How to use the STAR Method to Succeed in Remote Job Interviews

STAR MethodStaying calm under the pressure of a job interview doesn’t come naturally for most people. Open-ended behavioral questions are a huge opportunity to impress the hiring team. However, too many candidates miss the mark because they don’t know how to structure their answers.

The STAR method for interview questions provides a simple framework that you can follow so your answers are concise, interesting, and packed full of information that helps sell you as a candidate.

In this article, we’ll explain what the STAR method is, and why it works for remote interviews and share the tips, tricks, and best practices you can use to ensure your answers impress any hiring team.

What is the STAR method?

STAR is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. This method provides a structured way to answer behavioral questions in a remote interview.

Behavioral questions in an interview focus on your past experiences to understand how you deal with adversity, conflict, and other challenges. They provide interviewers with insights into your leadership and problem-solving skills, teamwork, adaptability, and more.

Some typical behavioral questions you could face in a remote interview include:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to collaborate with a difficult coworker. How did you deal with the situation?
  • Describe a situation where you had to solve a workplace problem with limited resources. What was your approach?
  • Please describe a time when you made a big mistake at work and how you resolved the issue.

Answering these kinds of questions in a satisfactory manner is not easy. You need to pack in a lot of information and keep things interesting. Sure, some people are natural storytellers who could make the story of getting a tank of gas a compelling, edge-of-the-seat experience. However, for the rest of us, we need to consider how to set the scene, present the relevant information, and explain to the listener what they should take from the story.

The STAR method helps us do that by splitting the story into four easily manageable parts.

Let’s look at each part of the acronym in isolation.

  • Situation: The situation phase is about setting the scene. You need to introduce some context in which your challenge takes place.
  • Task: The task is where you anchor your role or responsibilities within the situation.
  • Action: Action is where you get to the pertinent information. In essence, it describes the steps you took to resolve the challenge.
  • Result: The result is where you explain how your action resulted in a positive outcome.

Now, as you can see, the STAR method helps both you and your interviewer. For you, it provides a clear and easy way to structure your answer, ensuring that you include all the vital information. For the interviewer, it means that they get to receive this data in a way that is easy to absorb.

If you use the STAR method in your remote interview, you can provide direct, tightly focused answers to behavioral questions. No meandering, extraneous information, or forgetting crucial parts of the story; just straight-to-the-point information sharing in a format that grabs your interviewer’s attention.

Who invented the STAR method?

DDI, a UK-based consulting firm, is credited with formalizing the STAR method. They reasoned that interview questions were inefficient because candidates too often told the potential employer what they thought they wanted to hear. DDI also felt that candidates were too concerned with answering interview questions about what they might do in workplace scenarios.

While hypotheticals have a place in an interview, the STAR method promotes informative and factual answers. However, most of all, they provide a structure that is both easy to remember for the interviewee and easy to understand for the interviewer.

Why does the STAR method work?

The STAR method for interviews is the result of decades of wisdom about what works and what doesn’t work when evaluating candidates. However, the reasons why it works are far older and much deeper.

Humans have used storytelling to pass down values, knowledge, and warnings long before the invention of the written word. Stories were the repository of knowledge in oral cultures because they were the most efficient way to keep information alive.

From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, our brains are fine-tuned to make sense of the world by understanding cause-and-effect and other patterns. Stories and storytelling are a way to simplify large and complex events by grounding them in people and things we can relate to.

When we hear stories, our mirror neurons fire. On some level, we experience the events as if we were there ourselves. A skilled storyteller evokes our empathy and helps us understand a story in a way that would be impossible with dry, factual information alone.

If you’re answering behavioral questions in your next remote interview, the STAR method gives you a chance to foster a deeper bond with the hiring manager by parceling out information in a way that is memorable and engaging. The hiring process is decided on thin margins. If you can create a connection with your interview, you can give yourself an advantage.

DDI thinks of the STAR method as having three parts. Interestingly, they run the Situation and Task together, so it looks like this.

  • Situation and Task
  • Action
  • Result

From a narrative perspective, this is like the start, middle, and end of a story. Again, this comes back to how we understand the world through cause and effect. Simply put, there are some starting conditions, an action (cause), and an effect (result).

The STAR method works because it taps into how our brains understand the world. It’s a powerful framework that will ensure your interview answers are a vehicle for underlining your credibility as an interview candidate.

How to use the STAR method for remote interviews

OK, now that you know the STAR method and why it works, it’s time to consider how you can use it in a remote interview setting.

