Get STAR interview questions and learn how to use the STAR Method to answer competency and behaviour questions like a pro!
Have you been asked STAR interview questions at a competency or behaviour style interview and failed to answer successfully?
Don’t worry you are not alone.
We have been coaching clients to success in job interviews for the past 16 years and we see so many candidates who struggle to give top scoring answers to these tough interview questions.
As we will see below there is a range of reasons for this however the most important fault is lack of structure. In this guide we will show you some tough STAR interview questions and we teach you all about the STAR method, a powerful and well recognised technique for answering not just competency but any interview question like an expert.
But first let’s start by looking at the basics.
In this article:
- STAR Interview Questions – What Are They and Are They Different?
- 9 STAR Interview Questions Examples
- What is a Competency or Behaviour?
- Employers Love STAR Interview Questions – Why is that?
- Why do so Many People Struggle When Answering STAR Interview Questions?
- What is the STAR Method for Answering Interview Questions?
- How to Use the STAR Technique to Make Your Answers Really Stand Out
- 2 Key Factors That Make a Good Answer Great
- Tips on Choosing Examples for Your STAR Answer
- Sample STAR Answer To Inspire Your Interview Success
- STAR Method Example for Problem Solving Competency
- Remember: You Must Include the Correct Behaviours in Your STAR Answer
- 7 Key Strategies to Keep in Mind When Answering STAR Interview Questions
- How to Answer Any STAR Interview Question With 100% Confidence
STAR Interview Questions – What Are They and Are They Different?
You may come across the phrase STAR interview questions however in practice these are the same as competency based or behaviour questions and are phrased in the same way. They simply ask you to provide details of a past action, task or performance and your interviewing panel will listen for phrases and keywords to demonstrate what they call ‘positive behaviours.
9 STAR Interview Questions Examples
Here is a selection of some difficult STAR interview questions taken from the InterviewGold online training system. Take a few moments and see how you would answer, what examples would you use.
1. Describe a time when your leadership skills made a difference. (Exploring Leadership competency)
2. Tell us about a change you made which resulted in an improved customer experience. (Changing and Improving)
3. Talk me through a time when you had to communicate to a large group. Tell me how did you get your message across effectively? (Communication)
4. Give me an example of a time when you showed initiative at work. (Achieving Results)
5. Describe a time when you had to make rapid changes to your plans so as to complete an important task on time. (Planning and Organising)
6. Tell me about a time you used your political know how and expertise to initiate a difficult project. (Delivering at Pace)
7. Talk me through a situation which shows your ability to make optimum use of the resources available to you while delivering top quality service to your clients. (Managing a Quality Service)
8. Tell me about a coaching or mentoring strategy you designed and introduced. What part did you play and what was the outcome? (Leadership)
9. Describe a time when you successfully challenged someone whose views you knew were incorrect. Tell me what happened and how you convinced them to accept your opinion. (Accountability and Professionalism)
These STAR interview questions explore whether you bring the correct positive behaviours to the role, whether you have demonstrated them before or if not if you have taken steps to acquire them.
You may typically be asked a follow up question such as ‘What have you learned from this experience?’ or ‘What would you differently next time?’
In terms of answers to STAR interview questions, of course you would use the STAR method and below you will learn more about it below and how this powerful formula can bring professional structure to your interview answers.
What is a Competency or Behaviour?
A competency or behaviour is a skill or ability that is required in the job. There is a limited number of these although they may be called different names by different organisations.
For example, in the Civil Service Success Profiles framework you will come across a behaviour / competency called Making Effective Decisions. This can be referred to as simply Decision Making by others however it is the same thing.
Other common ones are Leadership, Communicating, Collaborating and Partnering (Team Work), Managing a Quality Service, Managing Successful Relationships, Delivering at Pace, Changing and Improving.
Employers Love STAR Competency Interview Questions – Why is that?
Put simply they remove the risk of bias.
In the past managers would often hire based on gut-feeling. They might give the job to someone based on how they looked or dressed or how they spoke. While there still remains a risk of human bias Competency Interviewing reduces this dramatically.
In addition, past behaviour is taken as an indicator of future performance. In other words, if you have done it once, you can do it again. Employers believe that they get more qualified candidates who will perform better in the role.
Why do so Many People Struggle When Answering STAR Interview Questions?
There is so much advice out there now both online and offline; videos, blogs, books etc.
And yet why do so many people get them wrong?
We constantly see clients who come to us for interview coaching and who have had poor experiences in a competency interview.
Quite often a client will have had feedback saying that their answers were not detailed enough. They are surprised by this because they will have talked and talked in the interview so how can they not have given enough detail?
