Interview Strategies: STAR Your Way to Behavioral Questions

Tell me about a time when you were in an interview and you had to answer a behavioral question.

Does this sound familiar?

Interviewers love asking behavioral questions these days, and with good reason. Behavioral questions give the interviewer a keen insight into how the candidate will handle specific situations that happen in their work environment.

Should you, the candidate, fear the behavioral question? Absolutely not! This article will show you how to handle these questions with ease.  

How to spot a behavioral question

These questions are visible from a mile away. They usually start with “Tell me about a time,” “What would you do,” or “Give an example of a time…” You can find a whole list of them here, or simply Google ‘Behavioral Interview Questions.”

When you spot a behavioral question coming over the horizon, immediately go into STAR mode, and get ready to give that interviewer an outstanding answer.

The STAR approach

STAR is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. It’s a format for answering a potentially complex behavioral question in an organized and complete manner.

Let’s spell out what each step is:

Situation – Reach back into your professional career and choose one situation that best shows how you think on your feet. Unless otherwise requested, you can take a situation that happened last week, last year, or even 10 years ago, as long as it’s relevant to the question asked. Describe the situation in 2 to 4 sentences and that’s it. 

“About seven years ago I started a new job. As I met everyone on the first day, I received several warnings about meeting Bob. Bob was known as a very gruff person who was not happy about the workings of my new department.”

Task – State the task you had to complete. This should be the easiest, shortest, and most to-the-point statement in your STAR-studded response.

“I knew I needed to develop a positive relationship with Bob, find out what the problems were, and figure out how to fix them.”

Action – This is where you describe what actions you took to meet the needs of the task you described. The Action part of your answer can get a little long because you want to tout all of your wonderful problem-solving skills, and this is the section where you can shine your brightest. The best approach is to try to keep it organized and to the point.

“We met in his work area, and my co workers were right; Bob was not happy. I let him vent for a good 20 minutes while I took notes on all his concerns. When he was done, I went over my notes with him and proposed a list of items to improve the situation. Bob was suddenly unarmed and didn’t have a reason to be angry anymore. He agreed that these items needed attention.” 

Result – This is the happy ending to the story. Without getting into too much detail, efficiently summarize how things got better with your efforts. Like a big, bright bow on a present, stating the Result ties up the story with a good, positive, memorable message.

“Within two weeks, all of Bob’s concerns were addressed and resolved. Efficiency increased by 25%, job reworks were virtually eliminated, and we even saw Bob smile from time to time.”

If you’re taking notes during the interview, write ‘STAR’ in the top margin of your first page. It will remind you of this sure-fire technique and keep you on track in the middle of the story.

Don’t let behavioral interview questions get you down. Follow the STAR formula for effective, organized responses.