Behavioral or STAR Job Interview Questions: Are You Ready?

Woman talking to soldier and shaking hands.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.

Cover of "6 Readiness Factors for Planning, Changing, or Advancing Your Career."Be sure to check out my book The 6 Readiness Factors for Planning, Changing, or Advancing Your Career, available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

A Big Mistake

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:

STAR acronym explained in a table.

First, describe the specific situation involved, and indicate the task. The task is a problem you encountered or an assignment. Next, describe the action 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 an entire section covering sample STAR questions, check out my book The 6 Readiness Factors for Planning, Changing, or Advancing Your Career available through Barnes & Noble or in both paperback (8½ x 11 inches) and Kindle edition on Amazon. At their core, most STAR 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.  Don’t worry! Practice will enable you to arm yourself with a number of examples from which you can draw a quick response.

UPDATE – Listen to my podcast on this topic: Using the STAR Method in Behavioral Job Interviews (Podcast CL111).

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment!

Featured image courtesy of Jeremy Wilburn-flickr

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.