What Is the STAR Method and How to Use It During Interviews was originally published on Exponent.
Hey there! This article is a part of our series on Behavioral Interviews. Check out our complete Behavioral Interview Prep Course to get ready for your upcoming interviews.
Preview of Top Behavioral Interview Questions:
– Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.
– Tell me about a time when you raised the bar.
– Tell me about a time you solved a pain point for customers.
Behavioral interview questions are a staple of modern tech interviews.
A behavioral interview question, as the name suggests, is a question focused on your past performances or behaviors in your professional career.
You may also know them as the “tell me about a time…” or the “give me an example of…” interview question. Some companies may also refer to them as situational interview questions.
Ultimately, companies ask these questions because they are thought to predict your future job performance.
Still, many job seekers may need help to answer behavioral interview questions or answer them as best as they should.
But that’s where the STAR interview method comes in.
The STAR Method
Abstract by Oleg Shcherba
The STAR method is one of the most well-known interview frameworks out there.
It is a particularly effective framework for answering behavioral interview questions.
While it’s true that you should rely on something other than this or other frameworks when going through your interviews, they can be handy when used appropriately.
The STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
In short, using this framework, you can break your job interview answer into these four components that makes for a crisp, concise response and compelling story without compromising quality.
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
What would real-life examples STAR interview questions look like?
Imagine that you, as the candidate, were asked to talk about a time you disagreed with someone and how you resolved it.
Let’s say you decide to talk through a time; as a technical program manager, you had a conflict with an engineer over whether or not code refactoring was necessary for an upcoming Scrum sprint.
Abstract by Oleg Shcherba
First and foremost, you’ll need to flesh out the situation, the S of the STAR method. Specifically, it’s essential that you explain the context behind the situation and why your role in it was crucial.
Ultimately, this sets the stage for the rest of your answer.
You’ll want to provide enough detail to demonstrate why this situation you chose is worth discussing in the first place and why it is an appropriate choice to exemplify your skills.
So, for our example answer, you could explain the situation in the following way:
“When I was acting as the lead TPM for a particular project, some members of my team and other stakeholders were pushing to update the website’s logo.Nevertheless, one team member, an engineer I was working with, wanted to wait. They were trying to implement new technical infrastructure that would make it much easier to change the logo, if need be, in the future.This logo change was ultimately so significant because the CEO was pushing hard for the company to look its absolute best to help raise a Series B round of investment. Unfortunately, this out-of-date logo created bottlenecks for the design teams, who needed to wait for the new logo to take screenshots or build other branding assets to help with the Series B.At the same time, though, our engineering teams had suffered a severe setback due to careless and sloppy coding many months prior. Because of this, our developers needed to rebuild much of the system architecture virtually from scratch.Finally, the engineer in question, who wanted to wait to change the logo until the new infrastructure was implemented, was not a nobody. While they were new to the team, they were not new to the company. In fact, they had worked there for many years and, at that point, they were the most experienced and senior engineer on our team.”
Abstract by Dani Grapevine
Depending on the situation in question, the Task portion of STAR may be redundant.
If you feel like you already covered the task itself while describing the situation, feel free to skip this rather than repeat yourself.
After all, the purpose of interview frameworks like STAR is to help be succinct while still being comprehensive. Needless to say, repeating yourself defeats that purpose.
Nevertheless, this portion of STAR is where you can clarify what your role in a particular situation was and, specifically, what you needed to do about it.
So, in our example, you could say something like this:
“The ultimate goal was to be investor-ready in two weeks. So, my boss made me responsible for this logo-changing project.Before this project, however, I had several meetings with the company’s engineering managers about the development setback I mentioned earlier. As a result, there were ongoing efforts on our part to improve the development process to avoid similar incidents in the future.So I needed to figure out a way to navigate these different priorities and bridge the gap between the CEO’s Series B goals and the engineering managers’ goals to improve development processes.”
Abstract by Dani Grapevine
The Action portion of the STAR method is the real meat and potatoes of your interview answer.
This, of course, is where you explain how you handled the problem or completed the task you previously outlined using concrete examples.
While you do so, you should spotlight and emphasize the specific relevant skills that this situation (and the actions you took) demonstrate.
Also, it’s always best to make sure, during this section, you talk about your team as well as yourself. Many candidates think they’re only supposed to highlight their own particular role, and rightfully so; it is their interview, after all.
Still, giving credit where credit is due and speaking about your teammates’ or coworkers’ contributions to the solution or to your success demonstrates humility and leadership skills.
As you can imagine, hiring managers love to see tech candidates with such qualities.
