Interviews are a mixed bag. There are the easy to answer questions and topics you could talk about all day because they are right up your alley. And then there are those that make interviews the angst-inducing sessions that they are. Some are your personal kryptonite—maybe your storytelling skills are wanting or you’re just not good at improvising. While others are just common, universally dreaded questions that seem to always work their way into interviews. This is where the STAR method comes in: using it can save the day and the interview.
If you struggle to arrange your thoughts into a coherent and concise answer during interviews (hello nerves), this is a technique you want to make use of. Let’s take a look at what it is and how you can use it to answer interview questions like a pro.
What is the STAR Method?
Okay, so what is the STAR method of answering interview questions? The STAR interview method is a technique you can use to prepare for behavioral and situational interview questions.
It provides a simple framework to shape your answer into a fully formed beginning, middle, and conclusion, thus enabling you to tell a meaningful and interesting story.
STAR stands for Situation, Task at hand, Action you took, and Result.
The STAR interview method starts with describing the situation you were involved in. Pick an example from your current or previous job, education, personal experience, or any relevant event that best fits the role you are interviewing for. It should demonstrate the significance of your experience, be difficult or complex, and have a clear resolution.
- The main issue
- How it came about
- Who was involved
Give enough detail to set the scene, but not more than a few sentences.
Here’s a tip from our interview coaches: Don’t be afraid to ask to take a minute to find the right situation.
Next in the STAR format is ‘Task’: Briefly describe your responsibilities in the situation. This may have been as an assignment from your manager, or a task you took on. Perhaps you had to help your organization hit a sales target, meet a tight deadline, or even resolve a conflict with a coworker.
This is the most important part of your STAR format answer and also the section your interviewer is most interested in, so make it count. Now that you’ve painted the scene and given the interviewer a sense of what your previous role entailed, you need to detail the actions you took to resolve the problem, situation, or task.
Give specifics of your contribution:
- Your thought process and how you reached your decisions
- The steps you completed
- The response from the person or situation
- Problems or challenges
- The conclusion of the situation or conflict
This stage should take the most time to answer, so dig in deep and make sure you give enough information.
Do not assume that the interviewer will guess or infer any details — explain everything from the software and tools used, to the time each stage took. Remember to describe the actions you took if you are discussing a group project or task.
This is the final piece of your answer in the STAR interview technique. And it’s a key piece. With all that you have painted in the steps above, your interviewer will definitely be interested to know the positive difference you made in the situation.
This is the part in the STAR interview technique where you talk about:
- What you accomplished
- The benefits of what you delivered
- What you learned
- Things you would do differently in hindsight
Give evidence to prove a success, whether that be in terms of figures or a “before and after” description of the situation. Mentioning positive feedback from a third party is also a great way to offer proof. Your response should hammer home how your actions mattered and the impact they made.
What Kinds of Questions Should Be Answered with the STAR Interview Method?
The STAR interview response method is best used to answer behavioral and situational interview questions. These are questions the interviewer will ask to learn about how you handle certain work situations.
Interviewers are able to gauge whether you have the skills and qualities necessary for high-level performance through analyzing real-life examples of how you handled these situations in the past.
Hiring managers to gauge your skills in the following categories:
- Initiative and leadership
- Interpersonal skills and conflict resolution
- Pressure handling
They usually come up in the first round of interviews.
You might recognize these question openings:
- Tell me about a time when…
- Describe a situation where…
- How do you handle…
- Have you ever…
- Give me an example of…
There is an unlimited number of possible behavioral STAR interview questions a hiring manager could ask. Again, these questions commonly come up early on in the process, meaning they could very well set the tone for the rest of the interview process, or whether you will even proceed at all.
As such, you want to make sure you prep correctly for the first round of interviews, especially how to answer behavioral STAR interview questions.
How to Prep for STAR Questions
1. Do Your Homework
Start your STAR questions prep by coming up with 3–5 stories that collectively demonstrate your qualities according to the common categories listed above. Having your stories prepared ahead of time prevents you from rambling on and on. More importantly, it helps to prepare a targeted response.
This brings us to the next point:
2. Be Concise and Specific
Identify the skills and qualities the company is looking for ahead of time and make sure your story aligns with them. Then, keep your answers short and targeted, mentioning only relevant pieces of information.
Following the STAR method is a great way to avoid being vague or going off-topic.
3. Be Quantitative
Back up your claims with hard numbers and facts.
STAR Method Interview Questions
Let’s take a look at some common STAR method interview questions you should be ready to answer in your next product manager interview. Using these to practice will make your interviews way less stressful and your answers more impactful.
- Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that?
