Interviewing Tips

STAR Responses: Framework For Answering Interview Questions

STAR Response

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.

Know and/or Learn a Company’s Culture – at Least How it Impacts You

Company culture is something I’ve overlooked for far too long…and I’ve paid the price (with my lack of work happiness). I’ve always looked at “culture” and “cultural fit” as an HR buzz term or something that weak people use to explain why they aren’t cutting it at a certain company. But after a few bad experiences I now get what it’s all about. I also understand a few ways to determine red flags when coming into a company.

1. At dinner interviews pay attention to how your future interviewers interact with waiters. Are they polite? Do they offer good eye contact and respect? Or do they treat the wait staff as servants and order them about? If your interviewers think it’s okay to belittle others or think they are more important, they will suck to work for. Oh…and they’re jerks.

2.) Who are you replacing? Are you replacing a disgruntled employee or a recently promoted hi performer. Do some digging here. Did the employee take a lateral move to get out of a bad divisional culture? Did they leave the company altogether? I do not think it’s out of the question to ask for the previous employees contact info if they remain with the company. Ash them what they liked and didn’t like. What challenges and (company) politics must be understood before taking on the role? Give that they are no longer in the position they may be more forthcoming with info than you think. If the person you are replacing the company left, I would try to look the person up on LinkedIn. Inform them that you saw they previously held the position you are considering applying for and you’d love to hear their perspective on the position and company. Gear your questions towards culture and role demands. Do not ask personal questions.

3. Glassdoor offers current and past employees opinion and their company culture. This is a great place to try to find trends in complaints and concerns. Specifically look for trends or take all comments with a grain of salt. As with any site of this type, the only people who choose to expend the energy to post are usually at the extremes of emotions (I.e., extremely happy or upset with the company.)

4.) Pay attention to company leaders and their background. Are they all engineers? Business undergrads? MBAs? It’s important to look for commonalities and compare them to your own background. I have found from my own personal experience, that engineers and MBAs go together like oil and water. These two backgrounds do not mesh well, because they are both know-it-alls but in their own distinct ways. This leads to frequent butting of heads. Also remember (this is not always the case) like promotes like.

5.) How long have employees worked for the company? How long do people stay in roles before they are up for promotion? I have found issues at both extremes. Companies that brag about their long tenures of employees usually means happy but professional in place type employees. Company’s with short tenured employees can either mean fast, proven development that attracts heavy recruitment by aggressive outside firms, or a disgruntled employee base. Either way try to understand the root cause and make sure it fits with your career objectives.

MBA Student Tip Series 13

Build strong relationships with your professors

I know many people recommend this same advice to undergrads, but at most schools, the professors have so many students that this is very difficult to be meaningful. Not to mention, the age and interest disparity between professors and undergrads is much greater than with MBAs. MBAs are older, and usually have a fair amount of work experience that makes them significantly more relatable to professors. The class size of an MBA program is also many times smaller than undergrad programs. Building lasting and meaningful relationships with professors is not that uncommon if you work at it during your two years.

I recommend this not only because most MBA professors are cool people to befriend, but they are also usually extremely connected in the business community. Their research and own work experience has enabled them to meet (and become themselves) very influential people. By building a relationship with your professor, they can get to know your personality and help recommend careers and industries which mesh well with your interests and strengths. As an added bonus, they may introduce you to their influential contacts if they trust you enough to make a good impression.

Consider meeting professors at their office hours, or even ask them out with a group for a happy hour. It may seem strange from undergrad days, but it’s surprisingly common with the more mature MBA crowd.

Researching your Target Company

Although all MBA’s know the value of researching a company before their interview, some lack the understanding of what that research should entail. Their research is unorganized and lacking in key content. For a quick recap of mission critical company research info, begin with this list in mind.

Financials – While this is an easy search for a public company (through publicly disclosed 10K reports), this gets slightly more difficult for private companies.


  1. Public Companies:
    • Find the company’s investor relations web page and download their most recent 10-K. (One great feature of the online 10-K is the ability to search (ctrl-f) for key terms within the document.)
    • Once open, start with the Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) section. This section will outline key parts of the business and major initiatives according to the management team. Because these events are important enough to call out in this section, they are likely hot button issues within the organization. Knowing these topics will show that you are informed in your interview. It will also help guide your search through the balance statement and income statements.
    • Next pore over the balance sheet and statement of cash flows. Look for glaring issues of financial distress, or cash flow problems. Determine positively performing parts of the business and compare these to underperforming parts of the business. Ideally the role you are interviewing will fall within the “good” part of the business. Unless your forte is performance turnarounds, you will likely have an uphill battle to prove yourself in the underperforming part of a business. Business units that drag down the remainder of the company have often have negative internal connotations and the personnel are often unrightfully looked at as poor performers. This is particularly true if this part of the business is affecting other division’s bonuses, pay, etc.
  2. Private Companies:
  • Admittedly doing financial research on private companies is much more difficult. However, if you are taking classes at a university or are presently employed, some schools/companies will pay for access to certain online databases such as Hoovers. Sites like Hoovers acquire a sizable amount of financial information about private companies (through interviews, polls, etc.) With this information, similar financial research can be performed. If Hoovers is not available to you, you may be limited to online articles and/or the company’s own website for this type of information. Realistically this information will be heavily biased/veiled at best, and outright incorrect at worst.