Other will have prepared and yet are stumped because the questions they prepared for don’t come up exactly as they planned. They get asked the question in a different format and they just go blank.
The top problem we see is poor structure and this is where the STAR method comes into play.
What is the STAR Method for Answering Interview Questions?
Put simply the STAR technique is a way to structure your answer. It is recommended for use by most organisations including Government, Civil Service, banks and the NHS.
S.T.A.R. stands for Situation + Task + Action + Result
Start by describing the SITUATION you were involved in. You can use an example from your current or previous job, education, personal experience or any relevant event. Always choose the most appropriate and business orientated example you have and one that best fits the role for which you are being interviewed. Choose an example that demonstrates the significance of your experience, the most difficult, complex, largest and successful problem, situation or task that you resolved. Give enough detail for the interviewer to understand what was involved but no more than one or two sentences.
Briefly describe what you were tasked with, your responsibilities and assignments for the situation. Once again a sentence or two is sufficient.
This will be the section that the interviewer is most interested in and should detail the actions you took to resolve the problem, situation or task. Describe all of the actions, detailing each stage and in the correct, logical order showing your thought processes, how you reached your conclusions and the steps you completed.
This is the most important part of your answer, because it allows you to highlight in detail what your response was and to clearly show your skills in a real-life scenario.
Remember they want to know about the actions you took, so if you are discussing a group project or task, describe what you did rather than the achievements of the team.
You may feel as if you are being overly descriptive but this is necessary in order to demonstrate that you have the experience of the action you are describing; do not assume that the interviewer will guess or infer what you did merely from your describing the context.
The Result is the second most important part of your answer as a successful outcome proves that your actions were effective. Talk about what you accomplished, what you delivered in terms of benefit, what you learnt and if appropriate, what you would do differently next time.
Give evidence to prove success and this can be in the form of figures or numbers, anything that will show just what a winning outcome you delivered. Third party feedback is another great token of evidence so mention positive feedback you received from your manager, team or others.
Finally, talk about what you learned and how this learning will help you in the job being recruited for.
Get Expert STAR Interview Answers with InterviewGold
How to Use the STAR Technique to Make Your Answers Really Stand Out
Here’s a secret – it’s all in the Story!
Would you read a book that was boring? No, probably not and you would not recommend it to your friends.
And how many pages would you read before you concluded it was boring? Some might persevere to the end, but most would give up after maybe 20 or 30 pages.
The point I am trying to make is that your answer, your story must be gripping and it must grip in the first few sentences.
2 Key Factors That Make a Good Answer Great
Almost all Competency Based and Behavioural Questions ask you to provide an example that details a situation you have taken part in.
As straightforward a request as this is, not being prepared with a solid example may cause you to ramble, which could result in a poor score.
- 1. Choosing the right structure
- 2. Choosing the right example
As regards the right structure we have looked at using the STAR technique above. In the InterviewGold online training we teach two other formulas the IPAR and CARL methods, both of which are powerful techniques which you an use an an alternative to STAR.
Tips on Choosing Examples for Your STAR Answer
Choosing the right example is vital. It must be relevant and real and here are our top tips.
Relevant: Make sure that the example is relevant to the role you are being interviewed and clearly relates to the competency being explored. For example, if talking about Making Effective Decisions you should make specific reference to what the decision was, what data you gathered and used, what process you followed and how you met the objectives successfully while dealing with obstacles.
Complex: The task or project must be sufficiently complex for the role. It should also have been long enough in duration and complex enough in terms of actions completed to adequately demonstrate the skills required at this level. Choose one where you had to use other competencies at the same time. In addition make sure that you can talk about problems or obstacles overcome.
Impact: Choose an example with impact in terms of scale, reach, growth, results delivered or improvement made for example.
Sample STAR Answer To Inspire Your Interview Success
So let’s look at how to use the STAR method in a practical example. We will choose the Problem Solving competency however the technique can be used for any competency or skill. Use this example to inspire your own interview answers; think about your own situation and the role you are being interview for and search for relevant and real examples you can use.
How would you answer the question? Can you think of any examples of when you used these skills successfully?
Keep in mind that your answer should be told in a story format to keep the interviewer’s interest. Here is an example situation forming part of an answer using the STAR technique mentioned above.
STAR Method Example for Problem Solving Competency
Competency Question: Tell me about a time when you used your initiative to resolve a complex problem. What was involved and what actions did you take?
Last year while working as Customer Focus Manager with ABC Products Ltd in London, I successfully implemented a new process which reduced the time taken to process customer refunds from 14 days to 2 days, saving over £100,000 annually in agent time and gaining a 50% uplift in customer approval ratings.
In that single opening they are hooked, they know what your story is about, they know you have done something great and they want to hear more.
