STAR Interviewing Response Technique for Success in Behavioral Job Interviews
Behavioral questions are one of the most common types of interview questions you’ll encounter. No matter what the industry is, you’re bound to have a few of those thrown at you when you enter a job interview.
So, how do you handle them and what are they really about? In this guide, you’ll encounter a strategy that’s the most effective in terms of answering a behavioral question: the STAR technique.
We’ll go over:
- What STAR stands for?
- What are behavioral questions?
- How can STAR help with behavioral questions?
- What are the steps to crafting a STAR response to a behavioral question?
Finally, we’ll look at a few examples to help you get started.
SITUATION, TASK, ACTION, RESULT
Let’s start by examining the STAR concept. It consists of four different elements, each of which can be considered a single step in your answer. It gives structure to your answer and helps you move from one important element to another, providing a thorough answer to the question at hand.
The four elements of the STAR concept are:
The first component examines the context of your answer. You answer the question of “What were the circumstances of the thing?” and lay the foundation for the answer. You use this component as the basis, explaining in detail what kind of situation you’re about to describe.
Your second component in the STAR technique involves the responsibility you had in that environment. You try answering the question “What was the thing you had to do?” and outline the desired outcome. The component is not looking at what you did but rather what was expected in this situation.
You then move on to describe the things you did to start solving the situation. You answer the question “What were the steps you took?” by showing in detail what your actions were in order to solve the task ahead of you. The component is focused on your specific actions and reasoning for those actions – it’s about the actual things that happened and not what should have happened.
Finally, the last component of the STAR technique is the outcome aspect of it all. You seek to explain an answer to the question “What happened as a result of your actions?” and what your accomplishment or lessons learned were. The focus is on the details of the outcome and an understanding of how your actions in the previous component led to this specific outcome.
By following these four components, you create a coherent, concise and detailed answer for any behavioral question you may face.
THE COMMON BEHAVIOURAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
When you have a group of people working towards a common mission, such as in the workplace, the employers want to know how employees will react to different circumstances. Being a good employee is not just about being able to technically perform in the role (i.e. to have the right skills) but to also be able to handle the situations that arise with the role (i.e. to have the right characteristics).
Here’s a list of some of the most common behavioral questions:
Behavioral questions are asked to reveal three core things:
- How you handle specific situations
- How you think
- How you compare with the other candidates
This allows the interviewer to understand more about you as a candidate. Behavioral questions move deeper into the personality and talent you’d bring to the workplace and beyond just your technical ability to perform in the role.
When you’re asked behavioral questions, the interviewer is essentially trying to find out three things about your behavior.
First, they want to know how you’ve behaved in previous real-world situations. This is important because behavioral questions are not about imaginary situations – the interviewer is not looking to know how you would behave in a certain situation but how you have behaved.
For example, a common behavioral question is to ask:
Tell me about a mistake that you’ve made. How did you handle it?
They don’t ask:
What would you do if you ever made a mistake?
The second point to remember is that the questions are looking to understand the value you’ve added to this actual situation. The interviewer wants to know what you did and how your direct actions influenced the outcome. It’s not about what the organization did, the team did or anyone else present did – your actions and behaviors are what matter here.
For instance, another common behavioral question is to ask:
Give me an example of a difficult problem you’ve solved. How did you do it?
Again, they are asking about your actions and the behaviors and actions you took to overcome the situation.
Finally, the third point the interviewer is focusing on is how you define and analyze different workplace situations. This allows them to compare you to other candidates and to analyze your fit to the work environment. What this essentially means is to check how you define things like ‘failure’, ‘mistake’, and ‘success’.
For example, when the interviewer asks a common behavioral question like:
Can you tell me about a challenging situation you overcame at work?
They aren’t just looking for you to talk about the actual steps and actions you took. The interviewer is also interested in seeing what kind of situation you define to be a challenge.
Different people can consider very different workplace scenarios as ‘challenge’. For example, someone might talk about how the fax machine broke down while others might go on about the time a big client refused to pay.
The point is not that there is necessarily a right or wrong way to define things. But it’s more about understanding your fit for the ‘pressure’ the work environment would provide.
Overall, there isn’t really a right or a wrong answer to behavioral questions. Since the answer also has to be about an actual behavior you’ve shown and deal with a real-life situation, you can’t really ever find example answers that you can use.