  • Determine your target company’s largest 1-3 competitors and perform an abbreviated version of the financial research on these companies, as well. Know where they are “beating” your target company, and determine what threats they pose. Investigate regional superiority, new product offerings, and differences in the competitor’s cost structure (i.e., are there major differences in the competitors COGS or operational expense?)


  • List the company’s biggest 1-3 customers. (This information can sometimes be found on the 10-K or determined through online digging.) Determine the health of these relationships and the importance of each major customer to the target company’s financial health. Are these new customers, or has the relationship been ongoing? Is the relationship fragile?

Internal Contact

  • Best case scenario, you know someone who works for this company. If not, use online networks, such as LinkedIn, or offline networks to find someone closely related to the target company. Reach out to the contact to see if they would be comfortable discussing the company’s culture with you. Ensure that the contact knows that you will not seek out hiring manager information or any form of recommendation. You simply want to determine the company’s culture, and what they value in future employees. Do employees enjoy their job, or are there high turnover rates? What is the career progression outlook? Does the company hire talent externally or default to internal promotions? Is the company hierarchical or matrixed? Etc. If the person is unable to meet, or talk on the phone, determine if they are comfortable with email correspondence. Obviously, truthful answers may require obtaining their personal email address. In exchange for your contact’s time, follow up with a thank you note, offer to pay for the coffee, offer future help, etc.


Following these steps is great way to prep for your future interview in a clearly defined way. These steps will help you gather the critical information about your target company, and will put you in a position to wow your interviewer. (Don’t be surprised if your research has you even more informed about the company than your interviewer.)  These steps can also help you if you’ve been with your company for an extended period of time. Oftentimes while in role, we become disconnected with the company as a whole and focus only on our own responsibilities. For this reason, these research steps are not only helpful to the hungry interviewee, but they also valuable to the tenured employee looking for validation in their future work efforts. 


Stress interviews: How to Respond

Stress Interview Tips

Stress Interview Tactics

What are Stress Interviews?

Stress interviews are interviews in which the hiring manager, or interviewer is acting in an intentionally unusual way in order to insight stress (beyond the typical stress levels) in the interviewee. These forms of interviews are most common in industries where stress is a common component of doing business such as in Investment Banking and certain types of consulting. However, depending on the history of the interviewer, this type of interview may creep their way into other industries or fields. Stress interviews can take shape before the interview even begins (by making you wait a significant amount of time past your scheduled start) or more frequently they take form during the interview itself. The interviewer will act inappropriately (by asking unlawful questions), they will stressfully push you to answer questions about your weaknesses or failures, or they will act completely oblivious to your answers, sometimes even resorting to sleeping during portions of the interview. In my opinion, stress interviews are entirely unprofessional, and I would never work for a company that implemented them during my interview phase. But for those of you entering into certain professions (where stress interviews are common), or you are simply extremely hungry for a job, it’s worth knowing what you may be up against.

Types of Stress Interviews:

  1. Ignoring You/Sleeping – This is a frequently discussed, but far less implemented form of stress interview. An administrative assistant will oftentimes lead you to the interviewer’s office where you will find them on their computer, reading a paper, or even sleeping at their desk. The admin assistant (usually in on the ploy) will still lead you to your seat as if the interview were to progress as normal.
  2. Deep Digging into past issues to try to uncover  something embarrassing or personal – This tactic usually revolves around a seemingly menial piece of information such as the worst grade you’ve ever received or some other minor failure. The interviewer will continue to drive into these details to belittle or embarrass you. They will be dismissive of your explanations and focus on the point of failure. They often focus on these seemingly inconsequential topics because they assume you haven’t prepped for questions surrounding these issues.
  3. Case Interview or Job Specific Task (with constant criticism) – Case interviews, or other forms of job-task-specific interview questions are common and valuable forms of interviewing. Where the “stress” portion of these interview questions begins is when the interviewer is constantly criticizing your thought process throughout your response. Additional stress might be introduced by quickly dismissing your answers using phrases such as, “this must be the best you could do, let’s move on” etc. The interviewer may ask you to stand and present your findings visually through the use of a white board or black board to increase your stress levels.
  4. Inappropriate or Unlawful Questioning – In this scenario, the interviewer will attempt to incite stress by asking intentionally probing, or even unlawful questions. In this scenario, the interviewer may ask personal questions about birth plans, significant others, military history, age, etc. This is a very risky tactic for the interviewer to take, as they are putting their career and their company in jeopardy, so it is a less common tactic than the previous examples, but it still does happen (from personal experience.) Either the interviewer is unclear surrounding the legality of their questioning, or they are simply overconfident in their ability to get away with it.

