior employee there, I had to convince our office manager to purchase new ones.”
    Action: “I asked my coworkers what specific problems they were having with their computers and how much time they estimated it wasted. I then compiled these in a presentation, which I gave to our office manager.”
    Result: “Our manager was impressed by our teamwork and effort and was swayed by our arguments to purchase new computers.”

  11. Describe a time when you had a conflict with a colleague. How did you handle it?

    Situation: “About three years into my working for the company, our department hired a new employee who was supposed to help me with my greatly increased workload.”
    Task: “My new coworker refused to put together reports the way I showed her how to, resulting in my supervisor getting frustrated with me because the reports weren’t right.”
    Action: “I scheduled a meeting with the employee and explained what was going on and asked her to do the reports the way I had shown her to prevent it from happening again.”
    Result: “My coworker thanked me for explaining it to her and apologized for not listening the first time. She didn’t do it incorrectly again.”

  12. Have you ever had to motivate others at work? How did you do it?

    Situation: “When I worked as a medical illustrator, I was on a team that was known for being slow to complete projects.”
    Task: “I knew that I needed to be the one to keep everyone motivated and on track.”
    Action: “I went into our first meeting with enthusiasm and then suggested we set deadlines for each step of the project. I also suggested that we give ourselves a reward each time we met a deadline.”
    Result: “Even though we didn’t meet every deadline along the way, we did finish the project on time, which was rare for this team.”

  13. Tell me about a time you had to complete a task within a tight deadline. How did you handle it?

    Situation: “I was given a major coding project that I had to complete in half the time I would normally allow for such a project.”
    Task: “I had to carefully plan out my time to make sure I got it done.”
    Action: “I broke the project down into individual tasks, then estimated the time it would take for each one. I blocked out these times in my schedule, along with some extra buffer in case something went wrong.”
    Result: “I successfully met the deadline and didn’t have to work any overtime.”

  14. How have you responded to a team member who wasn’t pulling his or her weight?

    Situation: “I was on an interdepartmental team working on a major company project, and one of the team members consistently wouldn’t get his part of the project in on time, slowing everyone else down.”
    Task: “He was the only other one on the team who was in my department, so I knew I was the one who needed to do something.”
    Action: “I pulled him aside and privately told him that we really needed his work in order to complete the project and that if he couldn’t do it he needed to tell us so that we could find somebody else.”
    Result: “He apologized and was much better about getting his work done on time after that.”

  15. Tell me about a time you took initiative at your job.

    Situation: “When I worked as a teacher, the shared workroom supply closet was always a mess, making it difficult to find the materials we needed.”
    Task: “The closet needed to be cleaned up, and I decided to do it.”
    Action: “On a day when I knew I wouldn’t have much grading, I stayed after school and reorganized the whole thing.”
    Result: “Now all of us teachers can find the materials we need much faster, and the school is saving money since they don’t have to reorder items that we have but can’t find.”

  16. Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone you work with. What did you do, and were you eventually successful?

    Situation: “I had a fellow receptionist who wouldn’t carry on a conversation with me no matter how hard I tried.”
    Task: “I wanted to connect with her since we needed to work so closely every day.”
    Action: “I noticed that she had a lot of running paraphernalia around her desk, so I asked her for some tips about how to get into running.”
    Result: “She lit up and began talking once she saw that I was truly interested. We continued to chat throughout the day and now have a good working relationship.”

  17. Describe your first job to me. How did you learn the ropes?

    Situation: “My first job was at an advertising agency.”
    Task: “It was fast-paced, so there was a lot to learn very quickly.”
    Action: “I asked questions and took notes so that I’d only have to ask once, and every time I completed a project I asked for feedback to implement the next time.”
    Result: “After just a few weeks, I was completing projects independently and with few errors.”

  18. Describe a situation in which you knew you were right about something but had to follow instructions from your boss.

    Situation: “When I worked for the corporate office of a retail company, my boss announced that we were implementing a new method for stocking our stores.”
    Task: “I knew from working in the stores in the past that the new method would be difficult for staffers to carry out and would result in too much inventory in storage.”
    Action: “I talked to my boss about my concerns, but he said that this was the way it was going to be and told me to send out the new policy.”
    Result: “Even though I didn’t agree, I sent it out just the way he wanted me to.”

  19. Tell me about a time you received some criticism at work. What did you do with it?

    Situation: “During my first communications job I had a coworker tell me that my emails often came across as harsh.”
    Task: “I had to take this criticism and fix it, especially because I worked in communications and needed my emails to come across the way they were intended to.”
    Action: “I thanked her for letting me know and made it a personal rule that I would add in a pleasant greeting and first line in every email and read it before I sent it.”
    Result: “I followed up with my coworker and asked how my emails sounded now, and she said they were much more friendly.”

  20. Can you tell me about a time when it was especially important to impress a client? What did you do?

    Situation: “One of our biggest clients was actively being pursued by one of our competitors.”
    Task: “I had one meeting to impress her and win her contract for the rest of the year.”
    Action: “I knew from past experiences that she appreciated when people made processes easier for her. I showed her all the ways we’d handle her orders for her, down to scheduling when she should order her regular products so that she’d take full advantage of seasonal discounts.”
    Result: “She was so impressed and thankful for the effort I put in that she renewed her contract.”

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.

Author

Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

Find The Best Job That Fits Your Career

Major Survey Entry Point Icon

Where do you want to work?

Related posts