However, what you can do is use strategies that help to answer the question in the most effective way and this is why the STAR method is such a powerful thing.
HOW CAN THE STAR TECHNIQUE HELP?
There is a concept and saying in psychology that says, “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior”. This idea is behind behavioral questions and the reason STAR works so well in answering those questions.
STAR looks at what you’ve done in the past in specific situations and therefore, gives the employer a window into your possible future actions. The employer can consider these together with your skills and make a balanced judgment on how well you’d be able to perform in that role.
If you remember from the previous section, the interviewer is looking for three core things:
- How you have behaved in an actual situation
- How you’ve added value to solving or dealing with that situation
- How you define different common workplace situations
Now, with the STAR method, you are answering those points directly.
Remember that STAR will make you:
Define the SITUATION by giving the interviewer context for when you engaged in a specific behavior they are asking about. Here you are showing the interviewer how you define the specific workplace situations they are asking about. For example, if they ask, “Tell me about a challenge you’ve overcome?” then you will not only outline the real-life situation you dealt with, but you will also show the way you define something as ‘a challenge’.
Then you move on to talk about the TASK. These are the responsibilities you had in that situation. You show what your role and value was from the onset – you not only show what was expected of you but also discuss what you thought were expected of you. Again, you dig deeper into how you define these situations and you show how you understand your role in them.
You will next highlight the ACTION. This is to show your behavior deeper and to talk about the steps you took in that specific situation to overcome it or to solve it. This needs to be detailed and concise, showing the interviewer exactly how you behaved and acted in the situation. You want to highlight each action you took and explain the reasoning behind it. Again, this is to help the interviewer to see how your past behavior would manifest in the future, in this particular position.
Now, the final part is to mention the RESULTS. These are the outcomes that took place due to your behavior and actions. You show the interviewer the value you brought in reality and what the tangible results of your actions were. In addition, you want to show your understanding of what lead to those results and your ability to learn from the situation. You need to highlight your understanding of what actions lead to what outcomes and how these can help in any specific work situation.
See how powerful the STAR method is? You just used it to answer all the things the interviewer wants to see when they ask behavioral questions. You show then in action how you’ve been and acted in the past to help them analyze your ability to perform in the specific role in the future.
You make it easier for them to compare you with others – they get real examples of behavior that help them evaluate the skills and the fit.
3 STEPS TO PREPARE FOR BEHAVIORAL QUESTIONS WITH STAR
So, how can you start using STAR to your advantage? You now have a great grasp of:
- The concept of STAR
- The reasons behavioral questions are asked
- The concrete ways STAR helps to answer those questions
Now it’s time to start practicing your answers. Preparing and thinking about what answers would be good will help you nail the interview – you’ll have the confidence to talk about your skills and more importantly, you know just the kind of skills you need to be talking about.
As we’ll discuss soon, the behavioral questions the interviewer ask will always be linked with the specifics of the role and the company. The interviewer knows the kind of skills they want the candidate to have, the challenges they’ll be faced with and so on.
Now it’s the candidate’s job to show that they do have those skills, they do know how to overcome those specific challenges and so on.
So, how do you go about ensuring your behavioral question follows the STAR strategy and highlights the right qualifications and skills for the job?
Here are three simple steps to take to prepare for behavioral questions with STAR.
1. Make a list of your skills and your experiences
You should start by creating a list of your skills and experiences. These should be essential for performing well and succeeding in the role you are applying for.
What this means is not just listing skills and qualifications you have – as you will have many of them! The point is to focus on those core skills that you need in this particular role.
In order to figure out what those are, you need to look at the job listing. You should read it, underlining any skill and experience the employer mentions. Then write them down in the below chart:
|THE SKILLS THE EMPLOYER IS LOOKING FOR:
You can list as many and as few as needed. The key is to find those core skills and characteristics that would help you in the role and the specific work environment.
You can then move on to focusing on the skills you have. The dream is to be able to manifest those exact skills. So you could simply underline the ones you know you have in green.
But consider also other skills you have that the employer hasn’t mentioned but which you know would help. These could be closely related to the skills the employer mentions and transferable skills you have.
|MY BEST SKILLS TO HELP PERFORM AND TO SUCCEED IN THIS ROLE:
2. Pick an example of a time you showcased that skill or experience
Now, you have the skills listed. You know what the employer is looking for and the skills your answers should highlight. It is time to show those skills in action.
