What Is the STAR Method? How to Use It in Interviews

What Is the STAR Method? How to Use It in Interviews was originally published on Exponent.

The STAR Method

The STAR method is one of the best-known ways to plan an interview answer.

In fact, Amazon recommends that their candidates use this framework when answering behavioral questions about their Leadership Principles.

Even though you shouldn’t rely solely on this or other frameworks when going through your interviews, they can be helpful when used correctly.

Situation, Task, Action, and Result are the four parts of the STAR.

Using this framework, you can divide your answer to a job interview question into these four parts. This will help you give a clear, concise answer and tell a compelling story without sacrificing quality.

Of course, that’s easier said than done!

Sample Behavioral Interview Question 1

Interview Question: Tell me about a time you handled a difficult stakeholder.

Sample Answer:
As a product manager at Apple, I worked on a new product launch for Apple Maps and their 3D city experiences. One of our key stakeholders, a senior PM, was skeptical about the impact of a change to this product. They expressed concerns about the budget and timeline for the launch.

My task was to address the senior PM’s concerns and find a way to move forward with the product launch as planned. Launching these updates was also on the engineering and marketing roadmaps.

I listened carefully to their concerns and asked clarifying questions to fully understand their perspective. I then pulled new data and research we had from more recent quarters to identify the true KPIs we wanted to achieve. From here, I helped to reprioritize our goals. I presented this information clearly and concisely during our weekly 1:1. We discussed the impact of moving forward with this project.

My presentation convinced the senior PM, and they agreed to move forward with the launch as planned. The update to Apple Maps was a success and provided better navigation time estimates. We met and exceeded customer satisfaction targets too. This experience taught me the importance of actively listening to and addressing the concerns of key stakeholders and effectively communicating data-driven solutions.

🗺️ Situation

First and foremost, you’ll need to flesh out the situation, the S of the STAR method.

  • Explain the context behind the situation and why your role in it was crucial. This sets the stage for the rest of your answer.
  • Provide enough detail to demonstrate why this situation you chose is worth discussing in the first place. Why did you choose it to show off your skills?

Explain the Situation

When I was a lead TPM, some members of my team and other stakeholders were pushing to update marketing landing pages before Cyber Monday.

One team member, an engineering manager I was working with, wanted to wait.

They were trying to implement new technical infrastructure that would allow marketing team members to make their own updates more quickly in the future.

Pushing these marketing landing pages was important because Cyber Monday was only a few days away, and the company needed to hit revenue targets.

Unfortunately, this back-and-forth between engineering and marketing had cost the team countless hours in the past through similar inefficiencies.”

📌 Task

The Task portion clarifies what your role in a particular situation was and, specifically, what you needed to do about it. Depending on the situation, the Task portion of STAR may be redundant.

  • If you feel you already covered the task while describing the situation, feel free to skip this rather than repeat yourself.
  • Interview frameworks like STAR aim to help you be succinct while still being comprehensive. Repeating yourself defeats that purpose.

Explain the Task

Our goal was to ship marketing landing pages to help marketing hit revenue targets. I was in charge of helping to make that happen.

But over the last few months, last-minute changes to marketing landing pages have cost engineers countless hours.

I had to find a way to help the engineering team spend less time making front-end design changes and back to other engineering work. I needed to bridge the gap between the company’s KPIs and frustrations from my team’s engineers.”

🔨 Action

The Action portion of the STAR method is the meat and potatoes of your interview answer. This is where you explain how you handled the problem or completed the task using concrete examples.

  • Spotlight and emphasize the specific relevant skills that this situation (and the actions you took) demonstrate.
  • Also, make sure during this section you talk about your team as well.

Many candidates think they’re only supposed to highlight their own particular role, and rightfully so; it is their interview, after all. Still, giving credit where credit is due and speaking about your teammates’ or coworkers’ contributions to the solution or to your success demonstrates humility and leadership skills. As you can imagine, hiring managers love to see tech candidates with such qualities.

Describe the Action You Took

Initially, given our tight timeline, I tried to get the engineer to agree to the marketing changes and postpone the infrastructure changes. Unfortunately, I was shot down.

