How to Use the STAR Method to Ace Your Job Interview

Use the star method to ace your next interview

For technical workers, behavioral interviews can feel like uncharted territory. Here’s how to use the STAR Method to ace your next behavioral interview.

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This article on the STAR method is part of the Coaching Collective series, featuring tips and expertise from Flatiron School Career Coaches. Every Flatiron School graduate receives up to 180 days of 1:1 career coaching with one of our professional coaches. This series is a glimpse of the expertise you can access during career coaching at Flatiron School.

Graduating from a bootcamp can feel like finishing a race. You cross that finish line and are left feeling a mix of exhaustion, relief, and pride at the monumental task you’ve completed. With this educational accomplishment behind you and a fulfilling career ahead that your new skills will help you conquer in no time, it should be smooth sailing from now on – right?

Then your career coach tells you about this thing called a behavioral interview where your technical skills are secondary. Instead, to get the job, you’ll have to highlight to your soft skills, your personality (whatever that means), and how well you connect and “vibe” with the interviewer.  

Uh oh. Is there a bootcamp for this too?

The Purpose Of A Behavioral Interview

The behavioral interview focuses on asking candidates to provide specific examples of how they have handled situations in the past. They often ask for details concerning interpersonal connections, leadership qualities, or how the candidate performs under pressure. This is thought to be the best predictor of future behavior, and a good indicator of how a candidate will act on the job when presented with similar situations.

But, behavioral questions can cause a lot of inexperienced interviewers to fumble (or worse, ramble). A concise, clear, and well-rehearsed answer to common behavior questions crafted using the STAR method is vital to acing the behavioral interview.

Common Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions typically begin with “Tell me about a time…” and focus on different aspects of the position. They may vary based on the specific role and seniority, but typically fall into several categories including but not limited to:

  1. Problem-solving
  2. Learning from previous mistakes
  3. Dealing with challenges
  4. Handling things that go wrong
  5. Learning new skills
  6. Communication with coworkers
  7. Deadline pressure
  8. Working with clients or customers
  9. Overcoming failure
  10. Recognizing achievements

The STAR Method

To avoid fumbling behavioral questions, use the STAR method to craft your answer. This will keep your answers clear, concise, and prevent aimlessly rambling in circles.

STAR is an acronym for Situation Task Action Result.

Lay Out The Situation

Start your answer by briefly explaining the context of the experience, providing details about the task, project, or responsibility, and explaining the challenge. 

Do not go on and on about the why behind the situation, include only the bare minimum amount of information so that the interviewer will understand the rest of your answer.

Explain The Task

Describe the specific goal or objective that needed to be achieved and outline your approach or plan to solve the problem.

Highlight Your Action

Detail the actions you took to resolve the challenge or problem. Discuss any obstacles you faced and how you overcame them. This is a great time to emphasize your key contributions to the situation. Be sure to also highlight any leadership qualities or skills you demonstrated throughout.

Summarize The Result

The result of any situation you discuss is where the real meat of the answer lies and the portion you should emphasize the most. This is when you summarize the outcome of the experience. Quantify or qualify the impact of the solution, and highlight any lessons you learned and/or personal growth you experienced as a result. 

Examples of the STAR Method in Action

Here are some well-known examples of the STAR framework in action:

Elon Musk. In a 2018 interview, Musk used STAR to answer a question about the challenges he faced when launching SpaceX. He discussed the situation (S), the goal (T), the actions he took (A), and the result (R), and emphasized the importance of learning from failures.

Barack Obama. In a 2014 interview with Steve Inskeep for NPR, Obama used STAR to answer a question about his leadership style. He described a situation (S) in which he had to make a tough decision, outlined the goal (T) he was trying to achieve, discussed the actions he took (A), and explained the positive result (R) that was achieved.

Sheryl Sandberg. In a 2013 interview, Sandberg used STAR to answer a question about how she dealt with failure in her career. She described a situation (S) in which she was passed over for a job, outlined the task (T) she was trying to accomplish, discussed the actions she took (A) to learn from the experience, and explained the positive result (R) that came from the failure.

Notice that these answers focused mostly on what was learned in the R portion of the answer.  Keeping your response within the STAR framework and emphasizing the R portion, making sure to clearly communicate what you do differently now as a result of having gone through that experience, is one of the best ways to leave a positive impression on your interviewer. 

How To Prepare To Use The STAR Method In Your Next Interview

Before your next behavioral interview, practice using the STAR framework with your career coach or peer. You can play around with the framework to answer all kinds of questions. Remember, the question is not actually about the situation. Rather, it is about how the experience changed you, what you learned, what you would do differently now as a result of having gone through that experience, and how you have grown as a result. 

A great answer to this question could be the reason you get advanced to the next round. 

About Dyana King

Dyana King is a career coach with Flatiron School. She previously worked as a technical recruiter and co-founded a technical recruiting agency, Thinknicity. She became a certified professional coach (CPC) in 2012 and specialized in transition and career engagement coaching.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is current as of April 13, 2023. Current policies, offerings, procedures, and programs may differ.

About Dyana King

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