The next step is about matching each of those skills with a real-life example. You want to find the SITUATION in STAR. You want to pick something you’ve done, dealt with, accomplished and so on – to give the context to your skill and characteristics.
At this point, you don’t have to consider STAR just yet. You simply want to have a rough idea of an example that highlights a skill. Indeed, it’s a good idea to have two examples for a single skill to ensure you can showcase single skill in different ways – depending on the question, you can pick the more suited answer then.
Of course, it will be even better if you can find an example of a situation that’s similar to something you might deal with in your new role. For example, if the job involves a lot of customer service, then try to come up with examples that highlight your skills and experience of actual customer service situations.
So use the below chart to list the skills and characteristics you have and then match them with suitable real-life examples.
3. Write down the STAR functions
Finally, it’s time to bring out the STAR template and go through each of your examples, giving them the STAR treatment. What you can do is use the below template, filling in the important points as you go along.
|SKILL AND EXAMPLE SITUATION:
Who? What? Where? When? How?
What were the deadlines? What were the costs? What did it involve? What was required?
What did you do? What steps did you take? How did you take them?
What happened? Why did it happen?
You can use the questions as guidance when writing your answer.
At this point, you can write is as close to an oral answer you might give. You can even sample some of the most common behavioral questions with your answers. The key is to learn to highlight your skill, use real examples as your answers, and master the STAR strategy.
Of course, you don’t want to learn the answers by heart and simply read them off like a script when at the interview. However, it still helps to practice the strategy and to think about the examples beforehand – it helps you give a good answer confidently.
A FEW EXAMPLE BEHAVIOR JOB INTERVIEW QUESTIONS AND STAR RESPONSES
To bring it all home, it’s a good idea to examine a few examples. Here are three core behavioral questions that are almost unanimously asked in job interviews. Below you can also find an example answer to the question, highlighting the STAR strategy.
The Question: Tell me about a time when you showed leadership. What did you do?
The STAR answer:
In my previous job, we had multiple requests for customer follow-ups after we held a conference (SITUATION). Due to one of our team members being sick, we started having a large backlog and customers complained that we’re taking too long to get back to them (TASK). I realized some of the customers had said they’d be OK if we follow-up on the weekends, so I asked one of the team members to contact the list first and to setup interviews for weekend, if possible. I then worked on the weekend to clear the backlog (ACTION). We ended up clearing the list and acquired 8 new customers, with $100,000 in new sales (RESULT).
The Question: Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?
The STAR answer:
Once I misquoted a fee for the club I was working in which resulted in the customer paying the wrong fee (SITUATION). I realized my mistake and wanted to rectify the situation (TASK). I told the manager and they appreciated my honesty. We talked that we should waive the fee for the first three months for the new member and give him the option to cancel. I then contacted the person and went over the situation with them (ACTION). The person accepted my apology and decided to still stay with the club. I felt bad about the mistake but my manager’s calm and understanding approach helped me deal with the situation and I learnt to double check the things I now do (RESULT).
The Question: Give an example of a goal you’ve reached and how you achieved it.
The STAR answer:
When I first started working at ZYX, I wanted to make the most sales of the month, which was a light-hearted competition our management had set (SITUATION). It wasn’t an official objective, but I felt like it would challenge me to quickly learn the ropes and perform well at my job (TASK). I focused on customer service and communication, as I felt it gave me the best chance of boosting sales. I talked with customers, better realizing their pain points and therefore, finding ways we could help them (ACTION). I ended up winning the competition within six months of starting – the fastest anyone had done it. I beat the next person by $100,000 and I felt proud of my achievement. Not just with beating the competition but also about taking the time to better serve the customers (RESULT).
WITH STAR YOU CAN BE THE STAR OF THE JOB INTERVIEW
Behavioral questions are an essential part of the job interview. They are used to look at you more closely and to analyze your fit in the organization – they show the interview who you are and what you’ve done in order to make certain predictions about your performance in the role.
And when it comes to answering these essential questions, the STAR method is one of the best to use. It highlights just the right elements of your past performance and gives your answers the right kind of structure and level of detail.
So, go over the tips and strategies in this guide and nail your next job interview!
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