Preparing Your Client to be a STAR Interviewee in a Behavioral Interview

By Kevin Nash

The well-written resume and cover letter have done their job of convincing the hiring manager to interview your client. As a Career Services Provider, you now need to shift your client’s focus to becoming a STAR interviewee.

The obvious interview preparation tips to give your client include: research the company, look your best, be on time, be enthusiastic, and listen closely to what you are being asked.  A tip that may not be as obvious is to make sure you prepare your stories so that you can respond convincingly to behavioral interview questions.

Organizations are increasingly training their hiring managers in behavioral interview (BI) techniques. A central idea of BI is that past behaviors of job candidates are good predictors of their future behaviors on the job. In a BI interview the interviewer asks questions about how the interviewee demonstrated job related competencies in the past. The competencies relate to the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes needed for success in the position being filled.

Examples of BI questions are:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done. 
  • Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks. 
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split second decision. 
  • Tell me about a time you were able to successfully deal with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa). 
  • What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example. 

Instructing Clients to Respond to BI Questions
A central BI concept is the STAR model. STAR stands for Situation or Task, Action, and Result. In this model, the interviewer follows up on the initial BI question and probes more deeply into the situation described by the interviewee to clarify in detail what was done and the results  achieved.

The STAR model for structuring interview questions provides a useful questioning methodology for interviewers, and it can also help interviewees prepare for the BI questions they may be asked. Interviewees who are unprepared for BI questions can be blindsided and may not respond convincingly. Guided by a career professional, interviewees can research the competencies needed for the job and prepare stories for how they demonstrated these competencies in the past.

A career professional can coach their client on how to respond effectively to STAR questions. Clients should understand that the STAR model is a structured way to respond to a BI question and they can do this by explaining the specific situation, task, actions, and the results of a past experience.  

When interviewees are asked to describe the situation they should not give a generalized description. They must be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand what happened. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event. When describing a task, the interviewee should describe the goal they were working toward. 

While describing the action, interviewees should supply an appropriate amount of detail and keep the focus on themselves. They should describe the specific steps they took and specify their particular contribution.  Interviewees should be careful that they don’t describe what the team or group did when talking about a project, but what they actually did. Interviewees should use the word “I,” not “we” when describing actions.   

Interviewees should not be shy about taking credit for their behavior when describing the results or outcomes of their actions. They should clearly describe what happened, how the event ended, what they accomplished, and what they learned. Their answer should contain multiple positive results and they should be as specific as possible at all times without rambling or including too much information.

Here is an example of a behavioral interview question and a possible response.

What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example. 

Situation or Task – I remember last year that there was a major conflict at work. One of our co-workers frequently misused the facilities in the lunch room. They would leave open containers with their old lunch materials in the shared refrigerator for weeks and not keep the place clean and tidy. One of the office staff could not take it any longer and confronted this co-worker and this started a heated argument between the two of them that went on for a few days. This caused a lot of tension in the office and it affected everyone’s work

Action – Rather than get the office manager involved, I decided to try to act as a mediator to calm things down. I went to each of my co-workers and spoke to them privately explaining how this situation was impacting all of us. I asked them if they would be prepared to compromise and meet with the other person. They both said they would. I set up a time for the three of us to meet to talk things through.

Result – The meeting went well and they both apologized for losing their temper. The person misusing the lunch room promised to mend their ways and they both thanked me for stepping in to help resolve the issue. Since then things have been much better in the lunch room.

The following are some tips to help interviewees prepare for a BI interview:

  • Recall recent situations that show favorable behaviors or actions, especially involving course work, work experience, leadership, teamwork, initiative, planning, and customer service. 
  • Prepare short descriptions of each situation; be ready to give details if asked. 
  • Be sure each story has a beginning, middle, and an end, i.e., be ready to describe the situation, including the task at hand, your action, and the outcome or result. 
  • Be sure the outcome or result reflects positively on you (even if the result itself was not favorable). 
  • Be honest. Don't embellish or omit any part of the story. The interviewer will find out if your story is built on a weak foundation. 
  • Be specific. Don't generalize about several events; give a detailed accounting of one event. 
  • Vary your examples; don’t just share from one area of your life.

A client who is familiar with the STAR method may still find it stressful to create the story of an experience showing results. An experienced career professional gives their client guidance to confidently enter the interview with well-rehearsed and relevant examples giving them a better than average chance of becoming STAR interviewees in a behavioral interview.



Carniol, A. (2013). Inside the STAR Interview Approach: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-carniol/inside-the-star-interview_b_3310122.html


Kevin NashKevin Nash, PhD has many years of experience as a senior human resources executive, management consultant, and university professor.  He has worked in the USA and internationally in the pharmaceutical, transportation, power generation, and mining industries. He holds a MA in Management, a PhD in Organizational Psychology, is certified as a Global Career Development Facilitator, and a member of the National Career Development Association. He is currently the Program Director for MBA and MPA programs at Long Island University – Hudson, NY. Kevin can be contacted at: knash@aspenod.net.

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1 Comment

Kristy Magee   on Tuesday 09/05/2017 at 09:19 AM

Great advice. I love the STAR method, and it's wonderful when people understand how to give those examples. They become memorable. Just like we would remember a speaker with a great story, we'll more likely remember an interviewee with a good story and evidence of their qualifications. Great job!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.