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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.
The STAR method helps you structure your answers so that you hit the points the interviewer is looking for and still remain succinct. This is especially helpful to have when you’re asked behavioral questions that require a story or a hypothetical response.
The four points of answers that use the STAR method are:
Situation. The first thing you should do when you’re answering a situational or behavioral interview question is set the scene for your accomplishments or, yes, your failures. Be detailed but brief.
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?
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.
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.
If you’re the interviewer in this situation, here is some more information about how to assess candidates 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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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