We’ll break down each section and include actionable tips and tricks for answering any behavioral question you face during a remote interview.

Situation

Setting the scene is essential, but don’t lose sight of your goal. You want to prove why you’re a great candidate without going into all the details of your previous workplace.

Here are some tips to follow for the situation part of the STAR method.

  • The situation should be the shortest part of the story.
  • Ensure your answer is focused, and dive right into the situation as quickly as possible.
  • Keep things focused and use, at most, two to three sentences to tee up your story.

Task

The task portion of the STAR method should also be as punchy as possible. Remember, the interviewer wants to hear about your actions. The situation and the task are just vehicles that set up the juicy details that will get you hired.

Here are a few things that you need to think about when defining your task.

  • Clearly define the problem that you faced, whether it was declining sales, a project that was failing, or a manager or colleague that was making things difficult.
  • Underline how your role meant you were responsible for solving the problem.
  • Where appropriate, quantify the problem you faced (i.e., sales were down 30%).
  • If you want to make your answer more compelling, add a sense of urgency like stakes, deadlines, and pressure.

Action

The action is the meat of your answer. This part is where you explain the specific steps that you took to resolve the issue. Focus on what you brought to the table, even if it was a team project.

You need to be laser-focused on establishing the skills that prove you’re a solid candidate. So, break everything down into the clear and logical steps you use to overcome the scenario.

Here are a few essential tips to help you demonstrate your actions:

  • Focus on a few key skills that you want to show with your answer (i.e., problem-solving, initiative, communication)
  • Break your action into a very logical sequence that shows your thought process.
  • Explain how you analyzed the situation, the various options you considered, and how you settled on a particular course of action.
  • Highlight any roadblocks that you encountered and how you got around them.

STAR method interview question examples

The easiest way to understand the STAR method is by seeing it in action. Here are a few common behavioral interview questions with STAR method answers that you can use to inspire your own answers in your next remote interview.

Question 1: Tell me about a time when you had to solve a complex problem at work.

Situation: In my last role as a product manager, we noticed that our customer churn levels were high compared to industry benchmarks. This was a big issue because, as a startup, we only had about six months of runway left.

Task: My task was to figure out why customers were not renewing their subscriptions and find out how to increase retention and protect our revenues. 

Action: The first thing I did was collect information that I could analyze. I gathered customer data and conducted surveys to get feedback. I was particularly interested in using customer exit interviews to establish why our retention was low.

After pouring over this data, I realized that many of our customers did not use all the features within our product and, therefore, didn’t understand the full value of our solution.

Soon, I understood that it wasn’t the product that was at fault. Instead, it was how we were onboarding our users.

I explored a few customer onboarding solutions and created simple product tours that help our users fully understand our solution’s value proposition. 

Result: Once we added the product tours to our product, feature adoption shot up by 150%. Because our customers understood how they could use all our features, the customer churn rate dropped from 20% to 5%, and our monthly recurring revenue increased by 25%. 

The big takeaway for me was that listening to customers is essential if you want to solve their problems.

Question 2: Describe a situation when you went above and beyond expectations for a colleague. 

Situation: I was working in the financial sector and vying for a promotion with a colleague. We both had an important deadline to meet, but they were called away to deal with a family emergency.

Task: The project was important to both of us. I had completed my part, but I knew that something had to be done to ensure they got their side over the line.

Action: I contacted my colleague and told them that I would take ownership of their portion of the project. I requested all relevant files and communicated with our supervisor about what was happening. Over the next few nights, I stayed late and worked hard to deliver the project on time.

Result: I delivered the project on time, and the client was delighted. My colleague and my supervisor were also very grateful. Later that year, when I got the promotion, my hiring manager said it was because I was a team player. 

Question 3: Have you ever failed at work? How did you deal with it?

Situation: While I don’t love talking about it, the first marketing campaign that I was in charge of didn’t produce the expected results.

Task: The results weren’t disastrous, but they were below expectations. I needed to understand why it didn’t work and see what lessons I could learn for future campaigns.

Action: I took three steps to help me understand what went wrong. First, I reviewed the campaign data. Second, I spoke to more experienced coworkers. Third, I conducted more market research.

It soon became clear to me that my attempts to reach a broad audience had watered down our marketing message. I had cast my net too wide and was not speaking to my target audience.

Result: By the end of the process, I had learned a lot about doing enough market research and using data to target your audience with surgical precision. My next campaign was a huge success, but I don’t think it would have done so well without learning lessons from that failed marketing campaign.