A staple in interviews. The interviewer is looking to gauge your level of teamwork and conflict resolution with this question. For this type of question, illustrate your ability to work with others under challenging circumstances, de-escalate situations and manage different personalities.
- Have you ever failed to meet a client’s expectations? What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation?
This one is highly likely to come up when interviewing for a Product Manager role. It mainly measures your problem-solving skills, but the interviewer will also use it to gauge how you deal with clients. Be sure to mention only situations that were beyond your control.
- Describe a time when you had to interact with a difficult client. What was the situation, and how did you handle it?
A typical question to gauge your client-facing skills. Find an example of a time you were diplomatic and delivered exceptional service despite the challenges.
- Tell me about a time you made sure a customer was pleased with your product.
Your customer experience and service skills are in question here. The interviewer wants to know if you can identify what makes a product a hit with your customers and whether you listen to their needs. Craft your response with this in mind.
- Describe a time you were under a lot of pressure. What happened and how did you handle it?
A good PM works well under pressure and can adapt well in a crisis. Choose a story that highlights these qualities. Bonus points if you can work some problem-solving into the story.
- Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with the situation?
This question measures adaptability and your ability to find the lesson in failure. Be careful not to mention situations that paint you as incompetent or careless.
- Have you ever managed a long-term project? How did you keep everything moving along in a timely manner?
The interviewer is asking you this to get a feel of your organizational skills, time management, and ability to juggle multiple responsibilities. Be sure to highlight only the key situations as this question can have you talking to no end.
- Tell me about a time your responsibilities got a little overwhelming. What did you do?
Meeting deadlines is an important part of any job, so there’s a high possibility that this question will come up. Craft an answer that shows good time management and prioritization skills, and that you know how and when to delegate.
- Give me an example of a time you managed numerous responsibilities. How did you handle that?
A classic test of your multitasking skills. Get ready to talk about how you juggled multiple responsibilities successfully.
- Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone to see things your way at work.
Communication is part of everyday life as a PM. Your interviewer wants to know if you are passionate about your job, can offer constructive feedback, and are a great team player.
- Tell me about a successful presentation you gave and why you think it was a hit.
Can you tell a good story? Do you believe in your product and know how to package it? These are the kind of questions your interviewer wants you to answer with your response.
- What is your proudest product manager accomplishment?
This question highlights your motivation and values in your work. Your response should ideally address this even if it’s not explicitly asked.
- Tell me about a time you were dissatisfied with your work. What could have been done to make it better?
This measures your ability to critique your work and take negative feedback. Give an open and honest answer from a professional’s standpoint.
Example Questions and Answers: Tying it All Together
STAR method interview answers are a great way to market yourself as the perfect Product Manager. Here are a few examples of acing behavioral STAR method interview questions.
Tell me about a time you had to complete a task within a tight deadline. Describe the situation, and explain how you handled it.
I like to plan out my work in stages and tick items off a list, but I can also achieve high-quality results under tight deadlines.
Situation: Once, at a former company, an employee left days before the imminent deadline of one of our projects.
Task: I was asked to assume responsibility for it, with only a few days to learn about and complete the project.
Action: I brought the rest of the team together and delegated work according to strengths.
Result: We completed the assignment just in time and without too much stress or pressure. In hindsight, I believe I handled the pressure well by quickly coming up with an effective plan.
Describe a product or feature decision you made that wasn’t popular. How did you handle implementing it?
Situation: A few years ago, I noticed that customers were not engaging with a chatbot we had created for our app.
Task: As a product manager who needed to ensure an efficient team, I felt that we were directing too much time, energy, and money to a feature that customers did not care about and so we should do away with it. This was not automatically agreed to by my colleagues.
Action: I pulled up the numbers on user behavior patterns and looked at customer reviews that touched on the bot. The facts correlated with my hunch, which convinced others on the team that I had a point.
Result: We shut down the bot temporarily, saving us hours of work and money. This also allowed us to find a better way to communicate with our customers—direct messaging. It also gave us time to create a more intuitive and responsive algorithm for the chatbot.
Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?
Situation: I once misquoted the fees for a particular type of service at the organization where I worked.
Task: I explained my mistake to the client, who appreciated my coming to him early, and my honesty.
Action: I offered him an extra service as a discount. He was very happy about this and ended up paying for the extra service even if he hadn’t intended to in the beginning.
Result: I learned to pay close attention to the details, customer-management skills, and even how to upsell clients.
Practice Makes Perfect
Knowing how to present your best answers to your interviewer is only the beginning. Winning at those PM interviews takes lots of prepping and practice.
Want to learn how to generate more interviews and get through them better? Schedule a free career coaching session with our in-house team of PM Recruiter experts to learn how we can help you ace your interviews and help you kickstart your PM career.