The next part of the answer is the Task and this should be summarised in no more than 1 or 2 sentences.
Our customer refund process was taking 14 days and was using up an excessive amount of agent time and resources. I was tasked with reducing this to 2 days with the added benefit of saving time and resources.
That’s all they need to know – no more.
I initiated the project by firstly clearly defining the objectives and the procedures.
I created a detailed brief that both analysed the problem and outlined the potential benefits of the newly proposed process.
I completed a walk-through of the existing system and identified where problems were occurring.
I interviewed the agents involved to gather their input into both the current system and their ideas of what they thought would work well. I believed this to be vital as I knew I needed to get them on my side in order to implement the new process.
With all that knowledge, I designed a new process and drafted a brief which I then forwarded to four software companies who specialise in the system we needed.
I considered their alternative approaches and compared each in terms of cost and ease of functionality, discussed with the agents and after having a demonstration and on hands testing, selected our preferred supplier.
After presentation and consultation with my management team I organised a project team tasked with implementing this new system.
I set up a system for internal and external feedback and communication, ensuring that everyone involved was on board and up to speed.
Throughout, I successfully managed the team members, updated and revising project milestones as necessary and in the end delivered a system that performed superbly.
We always like to see some numbers which demonstrate the scale of the project. So you can simply repeat the outcome that you used in your Introduction as this emphasis the great success you had.
I was very pleased with the outcome. I reduced the time taken to process customer refunds from 14 days to 2 days, saving over £100,000 annually in agent time. It was also a great result from the customers point of view and we gained a 50% uplift in customer approval ratings for the team. Even more pleasing was the fact that the Board of Directors awarded me a prize for top performing team leader as a result of this project.
As you can see this answer is punchy, more exciting and demonstrates more clearly the actions completed in a step by step way.
Get More STAR Competency Sample Answers
Remember: You Must Include the Correct Behaviours in Your STAR Answer
When creating answers using the STAR method keep in mind that the other key feature of Competency Based Interviews is that your answers will be scored against pre–determined results. These are called Behaviours and can be positive and negative. For example, looking at Communication skills, the positive behaviours the interviewer will look for may include:
- Develops messages using structure and logical order
- Tailors content of message to meet the needs and interest of the audience
- Conveys messages in a clear and concise manner in language appropriate to the receiver.
- Checks understanding of the audience and adapts message and tone accordingly
- Uses most effective channels as appropriate to the situation
STAR method behaviours for Leadership for example will require you to show an ability to be a role model, to engage with your team effectively and to promote inclusivity and diversity. Ultimately you will need to show that you have inspired and motivated those around you to achieve goals both within your department and outside.
7 Key Strategies to Keep in Mind When Answering STAR Interview Questions
1. Use Real Examples
When considering how to answer, I strongly recommend using authentic examples from your past experiences, as opposed to giving a fabricated or made up account.
2. Avoid Stock Answers
It is tempting to use a competency answer from a book or online and pass it off as your own. I strongly recommend against this. Instead, use the formulas and advice outlined here to develop your own personal answers. This will help you avoid a potentially awkward situation during your interview, should you be asked to elaborate on a particular point.
3. Keep it Relevant
You should also take great care to ensure that your answers are relevant to the question being asked. They need to contain a sufficient amount of detail. Show a strong command of the core competency and clearly demonstrate that you skilled at using it.
4. Check the Job Description
Study the job description thoroughly so that you completely grasp exactly what core competencies are essential to the position. Use this information to develop and rehearse relevant examples of past situations where you applied these skills.
5. It’s all about I
Always frame your answer with a proper introduction, and make liberal use of ‘I’. In fact, every one of your answers should be in the first person; always choose ‘I’ over ‘we,’ even in cases where you are discussing a past team collaboration.
6. Review your CV
Carefully examine your resume / curriculum vitae to fully prepare your responses, and devise competency answers which correspond to your highlights and achievements. Doing this will provide you with plenty of useful information that you can then use effectively no matter what type of competency question you are asked.
7. Get Jotting
Even making a bulleted list in advance as opposed to devising full answers can be helpful. This will ensure your examples will be fresh and at the forefront of your thoughts during the interview.
How to Answer Any STAR Interview Question With 100% Confidence
Answering STAR interview questions is a skill that anyone can learn and this is how the InterviewGold online training system will help. You get detailed lessons on each behaviour PLUS over 40 STAR template sample answers you can use for inspiration and guidance. Best of all these are tailored to your job and level.
Also, with just a few clicks you can start creating your own brilliant examples using the competency answer builder tool. It’s all online and you get access in seconds so no need to wait or delay. Start today and answer any STAR, competency or behaviour interview question with 100% confidence