How to use the STAR method to ace your interviews

How to use the STAR method to ace your interviews

We’re not all natural interviewers, and that’s okay. The pressure of the interview, all the past examples we can pull from, and how you decide to share those experiences can be overwhelming.

We’re humans, we’ve all been there, and we know–it’s not easy. That’s why we’re here to help you. There’s a lesser-known strategy to ace your interview, the STAR method, and we’re going to break down how you can use it to ace your interviews.

What is the STAR method?

The STAR method, an acronym for situation, task, action, and result, is a powerful tool for telling your story in a way that’s easy for the interviewer to understand. Let’s break it down.

  • Situation: Share some details about the scene. For example, you might share an example from a role you worked in at Google in 2014.
  • Task: Describe your responsibility in that situation. What was your goal or expectation?
  • Action: Break down the steps that you took to complete the task or achieve the goal.
  • Result: What was the outcome? Share what you accomplished with your actions.

Let’s run through an example. The interviewer asks you the following question:

“Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.”

Using the STAR method, your response might look like this:

  • Situation: I was working as a Product Manager at Google in 2014.
  • Task: I oversaw a new product launch and was responsible for completing that launch by end of Q1.
  • Action: We were pacing to launch on time until an incident with a team member put us behind schedule. I made the mistake of prioritizing the timeline over the product quality, and despite it not being ready, we shipped the product at the end of Q1.
  • Result: This resulted in poor reviews about the product. It would’ve been better if we had delayed the launch for two weeks, but I made the mistake of prioritizing speed over quality.

As you can see, the story is concise and easy to understand.

When should I use the STAR method?

This strategy is best suited for situation or behavioral questions where the interviewer is seeking an example of how you handled a situation in the past.

It’s easy to recognize when to use this method, but here are some of the common interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time when…
  • What do you do when…
  • Can you share a situation when…
  • Give me an example of…

Most of the questions seem to ask specifically for the example, but really, they’re about how you handled that situation to get a pulse of how you’d handle a similar situation in the future.

Here are some additional examples:

  • Tell me about a moment you’re proud of
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a colleague
  • Can you share a situation where you dealt with a frustrated customer
  • What’s the most stressful moment you’ve had in your career

Why should I use the STAR method? 

Unfortunately, It’s easy to get scattered with your storytelling in an interview. Between the stress of the interviewer, the many examples you have, and how you share the highlights - you may go down a rabbit hole that’s difficult to follow for the interviewer.

There are two things you need to accomplish with how you respond:

  • You need the interviewer to understand your answer clearly
  • You need to show that you’re a clear communicator

The STAR interview method will help you accomplish these two points. Plus, having a framework makes it easier to become a better interviewer.

How can I prepare to use the STAR method ahead of an interview?

To be prepared to use the STAR method in your next interview, it’s important to prepare what stories you might tell beforehand. Here are some tips:

Review the job description 

The job posting you applied to contains valuable information that reveals what qualities and skills an employer seeks in a candidate. Identify the key attributes and abilities crucial to the role, and select stories that highlight them. For instance, if you're interviewing for a client-facing position, prepare a story that showcases exceptional customer service.

Select a few compelling, versatile example stories 

The STAR interview method is most effective when you use it to structure an answer around a relevant anecdote. While you can't predict the exact questions you'll be asked, you can prepare several stories from different experiences that you can adapt for various situations. For example, stories about overcoming challenges or collaborating with a team are likely to be useful.

Take note of key details 

It's okay to bring notes or a cheat sheet to the interview. For each story, jot down important points and specific numbers, if applicable.

Practice your storytelling 

While the STAR method is a helpful framework, practice delivering your stories to ensure they come across naturally and confidently. You can either practice in front of a mirror, or find someone to do a mock interview with.

Take your time 

If you're struggling to recall an example during the interview, it's fine to pause briefly. When candidates take a moment to gather their thoughts, it shows that they’re thoughtful and not overly reactive.

STAR Interview Method Infographic:

STAR Interview Method Infographic

Are you being paid fairly? Let's find out.

Verified, anonymized salary data. Get started to see how your salary compares to your peers.