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Answering Behavioral Interview Questions with the STAR Method

Updated Jun 5, 202110 min

Answering Behavioral Interview Questions with the STAR Method

Updated Jun 5, 202110 min
Answering Behavioral Interview Questions with the STAR Method

Answering Behavioral Interview Questions with the STAR Method

Updated Jun 5, 202110 min

Answering Behavioral Interview Questions with the STAR Method

Updated Jun 5, 202110 min
Answering Behavioral Interview Questions with the STAR Method

🏆 Goal

Win over your interviewer and highlight your accomplishments by skillfully responding to behavioral interview questions. 

📗 When to Read

You have an interview, and you’re ready to do what it takes to get the offer.

We recommend reading this guide after you’ve read the broader Interview Guide. 

🔑 #1 Tip

People are drawn to stories - use the STAR method to keep the interviewer’s attention as you share your past experiences.

⌚ Time Required

Mastering behavioral interview questions take time. Plan to spend about 2-3 hours getting familiar with these types of questions, and then refresh your memory before each interview.

✅ Done When

You feel confident in your ability to respond to behavioral interview questions.


Understand

Behavioral questions focus on how you’ve handled work situations in the past to reveal your experience, skills, and personality. You’ll respond to questions like this with compelling stories that are complete and concise.

These questions complement contextual and role-specific questions you’ll also get in your interview. This guide focuses solely on behavioral questions (they’re significant!). We recommend reading this guide after you’ve read the broader Interview Guide.

The textbook version of behavioral questions starts with, “Tell me about a time when…” or “How would you…”. That’s your cue that the interviewer wants to hear a story.

Ahhh...

Mastering Behavioral Interview Questions 🎯

To answer these interview questions well, you’ll need to respond with a compelling and relevant story that ends with the (hopefully amazing!) results you were responsible for. We’ll give you a model to use when telling your story so you can stay on track and hit on all of the key points the interviewer will be looking for.

To be successful with these types of questions, you’ll need to:

  • Speak confidently about your prior experiences. 

  • Know your strengths and your weaknesses and how to talk about them

  • Demonstrate that you possess the key qualities they are looking for in the role

  • Prepare stories about past experiences and how you took action so that you can give examples. These examples give your interviewers a sense of how you would respond to something similar in the future.

Behavioral questions require you to talk about yourself and your prior experiences confidently. It can be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get the hang of it :)

💪 Get to Work: Familiarize yourself with these common behavioral interview questions:

  • What are your strengths?

  • What are the qualities of someone who excels in this role?

  • What is your biggest weakness?

  • Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle at work.

  • Tell me about a time you’ve had to work with a difficult person.

  • How would your family and friends describe you in three words?

  • Tell me about a time when you took the initiative.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked with a teammate who didn’t pull their weight.

  • How has your leadership style evolved?

  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your manager.

  • What’s an example of when you gave difficult feedback to someone at work?

Next, let’s talk about how to answer these questions. To respond well, you’ll need to walk the interviewer through a situation confidently. You’ll need to be very clear on your facts, avoid industry jargon, make the story easy to follow, and clearly show why your actions were valuable. The best way to do all this well is the STAR Method! 🌟🌟🌟

STAR Method for Answering Interview Questions

STAR is a framework for telling stories about your work experience. It is the simplest and most effective way to answer these questions. It’s used every day by candidates hired at companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google. 

STAR works great because interviewers are human beings, too. Raise your hand if you find listening to a compelling story more engaging than a laundry list of stuff 🙋‍♂️🙋‍♀️🙋‍♂️🙋‍♀️. Right on.

Interviewers are the same! STAR is a way to tell good stories that have a clear beginning, middle, and end. 

Interview Guide_STAR

How to STAR:

  • Situation: Set the scene and tee up your example. Make it easy for the interviewer to imagine you in the case.

  • Task: Explain what your responsibility was in that situation. This can be a responsibility you were assigned or something you initiated.

  • Action: Describe what happened and exactly what steps you took in the situation. If it didn’t work the first time, you could explain that, too.

  • Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved and their impact on the business. End the story on a high note!

Think about it this way: Interviewers have a LOT on their minds. They’re trying to listen to you, thinking about the work they have to do afterward and what they’re eating for lunch..

Keep their attention on you and your value so that you have a real shot at impressing them. 

You’ll know you’re good at STAR when you can see your interviewers paying rapt attention as you’re talking. You’ll know you’re not good at STAR if they seem a bit distracted or confused while you’re talking. 

