During an interview, you’ll likely be asked a few questions that start with “tell me about a time when…” or “give me an example of…”
These are called behavioral interview questions and their aim is to show the interviewer how you handle common challenges and situations on the job. They often touch on topics like leadership, teamwork, project management, problem solving, and conflict resolution.
How you choose to answer these questions tells the interviewer a lot about how you work within a team and as an individual. The best way to answer these questions is with the STAR method. STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. It serves as a framework to help you form strong, succinct answers to a behavioral interview question.
Here’s a breakdown on how the STAR method works. When responding to an interview question, follow these four steps:
Find a situation that best fits the interviewer’s question and sets the scene for the scenario that takes place. So, if you’re asked something like, “tell me about a time you overcame a challenge,” this is where you set the stage. In the situation step, be sure to use the 5 W’s: Who (Who was involved?), What (What was the challenge?), Where, When, and Why (Why did you have to overcome the challenge?). Aim to sum up your situation in just a few sentences.
Here is where you talk about what you needed to achieve in this situation or the task you had to complete. Explain any obstacles or constraints that could have prevented you from completing the task.
This is where you explain the steps you took to achieve the task. Be sure to speak specifically about what you did and use the word “I” when describing the action. If a team was involved be clear about your role while also describing how you worked with others.
This is where you share the the outcome of the situation. Talk about how your actions directly contributed to this result. If the question allows for it, here is where you can also talk about things you’ve learned during this experience. The results could be positive or negative – in fact be sure to prepare stories of situations where something didn’t work out, since that’s also a common behavioral question.
Here are a few tips to follow when using the STAR technique:
- Be as specific as possible.
- Focus on your contributions, thought process, and actions.
- Think about your entire career when preparing stories to tell.
- Also includes stories that show how your skills have been enhanced by experiences outside of the paid workforce.
- Source your STAR answers from a variety of scenarios.
- Keep your answer positive. Even if the outcome wasn’t positive, be sure to emphasize what you learned or what you would do different next time.
Before your job interview, do some research and prepare answers for some of the most common behavioral interview questions. While you can’t know exactly which questions you will be asked, you can look at the job description and think of how you would approach situations involving the job’s requirements. Highlight how you would address those situations using your own story and the STAR method.
Preparation is really important. The Muse website notes that for behavioral interview, “They’re really just asking for a good story starring you as the main character.” Be the star! But know that good stories take time to craft.
Tami Forman is the founding executive director of Path Forward and a frequent speaker on issues related to caregiving and workforce participation.
Originally published April 2018.