So, for our example, you could say something like this:
“Initially, given the small time frame I was working under, I tried to convince the senior engineer to simply change the website logo. But nevertheless, they shut me down right away.So, I brainstormed and made a list of my possible options. I also shared them with my manager and kept them in the loop regarding this situation.Essentially, I could have either:1.) Postpone the logo change,2.) Launch a temporary logo while further investing in the engineering infrastructure,3.) Or launch the new logo while postponing the implementation of the engineering infrastructure.Despite these choices, I felt it would be best to find a solution to address everyone’s specific needs here.As a result, I did my best to be as empathetic as possible and listen to everyone involved.I spoke with the designers – they emphasized that they ultimately only, at that point, needed an updated logo on one of the website pages, not necessarily everywhere.Nevertheless, the senior engineer was very clear that they disapproved of what they saw as a quick, ad-hoc solution to this problem, the very kind that was the cause of that severe engineering setback that caused so much trouble for us. This engineer preferred that we invest in long-term solutions instead, which, in this case, was implementing technical infrastructure to make logo changes in the future.Despite these concerns, my boss told me that the CEO was chiefly concerned with updating the logo – as doing so would allow them to present our product to investors.So, I decided to schedule a meeting between the designers and the senior engineer in question. During this meeting, we jointly brainstormed a solution that would be mutually beneficial.”
Abstract by Oleg Shcherba
Finally, you’ll need to explain the results of your actions.
Detail how the initial situation was ultimately resolved and how your actions, in particular, helped make this resolution happen.
Still, don’t forget to mention your teammates or coworkers and the results of their efforts, as well.
This portion of STAR is also the best place for you to talk about the lessons you learned along the way.
So, for our example, you could say something like this:
“Despite the collaborative nature of the meeting, tempers were relatively high at the beginning. However, I cooled things off by suggesting that everyone reiterate their goals for this logo change project.The designers restated that the logo does not necessarily need to be changed everywhere immediately- just on one page of the website.From there, the senior engineer thought of an idea involving a short-term implementation for the logo change. However, the kicker was that this short-term implementation could be repurposed afterward into a more significant system design change that the engineering team wanted to make.This solution was ultimately agreeable to everyone, and the roadblock facing this project vanished.Thankfully, this meeting helped resolve the issue right then and there rather than escalating to the CEO.This situation really hammered home how vital empathy, understanding, communication, and conflict resolution are when developing products as a team.”
The Top 20 Most Common Behavioral Interview Questions
Behavioral questions may come in many different forms in your next interview. Ultimately, they could be about virtually any sort of situation that could demonstrate something about your character, performance, or professional behavior.
To help you prepare for your upcoming interview, here are the top 20 behavioral interview questions members of our community report being asked at tech companies today:
- Tell me about a time you had to make a decision to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains.
- Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.
- Tell me about a time you solved a pain point for customers.
- Tell me about a time when you raised the bar.
- How do you consider the impact of your work on the world?
- Tell me about a time you made a decision based on your instincts.
- Give me an example of a calculated risk that you have taken where speed was critical.
- Tell me about a time when you worked on a project with a tight deadline.
- Tell me about a decision you made based on your instincts.
- Tell me about a time you made a bold and difficult decision.
- Tell me about a time you were not satisfied with the status quo.
- Tell me about a time when you had an idea you proposed was not agreed on.
- Tell me about a time you faced technical and people challenges at the same time.
- Tell me about a time you turned down more resources to complete a project.
- Tell me about a time you handled a difficult stakeholder.
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with someone and how you resolved it.
- Tell me about a time you had a conflict with someone. How did you resolve it, and what did you learn?
- Tell me about a time when you solved a complex problem and how you went about it?
- Describe a situation where you negotiated a win-win situation.
Another Example of the STAR Interview Technique In Action
Abstract by Marina Mogulska
Looking for another example of the STAR interview response technique in action?
In this example, our co-founder, Stephen, answered the following question:
Situation: When I was first launching Exponent, I remember working as a side job with my co-founder. So we were working on the side, and we only had a little time or resources to really focus on Exponent.
I knew my co-founder also was going to take a big vacation soon, and we had periods of losing motivation. So, in my perspective, it was critical that we at least did something to launch before my co-founder went on vacation.
Task: At first, I was still determining what exactly we should do because, realistically, we were not going to launch our interview courses in time for that tight deadline.
So speed is critical, and I wanted to find out something we could do. I tried to think about an MVP, something smaller and easier to launch that would motivate us and validate the project but still provide value to users.
Action: So the first thing that I did with Exponent was actually write up a set of 20 PDF documents for people to help them prepare for their interviews.
I wrote that document and just sent an e-mail and posted on social media, “hey, I wrote up this packet. Does anybody want it for $5?” You know, we have a lot of no’s or people not really interested, but we got three to four people to say, “yeah, I’m interested in that.”