Emphasize Results 

The most important part of STAR is the punchline. As in, the end of the story. You’ll always want to be answering the question, “So what?”. 

Even if the result or outcome wasn’t entirely positive, explain the product in a positive light. Explain what you learned and how this experience informs what you’ll do next time. 

This is super important. Let’s walk through an example before we move on.

Think about the question, “Tell me about a time you worked with someone who wasn’t pulling their weight on the team.”

Let’s say you have this Situation and this Task:

  • Situation: When I was a business development associate at Toast, I worked closely with the finance team to structure complex B2B deals. We worked on fast timelines to maintain strong momentum during a sale. The Financial Analyst who supported my territory, Jason, would often wait 3-4 days to reply to my request for a quote. I would email and call him but hear nothing back. Our teams commit to a 48-hour turnaround for a deal, so this was significantly out of range. I would end up running my financial analysis to put together a bid and find an analyst on another team to review it because I couldn’t rely on Jason to get back to me in time. 

  • Task: After it became apparent that Jason’s lack of urgency and responsiveness was a pattern rather than a one-off occurrence, I knew I needed to address it. I asked Jason if we could meet to talk about our working relationship. 

Here’s an example where you positively took action and had a positive result to explain:

  • Action - Version A: In the conversation, I started by asking how he was doing and how his work was going. I quickly learned he was acting as the primary caregiver for a very sick loved one at home. He acknowledged that he was having trouble keeping up and apologized to me. Once I understood why I was able to help him identify new processes that allowed him to better plan the time he did have. We scheduled weekly touch bases to cover what he could expect for the week ahead so that he could preemptively offload any work he wouldn’t be able to cover. 

  • Result - Version A: This led to a significant improvement in Jason’s responsiveness and work quality. We created an open line of communication and identified any problems early so we could find a solution before it was crunch time. Jason recently told me how much he appreciated me taking the time to ask what was going on to problem-solve together. In fact, he said, it saved him his job.

Let’s say you didn’t act quite so perfectly in the situation. Here’s how you can explain this as clear learning:

  • Action - Version B: In the conversation, I shared with Jason that his lack of responsiveness created a significant amount of additional work for me. I shared that I’ve been doing my financial analysis to ensure we close deals and operate within the 48-hour timeline our team has agreed to. Jason got emotional as I was speaking. He told me that he is the primary caregiver for a family member, and it’s been the most challenging time of his life. He was surprised by the conversation, hurt that I assumed he didn’t care about his work and felt accused of cutting corners. As soon as he told me what was really going on, I immediately apologized. 

  • Result - Version B: This was explicit learning for me not to jump to conclusions. Now, I understand the importance of starting these conversations by asking questions to understand the situation better. You never know what a colleague might be dealing with. Jason and I were able to move forward in our working relationship after finding a better way to communicate the workload he could expect each week. He didn’t miss a deadline after our conversation and appreciated how I subsequently worked with him on getting things done together. Next time I’m in a situation like this, I will absolutely seek understanding as a first step.

In this version of an answer, the candidate made a small mistake in communication -- failing to understand the situation before moving forward sufficiently. However, this response still frames the error positively, showing that you learn from mistakes.

Writing STAR Stories ✏️

As part of your interview prep, write 6-10 stories in the STAR framework that illustrates how your immediately transferable experience will enable you to hit the ground running in this role. 

To walk through writing STAR Stories in more detail, head over to our Resume Guide.

Next, you can map these stories to the questions you brainstormed. For example:

  • If I get asked about an obstacle, I’ll talk about how our vendor fell through at the last minute.

  • If I get asked about difficult people, I’ll tell the story about working with product design for the first time,

  • If I get asked about a product I shipped, I’ll tell the story of the API launch.

You’ll never have complete coverage over the questions. But having a few firm answers prepared goes a long way toward a positive overall impression!

Hear STAR Stories 👂

It's always helpful to listen to what a really good interview response sounds like, so we've put together a few examples for you.

Pop in those headphones and take a minute to listen to some well-crafted responses to common STAR interview questions. Use these as a model for crafting your own responses.

AUDIO CLIP: Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.

AUDIO CLIP: What is your biggest professional achievement?

AUDIO CLIP: Talk about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours.

Practicing STAR Stories ✍️

💪 Get to Work: Practice Out Loud 

Practice your stories out loud once or twice. You don't want to sound rehearsed, but you don't want the interview to be the first time saying them out loud, either.

We absolutely recommend recording your stories and listening to them so you can improve on your own. Once you’re feeling pretty good, you can get feedback on them from a Career Coach to make sure you’re on track for success.

Shooting Star

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