Want a simple and effective way to answer behavioral based questions in your next interview? If so, a common framework used by most MBAs is the STAR response framework. STAR responses are interview question responses that are structured to include a Situation, Task, Action, and Response.
With a STAR response you start answering the interview question by describing the Situation that you or your company was facing at the time. Following the explanation of the situation you segue to the Task that you were assigned based on the given situation. Next, you cover what Actions you took in order to accomplish that task. Finally, you conclude with describing the Results of the actions you took. This last step is surprisingly one of the most easily forgotten parts of STAR, even though it is by far the most important. It’s your time to shine, and show off!
Let’s walk through an example to make the STAR response make even more sense.
Example interview question: Can you explain to me a time when you led a project team and what was the outcome of the project?
(I’ll answer the question and throw in the letters when I make transition through the sections of STAR. You will not, however, in your response explicitly mention that you are answering in the STAR format — just let it flow, like a story.)
Example STAR response:
Great question! And I have a great example that I feel really expresses my leadership abilities and style. (S) With my previous employer, my team and I were responsible for shipping construction supplies to major construction outfits along the entire Atlantic Coast. Our warehouse made a recent transition to a temporary workforce which resulted in a high rate of turnover and unfortunately a major uptick in shipping errors to all customers To give you an example of how bad the situation was, we had a record setting 97 shipping errors in one week. A week where we only had 6,500 orders!
(T) In the face of slipping customer satisfaction, the warehouse manager requested that I create a task force to address the problem. Even though I held a role in inventory, the manager wanted someone outside of operations to lead the project. He said he didn’t want the team tainted with complaints about the transition to temporary labor, and he said it would be a great development opportunity for me since I had voiced interest in gaining exposure to other functional areas.
Trust me when I tell you how excited I was to lead this project! In high school I worked on a construction site and I knew how much time and money were lost when we received the wrong parts. In my role as inventory specialist I had been woefully unaware of the number of customer complaints we’d been receiving, but I certainly knew that this was a problem that needed to be fixed immediately.
(A) As project manager, I wanted to compile a diverse team of functional expertise so we could unearth the true root cause of the shipping errors. I invited one of the few remaining full time floor associates to have someone with first hand shipping experience and someone to explain the process. Next, I invited the warehouse analyst to see if she could uncover any patterns in our shipping errors. Finally, I invited our customer service rep so that he was aware of the corrective efforts underway and so that he could communicate these efforts to the customer.
I started by asking the floor associate to walk the group through the process of picking an order. Boy, did this enlighten the team to how tough shipping could be at times! We noticed one area of the warehouse with racks upon racks of one vendor’s products. These products stood out to us because they were in large, near identical packaging, and their serial numbers were exceedingly long. I could only imagine how intimidating that might be for a new employee to learn one product from the next!
Next, I requested that the analyst run the shipping error reports with the help of the customer service rep. And guess what? Nearly 85% of our shipping errors derived from the area of the warehouse that stopped us in our tracks during the walk through. Additionally, almost all of the errors were caused by employees that had worked with us for 3 months or less.
When the group heard this, they started spewing potential solutions for our issue almost immediately. Customer service recommended we put pictures and descriptions of the problem products on the shelving. The floor associate, recommended that only tenured associates be allowed to pick products in that area of the warehouse in the meantime. The analyst asked, if it was possible to start a special training program for new associates specifically around these products. I was proud of my teammates for spontaneously synthesizing solution ideas so quickly, but I wanted to ensure we had a formal pitch-out to provide leadership. I wrote a quick memo describing the analyst’s and the rest of the teams’ findings. Then, I had the team dictate their recommendation list to me. We ordered the recommendations by level of simplicity and speed of initiation. We scheduled an end of day meeting with the leadership team, and recommended that they instigate the easiest solutions starting the following day.
(R) The presentation was incredibly well received. Leadership was surprised by the seeming obviousness of the problem, but they were also pleased by the simplicity of the solutions. Unfortunately, the operation leadership team had been so disgruntled with the temporary labor transition that they hadn’t wanted to dig deeper into the root causes of these errors. But once supplied with the simplicity of solution they were thrilled to instigate our recommendations. Within just one week the warehouse saw an incredible results. Shipping errors were reduced to 2 — a feat that hadn’t been achieved since the transition to temporary employees. The following week, 0 errors! And errors for the remainder of the year maintained a sub-5 average. Customer service also received emails from our two most lucrative customers who thanked us for our immediate response to their issues! I was extremely proud of the team I compiled, and the responsiveness we were able to provide our customers!
Conclusion: I hope the STAR response framework helps you maintain structure in answering your future interview questions! I recommend that you start by writing a list of at least 7-10 major work projects and career experiences in a journal or word document. Then physically write out the details of these examples into this format. You may think you will be able to “wing” it, but trust me by writing them out, you will be much cleaner in your delivery. Additionally, by writing them out, it makes it easier to make slight modifications to the details to answer various question types through the same experience. For example, this project could answer a “leadership” type question, or “cross-functional team” type question.