Result: I didn’t know if people would like this PDF; I didn’t know if the PDF was good; I haven’t really tested it.
So we sent this PDF, and people loved it and wanted more. We then realized this could be so much more. This is the whole book’s worth of content, which was super validating and motivating.
So our entire team is energized around that initial litmus test like, hey, there is something here that we can do. So you see, it seemed kind of crazy at the time. It seemed like a risk. It may not work out. Still, I knew the time was critical, and I wanted to try something.
Ultimately it generated a lot of enthusiasm and incitement that turned into the company it is today. So overall, I’m thrilled that we made that decision. Still, it felt stressful and nerve-wracking about doing that at the time.
Tips For Using the STAR Technique
Create a Story Bank
As we mentioned, the STAR method is best for answering behavioral interview questions, in particular.
However, you should not rehearse or read through a prepared answer. Otherwise, your answers won’t sound natural or authentic.
After all, this is a framework, not a script.
What you should do, though, is have some example situations in mind going into the interview. Then, when the interviewer asks you a behavioral interview question like few examples in this article, you can tailor them to the specific question.
In other words, the best way to effectively answer interview questions using the STAR method is to prepare a story bank ahead of time.
That is, a collection of 5 – 10 stories or situations that you can easily speak about, that you know well, and that demonstrate some of your best strengths as a tech candidate.
Hopefully, depending on the behavioral interview question, you’ll have something in the story bank that you can use to answer the question thoughtfully.
Be sure that your story bank enjoys enough diversity. It ultimately won’t do you much good if every story in the bank is very similar. This, too, will threaten to make your interview answers sound inauthentic.
Instead, try to find stories from different companies, roles, teams, etc.
No matter what, though, be sure that, when telling your stories, you feel confident, knowledgeable, and professional, as these qualities will inevitably translate into your interview performance.
Also, you’ll want to have a couple of stories in your story bank that explicitly showcase some of the skills specific to the role you’re applying to. In virtually all cases, the job description or the job listing will directly list particular skills necessary or preferred of the candidates.
After you’ve started building your story bank, ask yourself some of these questions to test yourself:
- What’s my best strength?
- What’s my biggest weakness?
- Explain a time I managed conflict.
- Explain a time I learned a valuable lesson.
- Tell me about a time I had to adapt.
- Tell me about a time when I made the wrong decision.
- Tell me about a time I failed.
At the end of the day, there’s no way to know exactly what questions your interviewer will ask on the big day.
Check-in With Your Interviewer
A common mistake by many candidates during behavioral interviews is failing to check in with their interviewers.
Given the structure of an interview, it’s natural for candidates to treat the interaction like a one-sided conversation. After all, they asked you the question, then you provide an answer.
However, this isn’t how the most effective behavioral interviews go. Ideally, you should strive for your interview to be a two-way street, less like an interview and more like a conversation between coworkers.
Therefore, if you don’t allow the interviewer any space or opportunity to ask questions or chime in during your answer, it’s possible to veer off course and not even realize it.
The easiest way to prevent this from happening is periodically checking in with the interviewer while delivering your answer.
Complete Mock Interviews with an Interview Coach
While it’s true that you should refrain from rehearsing your answers to behavioral interview questions, you should rehearse the process of completing a behavioral interview.
Of course, mock interviews are the most effective ways to do that. Ideally, you complete a mock with an interview coach who can provide expert feedback and simulate, as much as possible, an authentic behavioral interview experience.
Work with a vetted interview coach on Exponent who can help prepare and guide you through your biggest career challenges. Or prepare for your interviews with thousands of Exponent members using our peer-to-peer mock interview platform.
Land Your Dream Job in Tech With Exponent
Behavioral interviews are some of the most significant aspects of contemporary tech interviews, especially at companies like Amazon, which place a huge emphasis on them regarding their Leadership Principles. They often can make the difference between an offer and a rejection.
So, be sure to check out the many interview resources we have at Exponent to give yourself the best chances of success:
💬 Review more commonly asked behavioral interview questions
📖 Read through our company-specific interview guides
👯♂️ Practice your behavioral and program sense skills with our mock interview practice tool.
👨🎓 Take one of our comprehensive interview courses
Other behavioral interview articles you might like:
Getting ready for an Amazon behavioral interview? Learn about key leadership principles and get answers to the most common behavioral interview questions asked at Amazon.
Working at Google is a lifelong dream for many tech professionals. We’ll walk you through all the ins and outs of Google behavioral interview questions so you can make a good impression on your interviewer!
Companies test for culture fit (as well as a whole range of interpersonal and professional skills) in the behavioral interview. How can you best prep for this hard, ambiguous round? Read on to learn strategies and tips for success.