S.T.A.R Interview Response Format



In your interviews you’re always going to face certain types of questions. "Tell me about yourself", maybe some technical questions depending on the job, but almost always you’re going to get a few behavioral questions, if not several depending on the interviewer.


Now obviously answering a behavioral question isn't going to overcome a lack of technical skills. If you’re going for a job as a senior software developer, you’re going to need to know a bit of coding. But being a technical wizard wont help you out when they start asking these behavioral questions. With that in mind there are two purposes of behavioral interview questions:

  1. To get to know you and see if they like you enough as a person, not just an applicant.

  2. To see if they can disqualify you as an applicant.

Now one could argue that interview questions are there to gauge the applicants’ competence and ability to communicate. This is true to an extent, but really the way you should be approaching interview questions is that a wrong answer can sink you, and a great answer will just keep you in the game long enough to get the interviewer to like you.

Keep in mind, most people would rather hire a candidate they like who might not be a superstar, rather than hire a technical guru who they know would be a pain to work with.


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With this in mind we’re going to walk through a method of answering these questions that will give you the best chance impressing the interviewers, and give you the opportunity to show them that you’re the kind of person they want on their team, so lets get into it.


The interview response method we’re talking about is the S.T.A.R method. You might have already heard of this because it’s a framework for answering questions that’s been around for a while. S.T.A.R, standing for Situation, Task, Action, and Result is how we’re going to break down our interview responses so that we end up in the best light possible. These are going to be the four pillars of your interview response, and if you do it right you’ll have the best chance of getting the job.


Lets take a look at what a “STAR” response looks like:


Situation: while working a job at a service desk, there was a period of time where we started to received more negative feedback than normal from customers who were submitting incidents.

Task: I was tasked with investigating the customer complaints and our incident lifecycle to determine the underlying cause and see if we could make changes to improve customer experience.

Action: I reviewed some of the feedback and noticed that most of the negative comments were focused around the time it takes to resolve an incident. I added a few more checkpoints to our incident process where the technician would reach out to the customer and provide a daily update on the incident status.

Result: I found that customers were much more understanding when they knew we were working on their incident, and noticed a considerable improvement in customer feedback over the next few months of implementing my new policy.


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Now that we have an idea of how the response is generally structured, lets take a look at each of the four categories, starting with Situation. The beginning of any story starts with the setup. You’re setting the scene. You're letting the interviewer know the scenario you were in that lead to you doing something awesome.


Now notice how I said it’s a setup for a scenario that you were in. We’re never going to be talking hypotheticals here. Most likely you’ve had a personal or professional experience that fits the question, but if you haven't, don’t stress. Honestly at the end of the day they just want to know you understand how to deal with these scenarios, but we’re going to show them with a story, rather than just tell them what they want to hear.


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So how are we going to set up our situation. Well the situation is really just there to give the interviewer the context for your task, action, and result, so we’re going to limit the situation to items relevant to those sections. In our example, we just have the bare minimum to make the task and action make sense. You’re not getting points for a good scenario, you’re only getting points for your actions and results, so don’t spend more time than you need to describing the situation.


  • Pro tip! Try and get across why your scenario was important and not just a daily scenario that everybody faces.


Next up! Task. This is where you’re going to express what was asked of you, or what you were trying to accomplish. Depending on the question this can take a few forms. In the example given there was a specific task that needed to be accomplished, but sometimes the task can be a little tricky to separate from the scenario.


Lets take a look at a different example:


Situation: I had just started a new job and during the first week I felt like one of my new coworkers was going out of his way to be aggressive and hostile towards me.

Task: I knew that I needed to deescalate the situation and start a dialogue with the team member because good communication is the most important thing on a team, and I really didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot.

Action: I set up a one on one meeting with the coworker to figure out what was going on. After bringing up my concerns, the coworker apologized and hadn't realized how their language was coming across, and that the hostility wasn’t intentional.

Result: After the meeting I noticed a change in how the co worker would speak to me, and I felt like this really improved our communication and collaboration when we worked together on projects


In this example, the Task is more so what I was hoping to accomplish with my action, and the importance of that outcome, rather than specific task that I was given by my boss like the first scenario.


That brings us to Action. This one is the most straightforward, but the most important. What actions did you take to accomplish the task. In the example we just talked about, the action was that we talked to our coworker one on one. There's not too much more to say about this one other than your action is what the interviewers are waiting to hear about and what they'll really be judging this answer by, so make your action stand out as what you want the interviewers to remember your by with this answer.

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Finally we have Result. This one is also straight forward, what was the outcome of your actions? Hopefully It goes without saying, but try and stick to positive outcomes. Yes, we grow most from our failures and that’s a good life philosophy, but when it comes to interview questions leave those learning moments out. There are some questions such as “tell me about a time you failed and how you overcame it” where this type of response is okay, but for the most part we’re here to show the interviewers that we’re competent and know what actions to take to get the desired outcome.

So, just to recap. The S.T.A.R method of answering questions stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. You want to use this method any time you're asked to tell a story or give an example of previous actions; these usually come in the form of behavioral interview questions. By formatting your responses this way, you're giving yourself the best shot at impressing your interviewers.


If you're interested in learning more about how to improve your interview skills, check out my other videos, and if you're looking for specific advice or have any questions, please leave a comment on the video.

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