How to prepare for STAR method interview questions

Remote interviews would be much easier if you could predict the exact questions the hiring team will ask. While that is not possible, if you understand the behaviors that interviewers want you to demonstrate, you can prepare some answers that will work.

Study the job posting

Carefully studying the job posting is essential when you are applying for any position. The wide use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) means that you need to understand the keywords that employers use to determine if you have the desired experience, skills, and qualifications for the job.

However, if you get the call for a remote interview, you should return to the job description to get clues about what the employer is looking for.

So, let’s look at the six key competencies that behavioral interviews can unearth and see how they relate to job posts.

The six core skills that a behavioral interview helps determine are:

  • Leadership and initiative
  • Decision-making and problem-solving
  • Adaptability
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Communication
  • Conflict resolution

Now, many jobs and positions will actually require all six qualities. However, let’s look at some different roles and how they might relate.

  • Management: If you are applying for a management position, you should prepare some stories that show your leadership, decision-making, and communication.
  • Technical roles: If you have a remote interview for a technical role, then problem-solving and teamwork stories can work.
  • High-pressure workplaces: Fast-moving and high-pressure workplaces require adaptability and conflict resolution. So, prepare answers that satisfy these criteria.
  • Customer service: If the job you are applying for is customer-facing, then conflict resolution, communication, and problem-solving are all great attributes.

So, look at the job listing and think about what skills the employer wants. Ideally, you could prepare a story for each key skill, but you can whittle that down to what is required based on the job description.

Pick some versatile stories

Once you have some idea of the questions you might face during your remote interview, start picking a few stories that you can use. Some people might feel more comfortable memorizing their answers, but there are a few problems with this approach. Firstly, it’s hard to predict the precise questions you’ll face. Secondly, it can lead to a very robotic response.

So, your best bet is to prepare a few versatile stories. Think about times that you overcame a challenge, showed initiative or leadership qualities, or demonstrated teamwork. A few general stories should cover most bases.

Hit the beats

The strength of the STAR method is that it makes you hyper-aware of structure. So, when you are preparing your answers, focus on:

  • Where you were
  • The problem you were faced with
  • What steps did you take to resolve the issues
  • Any tangible and measurable outcomes

Prepare for each stage and answering a behavioral question will be straightforward.

Practice

Once you have a few versatile stories, look through a list of common behavioral questions and see how you can adapt and adjust your answers to give your employer the answers they want.

What’s more, you should practice your answers out loud with a friend or in front of the mirror. It will give you more confidence on the day and it will also help you hone your stories and cut away the fat so all you’re left with is lean, information-rich anecdotes that will impress.

Valuable tips for using the STAR method

Here are some final tips for using the STAR method for interviews.

Take a moment

It’s more than acceptable to take a little time to think about how you will formulate your answer. Take a deep breath, have a mouthful of water, and relax yourself before you launch into your answer.

Have the confidence and assurance to ask for a moment to think about your response. Any good interviewer will be more than OK with this, especially if it results in a good answer.

Inject some personality

The STAR method is a formula. Use it as the bedrock of your story. Avoid dry and robotic responses by using a splash of enthusiasm or personality. Interviewers want to learn about who you are, so give them something to work with.

Quantify your results

The results part of your interview answer is a great place to show off some metrics or data that demonstrate impact. If your actions increased revenue by 10% or resulted in making a process more efficient, try to demonstrate that with hard numbers.

Show what you’ve learned

One of the best things about the STAR method is that you can use these stories to demonstrate development. Employers want staff members who can use adversity and challenges to grow and learn. So, where possible, tell your interviewer what you learned from the experience and how it makes you a better employee.

Be authentic

While it might be tempting to weave a fantastical STAR story to impress your interviewer, it’s much better to keep things authentic. Not everyone has a story that they can tell about how they pulled their former business back from the brink of disaster, and that’s ok.

Interviewers want to hear about real scenarios, even if they are small-scale or low-stakes. Remember, behavioral questions are about finding out how you deal with challenges. It’s about your approach to problems and how you learn and grow when faced with a challenge. Keep it real and relatable.

Final thoughts

A remote job interview is your chance to demonstrate your skills and competency for any position. Interviewers ask a range of different questions to see if you’re the right fit for the job, and behavioral interview questions are some of the most important.

When you use the STAR method to answer interview questions, you ensure they are structured well and packed with the right amount of information to sell yourself as a candidate. Remember, people love stories because they are a way to communicate information in an enjoyable, relatable, and engaging form.

The STAR method helps keep your answer focused so that you can nail your remote interview. So ensure they are a big part of your preparation.

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