Behavioral or STAR Job Interview Questions: Are You Ready?

Woman talking to a young person at a career fair.Are you ready to answer “behavioral” type questions on your next job interview? Also known as targeted selection, situational, or STAR questions (STAR will be explained later), these types of questions are now very common.  They may be popular, but they are also quite different from the typical questions you might expect to hear.  First, the interviewer asks you to recall a real, past situation involving certain conduct or behaviors.  You then share the details of that experience.  The idea here is that your past behavior will serve as a predictor of your future behavior.

Examples of such questions might include:

  • Describe a time which you had to handle an angry customer; what happened and what was the outcome?
  • Describe a time when you worked with someone who came from very different cultural background than yourself.

It is natural to be nervous during an interview, making it difficult to quickly recall such situations. This is especially true when trying to think of experiences which you would be willing to share!  Therefore, giving some forethought to these types of questions will help greatly.  No, you don’t want your responses to sound overly rehearsed.  However, thinking about such questions and situations in advance can give you some ideas upon which to draw.

I have seen many people stumble badly through such questions, unable to recall any situation at all.  Some have even shared stories revealing horrible past behaviors or conduct!  However, the number one problem I have seen is not being specific enough in the answer.  Remember, the interviewer is looking for the actions you actually took in the situation, NOT a generic “here’s what I would do” type of response.

Let’s say the interviewer asks you to describe a time you provided good customer service above and beyond the norm. You do not want to say, “Oh, I always provide good customer service.”  Why? Such a general response in no way answers the question!

Also, such an answer might lead the interviewer to think that you:

  • Lack experience, if such a situation has never arisen.
  • Cannot think well under pressure.
  • Cannot listen or follow directions.
  • Are trying to hide or conceal a past bad behavior.

What if you really have no work-related experience upon which to draw for a particular question?  Good news! Many interviewers will accept a non-work example from a similar situation.  This might be a past experience from a setting in a college, club, church, etc.  Their interest is usually more about your behavior in the situation rather than where it took place.

The STAR Format

When responding to a behavioral question, consider using the “STAR” format:

First, describe the specific situation involved, and indicate the task. The task is a problem you encountered or an assignment. Next, describe the actions which you took to complete the task.  Finally, discuss the result or outcome due to your actions.

If you phrase your answer to a behavioral question in the STAR format, odds are you will hit all the key points the interviewer was hoping to hear.  Be sure to end on a high note, emphasizing the good outcome.

For more information and a list of sample behavioral questions, click here.  Also, a quick search of the internet will yield literally thousands more! However, at their core, most questions relate to only a handful of specific behaviors.  Select a few questions for each different behavior and think about your own experiences. Of course, you will likely not pick the exact questions you will be asked during the interview.  That’s alright! Practice will enable you to arm yourself with a number of examples from which you can draw a quick response.


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Featured image courtesy of Jeremy Wilburn-flickr

Government Employment as a Career Path?

The U.S. Capitol building.Every time you turn on the TV news it seems as though the government is in chaos.  Fighting between and within political parties.  Campaign mudslinging.  Scandals involving leaders and staffers at all levels.  Wow! No wonder the thought of working for the government probably doesn’t enter most individual’s minds when they consider career options!

That’s too bad.  Having worked a few years in government myself, I know there are many great opportunities in almost every career field imaginable.  Also, working as a “civil servant” can be a personally rewarding and fulfilling experience.  It provides an important way to honorably serve your local city, county, state, or even the nation.  True, government pay scales may not always equal those found in the private sector.  However, they’re not too shabby either, especially if you advance to a senior level or management position.

Some people also feel government work may provide more stable employment than many non-government jobs.  I believe this is true if you are not in a temporary, grant-funded position. In a private sector company, employment levels may shrink or grow suddenly.  This might occur simply because of last quarter’s sales figures or the gain or loss of an important contract.  Thus, for many jobs, government work is perhaps more stable because “sales” and “profits” are non-issues.  Plus, the government needs workers in order to provide essential services and perform tasks mandated by law.

Who Does the Government Hire?

If you think the government doesn’t hire people in your trade or profession, think again.  You might not even realize that government agencies hire doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and nurses. Also, plumbers, electricians, welders, mechanics, teachers, computer programmers, purchasing agents, writers, communications specialists, analysts, and photographers.  Don’t forget chemists, artists, social workers, law enforcement officers, and that just scratches the surface.  I have many more examples, but there are simply too many to list here!

Could you really get a job with the government?  It could turn out that you may have a bit of an “in” when it comes to landing a government job.  For example, the Federal Government has programs which assist or provide a hiring preference for certain groups.  Such groups include veterans, military spouses, individuals with disabilities, Native Americans, and others.  Check out for a wealth of information about finding and applying for positions with the United States government.  Some state and local governmental entities also have similar programs for which you may qualify.

In addition to Federal jobs, don’t forget your local city, county, and state governments also need qualified people!  Be sure to check their websites for job openings and instructions on how to apply for open positions. Continue reading