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The STAR Approach - Behavioral Interview Techniques

You are likely to come acress several different types of interview styles, from free flowing questions questions to more rigid and precise questioning. Some companies may adhere to using an unstructured interview method. They tend to be less formal, ask open-ended questions, and give the opportunity to build conversation and rapport. This method allows the interviewer to give follow-up questions based off the interviewee's response. However, if you are interviewing with larger organizations or the public sector you are most likely to encounter the structured (or competency-based) interview method. The STAR approach is designed to help you prepare and confidently answer those structured questions.

Competency-based interview questions are preplanned and driven by the requirements needed for the job. For example, a job in customer service may ask questions to determine your conflict management skills. By asking each candidate the same question, the interviewer removes any conscious or subconscious bias and informs the employer whether or not you are qualified for the position based on your experiences.

What is the STAR approach?

The STAR Approach is an acronym for Situation, Task, Actions, and Results. It structures the summary of a particular work experience. Competency-based interview questions usually start with "Tell me about a time when...", and the STAR Approach is meant to help structure your response. An article by Michael Higgins, found on, gives the definition and an example of what each step represents:

A candidate for an executive role might be asked: "Tell me about a time that you solved a problem to a tight timescale." Here's how you could structure your response:

  • Situation- set the context for your story. For example, "We were due to deliver a presentation to a group of 30 interested industry players on our new product and Stuart, the guy to deliver it, got stuck on a train from Newark."
  • Task- what was required of you. For example, "It was my responsibility to find an alternative so it didn't reflect badly on the company and we didn't waste the opportunity."
  • Actions- what you actually did. For example, "I spoke to the event organizers to find out if they could change the running order. they agreed so we bought ourselves some time. I contacted Susan, another member of the team, who (just incase) could step in. She agree to drop what she was doing and head to the event."
  • Results- how well the situation played out. For example, "Stuart didn't make the meeting on time but we explained the problem to the delegates and Susan's presentation went well and was warmly received. As a result, we gained some great contacts, at least two of which we converted into paying clients."

There a few things to note with this response. First, it is important to speak in specifics rather than general terms and quantify your success. In this example, we mentioned 30 delegates, the names of the people involved and quantified that two contacts were converted to clients. from a listener's perspective, this makes the story more interesting and they are more able to gauge your success. Nameless figures and undefined successes can make the answer feel less convincing. Secondly, as there are likely to many questions and interviewers have short attention spans, it's important to keep your answers concise: convey the maximum achievement in the minimum time. Finally, it's important to finish on a positive note so the overall impression is strong."


Preparing for your interview

Companies that employ behavioral interviewing have predetermined the skill sets they require for a particular position. These skill sets could include: decision-making and problem solving, leadership, motivation, communication, interpersonal skills, planning and organization, critical-thinking skills, team building and the ability to influence others. The company determins the skill sets by doing a detailed analysis of the position they are seeking to fill. Job seekers also must go through this same process. To conduct a job analysis, the job seeker should ask questions such as:

  1. What are the necessary skills to do this job?
  2. What makes a successful candidate?
  3. What would make an unsuccessful candidate?
  4. Why have people left this position previously?
  5. What is the most difficult part of this job?

Other helpful tips for preparing:

  • Identify six to eight examples from your past experience where you demonstrated top behaviors and skills that employers typcally seek. Think in terms of examples that will highlight your top selling points.
  • Half of your examples should be positive, such as accomplishments or meeting goals.
  • The other half should be situations that started out negatively but either ended positively or you made the best of the outcome.
  • Vary your examples; don't take them all from just one area of your life.
  • Use fairly recent examples. If you're a college student, examples from high school may be too long ago. Accenture, in fact, specifies that candidates give examples of behaviors demonstrated within the last year.
  • Try to describe examples in story form.

Possible competency-based questions

The following is a list of typical behavior-based questions, courtesy of Lombardi and The Ultimate Job Search Kit by Damir Joseph Stimac. Competencies sought by the interviewer are listed in parentheses:

  • Describe a situation in which you had to use reference materials to write a research paper. What was the topic? What journals did you read? (research/written communication)
  • Give me a specific example of a time when a co-worker or classmate criticized your work in front of others. How did you respond? How has that event shaped the way you communicate with others? (oral communication)
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you sold your supervisor or professor on an idea or concept. How did you proceed? What was the result? (assertiveness)
  • Describe the system you use for keeping track of multiple projects. How do you track your progress so that you can meet deadlines? How do you stay focused? (commitment to task)
  • Tell me about a time when you came up with an innovative solution to a challenge your company or class was facing. What was the challenge? What role did others play? (creativity and imagination)
  • Describe a specific problem you solved for your employer or professor. How did you apprach the problem? What role did others play? What was the outcome? (decision making)
  • Describe a time when you got co-workers or classmates, who dislike each other, to work together. How did you accomplish this? What was the outcome? (teamwork)
  • Tell me about a time when you failed to meet a deadline. What things did you fail to do? What were the repercussions? What did you learn? (time management)
  • Describe a time when you put your needs aside to help a co-worker or classmate understand a task. How did you assist them? What was the result? (flexibility)
  • Describe two specific goals you set for yourself and how successful you were in meeting them. What factors led to your success in meeting your goals? (goal setting)