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Behavioral Interviewing & The STAR Approach

Most employers use behavioral interviewing, which is based on the idea that past behavior predicts future performance. Questions typically begin with “Tell me about a time when . . . ” or “Give me an example of when . . ."  The position description and industry research are great starting points to anticipate what you might be asked. Review the description to identify the skills and qualifications valued by the employer. Reflect on your experiences so you can reply with specific examples of how you demonstrated the skills, knowledge, and experience required.

The STAR Approach

The STAR approach provides a strategy to structure and organize your responses to behavioral interview questions. As you develop responses, consider how much to share in each area as indicated by the percentages below; the “action” area should always be longest part of your response.


Describe the context of the situation. What background information is most relevant?

TASK (10%) Describe the task and your role in it. What goal were you working toward?
ACTION (50%) Describe the actions you took. How did you decide to address the challenge?
RESULT (25%)

Describe the positive outcome of your actions or, if it was negative, what you learned.

The Star Approach in Action

Example #1

QUESTION: Describe a time you had to solve a problem.
SITUATION In my internship at the National Relief Fund, I was asked to devise a better system for tracking donations earmarked for disaster relief.
TASK Because the Fund is such a large organization, I needed to understand the various ways donations were being tracked.

By surveying regional offices, I found that only 78 percent had database tracking systems that were upgraded to the level of those at the national office. I used this information to recommend an upgrade to databases at all regional offices.


Based on my recommendations, the CEO decided to upgrade all systems by the following summer.

Example #2

QUESTION: Tell me about a time when you had to persuade others to see your point of view.
SITUATION During the past two years at Northwestern, I’ve been actively involved in a student organization that coordinates 45 tutors for 120 at-risk students weekly. We faced a range of quality in the services our students received.
TASK I saw a need to provide a training program for tutors. This was not a popular perspective initially, as it would be an added requirement for our tutors.
ACTION To demonstrate the value, I identified comparable organizations on other campuses and conducted interviews to identify best practices. I then presented this information to our leadership, with a detailed proposal and budget that allowed tutors to be compensated.
RESULT As a result, we were able to implement a two-hour training session. While we don’t yet know the impact on our students, as this was recently implemented, it has contributed to a smoother payment and scheduling process.