How to React to these Stress Interview Tactics?

  1. Ignore/Sleeping Tactic – In a situation where the interviewer is clearly ignoring you, it is suggested that you politely ask, “if this is a bad time for them, and if it another time would be more suitable for the interview.” If this happens to be a job that you really want, you can aggressively push to have the interview rescheduled. Proclaim that you are an an excellent candidate and would love their full attention to prove your case. If you feel put off by this tactic, then you may politely ask to reschedule the interview with their admin after you have had the chance to consult your schedule. When the admin calls back, let them know that your schedule is too full to meet again, and wish them luck on their candidate search. In the event the interviewer is acting to be asleep at their desk, I would recommend writing a note stating, “that you had arrived to interview per the agreed upon time, but this was evidently a bad time given the interviewer’s state upon arrival.” Offer to have the interview rescheduled for another date and leave quietly explaining the situation admin assistant that led you to the interview. If this ever happened to me, I assure you I would not reschedule the interview — having been so deliberately slighted and in such an amateurish way. But how you proceed is entirely up to you.
  2. Deep digging into personal failures or career shortcomings – This tactic is usually employed to prove that you can maintain composure when presenting to an aggressive superior or client (ex: management consulting). For this reason, it is imperative that you keep your cool. If you have prepared for the interview and are being truthful, you should be ready to fully answer any of their questions, regardless of the subject matter (positive or negative.) Remember to attempt to spin negative performances as learning experiences and be ready to show examples of how your later actions were impacted by this “failure” experience. It is okay to fail, and a pressure interview style should not keep you from being truthful about this experience. In fact, this may be what the interviewer is attempting to uncover — are you humble enough to recognize and recount your failure. This is a stress interview tactic that I don’t necessarily have an issue with as long as it’s done correctly. This type of questioning can really help to ascertain the “real” candidate, and not the polished, slightly embellished person that has prepared for the interview.
  3. Case Interview or Job Specific Task – Whenever possible, you should investigate to see what type of questions the company will be asking. Are case questions common for this company? Or are the questions standard behavioral-based ones?, and other websites found on our MBA Resources Page are great at finding what question types to expect from almost any company. You can also reach out to contacts that you may have from within the company to ask them for advice and hints. Prepping for a case interview can be as in depth as you’d like. Entire books have been written on the subject (ex: the popular Case In Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation by Marc Cosentino), or you could simply watch a number of helpful tutorials on YouTube. I plan to post a case interview prep guide on the CondensedMBA, but that will be left for another day. While case interviews alone are not considered stress interviews, the way the interviewer interacts with you can make it so. For example, if he/she is constantly criticizing your thought process or methods, this can convert a common case interview into more of a stressful one. In this case it is of utmost importance to understand the culture of the company with whom you are interviewing. Are they a company known for their collaboration? Or are they viewed as the imposing experts in their field? For the former,  it may be important for you to combat the interviewers nagging, by asking him to collaborate with you to help find the best solution. Meanwhile, if the firm is viewed more as imposing thought leaders in their field, this is your chance to prove your confidence in your reasoning and your ability to stand up to a tough client. Keep pushing back, with certainty that your calculations are correct, and insist that you are willing to go through the process with your interviewer again if they insist. This confidence in your answers, and your unwavering belief in your correctness, may very well be what the company/interviewer is looking for. My guess, is that if they are trying to stress you out intentionally, the latter scenario is far more likely, so I would error on the side of overconfidence in your answers. Challenge the interviewer as deeply as they are challenging you.
  4. Inappropriate or unlawful questions – As mentioned, this is very risky for an interviewer to do, so this is a rather unlikely stress interview scenario. However, it is not unheard of to be asked inappropriate questions to see how you’ll react. In this scenario, it is imperative to know what you are comfortable answering about your life in an interview. While certain laws govern what an interviewer is actually allowed to ask, it’s important that you know your own boundaries as well. In the event an inappropriate question is asked, you should inform the interviewer that you do not feel comfortable answering the given question. Suggest that you are far more willing to answer questions that will directly prove success in the given position. If the inappropriate questions continued to be asked, simply state that you do not think it is either in your or the company’s best interest moving forward with these questions. Explain that you are fully aware that these types of questions could put both you and your future employer in jeopardy. It is my opinion that asking these types of questions is entirely unprofessional and personally disrespectful. Think long and hard if you even want to work with a company/person that is willing to blatantly break the rules. Examples of inappropriate/unlawful questions include (note: there are some caveats that may make some of these question-types okay): 1.) Gender/sex-based questions, 2.) Age/health related questions, 3.) race/nationality questions, 4.) religious questions, 5.) citizenship/time in the U.S. questions, 6.) military discharge questions, 7.) location of habitation, 8.) etc. A great list to look at before interviewing/being interviewed is: HR World’s 30 Interview Questions You Can’t Ask and 30 Sneaky, Legal Alternatives to Get the Same Info article.


