Behavioural interview techniques - the STAR approach

Posted 26 February 2020

When you are interviewing for a position, the company wants to find out as much about you as they can, to ensure that you can do the job but also to ensure that you are the right fit for their organisation.

One technique that is used during an interview is asking behavioural based questions - to find out how you accomplish your work, how you react in difference circumstances and how you navigate a difficult situation.

Behavioural questions are those such as;

  • 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?
  • Give me a specific example of a time when a co-worker criticised your work in front of others. How did you respond? How has that event shaped the way you communicate with others?
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you sold your supervisor on an idea or concept. How did you proceed? What was the result?
  • Describe a situation when you had many projects due at the same time. What steps did you take to get them all done?
  • How do you determine priorities in scheduling your time? Give me an example.
  • Tell me about a time when you influenced the outcome of a project by taking a leadership role.

So how do you prepare for these types of questions?

We recommend the STAR Approach;

Situation or Task

Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific event or situation and give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.

Action you took

Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you. Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did -- not the efforts of the team.

Results you achieved

What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?

Preparing for these questions using the STAR method can be done in advance so that you are not caught out in the interview.  Ways to prepare include;

  • Identify six to eight examples from your experience where you demonstrated top behaviours and skills that employers typically seek.
  • Some of your examples should bey positive, such as accomplishments or meeting goals.
  • Others should be situations that started out negatively but either ended positively or where you made the best of the outcome.
  • Vary your examples; don't take them all from just one area of your life.
  • Use recent examples. From the past 12 months or so.
  • Try to describe examples in story form using the STAR technique.

Interview Time

Once you are in the interview, listen carefully to each question and use an example from those you practiced at home to provide an appropriate description of how you demonstrated the desired behaviour. With practice, you can learn to tailor a relatively small set of examples to respond to several different behavioural questions.

Some other behavioural questions that you may be asked are;

  • 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?
  • Tell me about a time when you came up with an innovative solution to a challenge your company was facing. What was the challenge? What role did others play?
  • Describe a specific problem you solved for your employer. How did you approach the problem? What role did others play? What was the outcome?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?

During your interview, ensure you;

  • Limit rambling and tangents. While you can't control what is asked, you can control what you say.
  • Listen carefully to each question. If you are unsure, rephrase the question and ask for clarification.
  • When you respond, be sure to recall your past accomplishments in detail.
  • Practice your behavioural stories using real-life examples. It is very difficult to make up behavioural stories, which is why behavioural interviewing is becoming more popular. By practicing, you will be able to recall with confidence your past accomplishments.

In all interview situations, be prepared, remain composed, and remember it’s just another (slightly more formal) conversation, so don’t get tongue tied or nervous!

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