Behavioral Interview Techniques – The STAR Approach


Eric Wale

Behavioural interviews are increasing in popularity with potential employers as they ask candidates to use real life examples to showcase how they reacted in certain situations.

Companies that employ behavioral interviewing have predetermined the skill sets they require fora particular position. These skill sets could include: decision making and problem solving, leadership, motivation, communication, interpersonal skills, planning and organization, critical thinking skills, team building and the ability to influence others. The company determines the skill sets by doing a detailed analysis of the position they are seeking to fill. As a potential candidate you will be asked to describe a particular situation that you were in or a task that needed to be accomplished, the action you took and the subsequent results.

This is a critical step in the selection process as potential employers adopt the notion that past performance is a predictor of future performance. Whilst it can be a daunting experience, it need not be with the right preparation.

How do I prepare for a behavioral interview?

The company will have determined the skill set required for a role, it’s important you assess the role and understand questions such as:

1. What are the necessary skills to do this job?

2. What makes a successful candidate?

3. What would make an unsuccessful candidate?

4. Why have people left this position previously?

5. What is the most difficult part of this job?

By asking yourself these questions it will help you understand the potential questions that may be asked so you can prepare relevant examples.

Use examples from your current career, previous projects, activities, team participation, community service, hobbies and work experience, anything really, as examples of your past behaviour. In addition, you may use examples of special accomplishments, whether personal or professional and wherever possible, quantify your results. Numbers always impress employers.

Remember that many behavioral questions try to get at how you responded to negative situations; you’ll need to have examples of negative experiences ready, but try to choose negative experiences that you made the best of or, better yet, those that had positive outcomes.

How to Prepare for Behaviour-Based Interviews:

>   Identify six to eight examples from your past experience where you demonstrated top behaviors and skills that employers typically seek. Think in terms of examples that will exploit your top selling points.

>   Half your examples should be totally positive, such as accomplishments or meeting goals.

>   The other half should be situations that started out negatively but either ended positively or you made the best of the outcome.

>   Vary your examples; don’t take them all from just one area of your life.

>   Use fairly recent examples. If you’re a college student, examples from high school may be too long ago. Accenture, in fact, specifies that candidates give examples of behaviors demonstrated within the last year.

>   Try to describe examples in story form and STAR (see examples below).

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, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to 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. Don’t tell what you might do, tell what you did.

Results You Achieved

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

For example, you might recount a time when communication within your work group had broken down (situation). To resolve the problem, you organized informal lunch meetings for people to discuss relevant issues (action). Morale then improved, as did the lines of communication (result). Using this three step STAR process is a powerful way for you to frame your experiences and accomplishments for the interviewer.

>   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 behavioral stories using real life examples. It is very difficult to make up behavioral stories, which is why behavioral interviewing is becoming more popular. By practicing, you will be able to recall with confidence your past accomplishments.

To prepare for a behavioral interview right before you’re interviewed, review your resume. Seeing your achievements in print will jog your memory. In the interview, listen carefully to each question, and pull an example out of your bag of tricks that provides an appropriate description of how you demonstrated the desired behavior. With practice, you can learn to tailor a relatively small set of examples to respond to a number of different behavioral questions.

Common Behavioural Interview Questions

Below we’ve listed some common questions asked in behavioiural interviews. Think about each one and how they apply to the role you’re interviewing for then practice specific examples in the STAR method.


• 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?

• How do you ensure that someone understands what you are saying?

• Tell me about a time when you had to present complex information.

• Tell me about a time in which you had to use your written communication skills in order to get across an important point.

Decision Making

• Give me an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision.

• Describe a specific problem you solved for your employer.

• How did you approach the problem?

• What role did others play?

• What was the outcome?

• Give me an example of when taking your time to make a decision paid off.


• What did you do to prepare for this interview?

• Give me an example of a situation that could not have happened successfully without you being there.

Planning and Organisation

• 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.


• Describe a time where you were faced with problems or stresses that tested your coping skills.

• Describe a time when you put your needs aside to help a co-worker understand a task.

• How did you assist them?

• What was the result?


• Tell me about a time when you influenced the outcome of a project by taking a leadership role.

• Give me an example of when you involved others in making a decision.

Time Management

• 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?

• Tell me about a time when you were particularly effective on prioritising tasks and completing a project on schedule.

Using all the above information and your own real life experiences, you will be able to articulate yourself with ease during a behaviour-based interview. Good luck!