During a job interview, the HR rep or hiring manager will often ask you for an example or brief story from your experience. For instance, they may ask:
- “What do you feel has been your top achievement of the past three years?”
- “Have you ever had to address an urgent service issue with an angry client?”
- “Tell me about a time when you found a creative solution to an unusual work problem.”
Open-ended queries like these are known as behavioral interview questions. They’re meant to shed light on your past behavior in the types of situations you’d face as an employee of the interviewer’s company.
Follow the STAR Method
Behavioral interview questions are tricky. They might intimidate you because they call on you to give a longer, more detailed answer that reveals something about your work ethic or character. But you can handle them well if you follow the STAR method.
“STAR” stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. With this answer method, you tell a clear, concise story by describing the four key parts of the experience in a logical order:
What broader issue or conditions led to the experience you’re describing? “Set the stage” for the story you’re about to tell. If you’re giving an anecdote from your work experience, the situation may be a business trend, new industry development, or increased competitor activity.
“When I started my current job as HR Manager, the company was dealing with some pretty urgent employee relations issues. Morale was down in most departments, so staff retention was at a record-low even though the company was enjoying steady growth.”
How did this situation apply to you in the form of an assigned challenge or project? Zoom in to describe the initial issue from your perspective and the specific work that landed on your desk.
“My boss, the VP of HR, advocated morale as a top business priority and gained new support and funding for HR initiatives. He asked me to devise, launch, and oversee several initiatives.”
What did you do in response to your assigned task or challenge? What measures did you take to spur change that the situation called for? This will likely be the most interesting and relevant part of your overall answer and, therefore, should probably be the most detailed. By describing your positive actions in full, you can give the hiring manager a preview of the hard work and high value you would bring to their organization.
“I introduced a new performance-based bonus structure for our three largest departments. I also led a team to create better training and orientation programs for all new hires. These programs were designed to give employees a clearer understanding of the communication standards that their managers will expect them to follow. Additionally, we developed new onboarding materials, including a more detailed overview of the counseling and career resources available to each employee.”
How did your actions drive a positive outcome? Describe how you successfully completed the task and helped your company address the broader issue. When describing your results, it’s best to get as specific as possible (but note that providing actual performance data is less expected here than on your resume, since you may not know those numbers off the top of your head).
“The new bonuses helped us motivate employees and recognize top performers in each of the three affected departments. Also, our new hire resources were successful at heading off some long-running miscommunication issues. Our entry-level workers now have a much better sense of their performance expectations and know where they can turn for support and resources both in and outside of HR. I’m glad to say in the past year we’ve been able to reverse the decline in staff retention, and it’s now up by around 15 percent.”
How STAR Helps Your Interview
The STAR method lets you give strong, specific answers to even the most open-ended questions. It offers a quick way to organize your thoughts when a recruiter or hiring manager puts you on the spot during an interview. By relating your experience as a short story with four clear parts, STAR keeps you from giving a muddled answer or going off on tangents. It also helps you show that you understand the broader context and value of your work in driving a company’s short- and long-term success.
Consider STAR for Your Resume
You can use the STAR method not just for job interviews but also on your resume. By listing out the situation, task, action, and result of your top projects, you can present them more clearly on the page. However, remember that this structure takes up much more space than a regular bullet point. To keep your resume from getting too long, consider using the STAR method for just your very top three achievements from your career so far.