During an evening meeting, one of the junior PMs on our team mentioned pre-built landing pages they saw on social media that utilize Ghost’s CMS.

These landing pages would have allowed us to launch a temporary landing page for our Cyber Monday sale while only taking about three hours to launch and test.

I proposed this solution to the senior engineer, who agreed this would be a good workaround given our time constraints. Engineering continued work on building better infrastructure for future marketing needs. They were able to launch these updates just a few days after the Cyber Monday sale too.

Although using Ghost as a landing page for a big holiday sale wasn’t ideal, and we lost out on some nice-to-have functionality, it still helped us hit our revenue targets.

And with the work engineering did on marketing infrastructure, we could deliver on Q1 revenue goals faster than expected.

🏁 Result

Finally, you’ll need to explain the results of your actions.

  • Detail how the initial situation was ultimately resolved and how your actions, in particular, helped make this resolution happen.
  • Don’t forget to mention your teammates or coworkers and the results of their efforts, as well.
  • This portion of STAR is also the best place for you to talk about the lessons you learned along the way.

What was the Result?

Despite the usually collaborative nature of our team, tensions felt high going into a holiday weekend.

Our engineering manager wanted to improve our marketing infrastructure to reduce the engineering load down the line.

However, we had revenue targets to hit for the quarter, and a Cyber Monday sale was a good way to accomplish that. Marketing needed engineering help to build new landing pages for the sale in just a few days.

I worked with junior product managers on the team to discover and implement a solution that reduced our time to launch. It freed up engineering’s time to still accomplish their goals of building long-term solutions and still drove enough revenue to hit our goals.”

Tips For Using the STAR Technique

Create a Story Bank

The STAR method is best for answering behavioral interview questions, in particular.

However, you should not rehearse or read through a prepared answer. Otherwise, your answers won’t sound natural or authentic.

This is a framework, not a script.

What you should do, though, is have some example situations in mind going into the interview. Then, when the interviewer asks you a behavioral interview question like few examples in this article, you can tailor them to the specific question.

In other words, the best way to effectively answer interview questions using the STAR method is to prepare a story bank ahead of time.

Create a collection of 5 – 10 stories or situations that you can easily speak about, that you know well, and that demonstrate some of your best strengths as a tech candidate.

Hopefully, depending on the behavioral interview question, you’ll have something in the story bank that you can use to answer the question thoughtfully.

Be sure that your story bank enjoys enough diversity. It ultimately won’t do you much good if every story in the bank is very similar. This, too, will threaten to make your interview answers sound inauthentic.

Instead, try to find stories from different companies, roles, teams, etc.

No matter what, though, be sure that, when telling your stories, you feel confident, knowledgeable, and professional, as these qualities will inevitably translate into your interview performance.

Also, you’ll want to have a couple of stories in your story bank that explicitly showcase some of the skills specific to the role you’re applying to. In virtually all cases, the job description or the job listing will directly list particular skills necessary or preferred of the candidates.

Ask yourself some of these questions to test yourself:

  • What’s my best strength?
  • What’s my biggest weakness?
  • Explain a time I managed conflict.
  • Explain a time I learned a valuable lesson.
  • Tell me about a time I had to adapt.
  • Tell me about a time when I made the wrong decision.
  • Tell me about a time I failed.

At the end of the day, there’s no way to know exactly what questions your interviewer will ask on the big day.

Check-in With Your Interviewer

What Is the STAR Method? How to Use It in InterviewsAbstract by Oleg Shcherba

A common mistake by many candidates during behavioral interviews is failing to check in with their interviewers.

Given the structure of an interview, it’s natural for candidates to treat the interaction like a one-sided conversation. After all, they asked you the question, then you provide an answer.

However, this isn’t how the most effective behavioral interviews go. Ideally, you should strive for your interview to be a two-way street, less like an interview and more like a conversation between coworkers.

Therefore, if you don’t allow the interviewer any space or opportunity to ask questions or chime in during your answer, it’s possible to veer off course and not even realize it.

The easiest way to prevent this from happening is periodically checking in with the interviewer while delivering your answer.