One of the most important things to remember when in a stress interview is that these are simply tactics used to push your buttons and they are used to see how you will react. They are not meant personally (unless your interviewer is an outright jerk.) You must know your boundaries before you enter into an interview, and ensure that you have prepared multiple answers to a variety of question types. Know your story forward and backward, as well as potential weak spots of your past. These are areas where interviewers may attack for more clarity and to put on the pressure. Be able to explain these weaknesses and ensure that these experiences have changed your behavior for the positive. Provide examples of these turnarounds, as well, to solidify your point.

While stress interviews are sometimes relevant to certain industries, I would recommend you think deeply about accepting an offer from a company that uses these tactics to select candidates. Is this the type of environment that you could see yourself thriving? Or is this a morally questionable company that uses inappropriate tactics for “assessing” talent? If you are uncomfortable in the stress interview session, then there is a high likelihood that your future career with that company will be extremely stressful as well. Make these career selection decisions carefully.


If The Interview Went Well You Didn’t Get The Job

Interview Well

Uh oh! My interview went too well.

My Interview Went Well, So I Know I Didn’t Land the Job.

In the past two months, I have been embroiled in an interviewing marathon. Trying to land the perfect job has had me running around town interviewing with 20+ companies to prove my value to their teams. (I am most certainly not complaining, as I know this is extremely unusual in the current job market.) What I found surprised me, and I’m sure it will you too…When I thought the interview went well — I didn’t get the job! When the interview was rough going, and I thought I was being grilled, and answering poorly…I almost always got an offer. What gives?


What was Happening?

While I was surprised after getting rejected following great conversations with hiring managers, I slowly saw what was happening. What I perceived as “hitting it off” with the hiring manager, was their disregarding me as a true candidate — that needed to be pressed to prove my value. The hiring manager had (subconsciously or consciously) determined that they were not moving forward with me as a candidate, so they had no impetus to press for my qualifications or my ability to perform in role. Instead, the interviewer decided to have as simple, friendly discussion with me as a non-candidate. To the person being interviewed (me), this was taken as amicable conversation, that felt like the interview was going well. I recalled my pre-MBA days as an operations manager where I reacted similarly while in a hiring role. When the candidate was someone I wished move forward with, I would challenge them to see how they would perform in role, and if I could trust them. When I knew the candidate was not right for the position, I instead tried to learn more about them as a person/candidate for potentially elsewhere within the organization. So, in other words, I should have seen my rejections a mile away.


How to Combat It?

First, there may be no need to combat the inevitable. Instead if you are able to maintain a pleasant conversation with the hiring manager, they may refer you to another position, or they could even become a valuable part of your future network. Just because you’re not getting the job, does not mean that this person may not be a valuable resource to you in the future.

Secondly, when you see the interview going a bit too friendly, start using your conversation time to ask really intelligent questions about the company and the role. If the interviewer isn’t pressing you, then perhaps you can flip the tables, and change their mind. If you surprise them with insightful questions, they may determine that they’ve had you wrong for the start. Maybe you are worth questioning more as a true candidate.

Lastly, maintain post interview contact. Because the person was friendly with you, they will likely be very forthcoming with advice for how to improve your future candidacy. For example, after one of my interviews I asked for advice surrounding my interview skills. The hiring manager surprised me, when he said I had superb interview skills, but it was a lack of my relevant project experience (branding) that kept him from moving forward with my candidacy. He recommended a number of ways that I could volunteer and organizations that I could join that would have helped overcome the project experience in the short term. I followed his instructions and was offered multiple interviews within other areas of the company. He realized that I was committed to growing and developing, and could add significant value to other areas of the company where I had more experience — transportation/operations. This conversation actually landed me a job with the company just days before they went on an indefinite hiring freeze, unfortunately. Even though the result wasn’t as planned (the freeze), by keeping in touch with the interviewer who originally turned me down helped me get a number of follow up interviews. Remember to stay in touch with your interviewer, but do not become a nuisance (i.e., emailing more that bi-weekly)