STAR Job Interviews

Man and woman in STAR type interview.One topic on Career Lantern that receives a lot of attention from my readers and podcast listeners is the behavioral job interview. Also known as a “STAR” interview, this popular interview technique used by employers is the one that seems to be the most intimidating and problematic for job candidates. In addition to this Q&A article, you will find several helpful resources on Career Lantern regarding STAR interviews (links located at the end of this post).

Q:   What exactly is a behavioral job interview?

A:    With this interview type, candidates are asked to recall and describe a past, real-world situation they have experienced relating to a particular behavior as specified by the interviewer.

Q:   What do you mean by a “particular behavior?”

A:    For example, the interviewer will ask the candidate to describe an actual situation involving a specific issue such as customer service, conflict, stress, honesty, multiple priorities, etc. The resulting behavior in that situation is what is of interest to the interviewer.           

Q:   Why are interviewers interested in past situations?

A:    Behavioral interviews are based on the premise that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. In other words, how you handled a past situation involving customer service, conflict, etc. might predict how you are apt to behave in a similar future situation. Your answers may also reveal your true underlying attitudes toward people, work, ethics, and so forth.

Q:   How do you know when you are being asked a behavioral-type question during a job interview?

A:    Behavioral questions typically begin with an opening phrase such as “Tell me about a time that…” or “Describe for us a time that…” or something similar.

Q:   Why are these often referred to as “STAR” interviews?

A:    In reality, STAR does not refer to the interview itself but to the acronym of the preferred approach to answering behavioral-type questions.

Q:   Why is the STAR approach such a good way to answer behavioral job interview questions?

A:    Quite simply, when a candidate uses the STAR approach, they will answer every aspect of the question asked. Their response will be complete and provide all the details sought by the interviewer. Additionally, recalling the acronym will help the candidate remember to include each required part of the answer.

Q:   What does the acronym STAR stand for?

A:    STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

Q:   What does the “Situation” of STAR mean?

A:    In this part of the answer, the candidate briefly describes the background of the overall situation as it relates to the specific behavior specified by the interviewer. For example, the candidate might be asked, “Tell me about a time you had to deal with an irate customer.”

For an irate customer scenario, the candidate might recall a past situation such as, “When I was working as a sales clerk at an electronics store, we were having a sale on a popular tablet. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive our full order of these tablets and therefore didn’t have enough for the advertised sale. There was one customer in particular who was very irate about the item being out of stock, and they began pounding the counter and loudly yelling that they would never shop here again.”

Describing the situation in this manner to the interviewer sets the stage for the rest of the story.

Q:   What does the “Task” of STAR mean?

A:    The “Task” describes what needs to happen in the situation described by the candidate. For example, continuing with the previous example, the candidate might go on to say, “I knew I needed to find a way to calm the person, satisfy their needs, and retain them as a future customer.”

Q:   What is the “Action” in STAR?

A:    As the term suggests, “Action” describes the action taken to address the task required by the situation. Continuing with the example above, the candidate might say, “First, I calmly conveyed that I was very sorry the item was out of stock and regretted the inconvenience. Next, I offered to ship the tablet from our warehouse direct to their home, with no shipping charge, at the advertised sale price.”

Q:   What is the “Result” in STAR?

A:    The “Result” in the STAR acronym describes the resulting outcome due to the action taken by the candidate. Concluding the example above, the candidate might conclude by saying, “After I offered this option, the customer calmed considerably and decided to continue with the purchase. By the end of our interaction, the customer was friendly and thanked me for my help in arranging the free delivery.”

Q:   Do I need to say the actual words of the acronym, such as “Situation” and so forth, while answering?

A:    No, stating the name of each STAR section while answering is usually not required; however, some interviewers may instruct you to do so. For the example here, the complete response might simply go as:

        “When I was working as a sales clerk at an electronics store, we were having a sale on a popular tablet. Unfortunately, we didn’t receive our full order of these tablets and therefore didn’t have enough for the advertised sale. There was one customer in particular who was very irate about the item being out of stock, and they began pounding the counter and loudly yelling that they would never shop here again. I knew I needed to find a way to calm the person, meet their needs, and retain them as a future customer. First, I calmly conveyed that I was very sorry the item was out of stock and regretted the inconvenience. Next, I offered to ship the tablet from our warehouse direct to their home, with no shipping charge, at the advertised sale price. After I offered this option, the customer calmed considerably and decided to continue with the purchase. By the end of our interaction, the customer was friendly and thanked me for my help in arranging the free delivery.”

        Job interviewers are often time-constrained, so being brief yet comprehensive is appreciated. Although this response only takes about 60 seconds to recite, it fully addresses the question, providing the interviewer with everything needed to evaluate the answer.    

Q:   What kinds of behaviors and situations do interviewers usually ask about?

A:    While no one can ever predict exactly what will be asked—and the possibilities are endless—most behavioral questions typically fall into categories including, but not limited to:                    

Adaptability/Stress Conflict   Leadership/Management
Customer Service  Honesty/Integrity  Multitasking/Time Management
Cultural Diversity  Teamwork Resourcefulness/Problem Solving
Judgment    

Q:   If the possibilities are endless, how do I prepare for a STAR job interview?

A:    Again, while the number of possible questions may be endless, thinking about each of the above categories is a great starting point. When preparing for the interview, recall a situation you experienced related to each. Next, prepare your answer using the STAR approach. After developing each section of STAR, rehearse the complete response aloud. Practicing aloud will help the words come easier during the interview, but be careful not to sound overly rehearsed. Considering all the categories in advance has another advantage. Should you be asked a question different from the ones expected or practiced, you may still be able to readily adapt one of the past situations to the unexpected question. This approach is far easier than trying to recall a past situation on the fly while under the stress of an interview!

Q:   In your experience, what are the biggest mistakes candidates make during a behavioral job interview?

A:    I find that candidates typically experience difficulty during a behavioral interview in two areas:

        First, they are either unfamiliar with this type of interview or are ill-prepared because they have not given the matter any forethought. Because of this, along with the stress of an interview, candidates often cannot recall a relevant situation to describe. Essentially, they become mentally frozen and cannot answer the question.

        Second, the answer given by a candidate is far too vague and does not address the question. For example, if asked about customer service (such as in the above example), a poor response might go something like, “Oh, I am big on customer service. I always provide good service to my customers.” Obviously, this response does not answer the question as the candidate was asked to describe a specific situation and how it was handled. Again, using the STAR approach will help ensure a complete answer.

Q:   What are the keys to a successful behavioral job interview?

A:    Familiarity with its premise and purpose, understanding how to apply the STAR approach when answering, and preparation in advance.

Q:   What additional resources about behavioral STAR job interviews are available on Career Lantern?

A:    More information may be found in the following Career Lantern podcast and articles:

Also, 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.

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

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