Inside the Interview Approach Called STAR: Here’s What You Need to Know

Got a STAR interview coming up?  Let’s get you prepared. By the time you’re done reviewing this, you’ll understand what the interview approach called STAR actually is and why interviewers choose to use this method. And, you’ll also have the fundamentals to answer these questions.

Let’s dive right in.

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STAR is an acronym. It stands for Situation, Task, Actions, Results. There are other acronyms that describe the same thing, SOAR, PAR, TAR.

All of them are asking for a certain type of response from you: To answer the interview question with a story that describes a relevant past experience.

These acronyms simply summarize the structure of your story-answers.

Examples of STAR questions include:

  • Tell me about your biggest accomplishment.
  • Tell me about a mistake you made and how you overcame it.
  • Tell me about your experience dealing with a difficult customer/patient/student.

Now interviewers use STAR approach for a couple of different reasons.

First, the interviewer wants to know whether you’ve actually had the experiences that prove you can handle this new position.

For example, if you can’t think of a single story for dealing with a difficult customer, and you are interviewing for a customer service job, then the interviewer can pretty quickly cut you from the list.

Second, the interviewer wants to understand how you think.

How you approach and solve problems, and potentially how you apply certain required skills.  A past experience allows the interviewer to see how you already applied those skills.

Third, the standard STAR structure makes it very easy for an interviewer to compare all of the job candidates’ responses.

In short:

The purpose of these behavioral questions is to demonstrate that the abilities you describe in your resume are real, and not just a bunch of fluff.

Might you be asked these questions in your field? Interviewers across a range of fields from government agencies, to medicine, to corporations may choose to use this method, at least for some of their questions.

So how do you answer effectively? You follow along the steps of the STAR acronym.

Situation:

This is the backstory, the who, what, where, when.

It would start something like this: “When I was working as an intensive care nurse at University Hospital, there was a situation where… “

Task:

What was your part to play in this situation, your assigned role, and how were you able to turn this into an opportunity.?

It would start something like this: “On this project, I was assigned to be the customer relationship manager… And I saw this as an opportunity to…”

Actions:

What were the steps you took to solve this challenge? Did you call on the help of others? Overcome roadblocks? Anything unique about your actions / method worth mentioning?

Results:

What were the tangible results of your work? How were things better off because of what you did? What lessons did you learn?

Keys to success:

Often, the hardest part of this entire 4-part process is describing the actions you took. Explaining the sequence of actions you took and the thought process for each step can be challenging. Yet it is essential that you do this right. Further, you also need a high level of detail to make the story feel credible.

Fortunately, there are ways you can prepare to make this much easier.

This high level of detail is also necessary in the results step. You need to use as many quantifiable metrics and specifics as you can - to prove that you had an impact.

If your response is just, “we made fewer mistakes” or “projects got done faster,” it just isn’t good enough. Your interviewers may not call you out but they will just feel less than fully satisfied with your response. Percentages, before and after comparisons, even client feedback, are all helpful to prove the value of your work.

If you want more support for developing answers to the STAR interview approach, take a look here.

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