STAR Interview Method: Everything You Need to Know

Alex Woodward |
Alex is a Growth Marketing Manager at Snagajob, where she works with sales to help connect businesses with the right workers. Her first hourly job was as a barista at Caribou Coffee.

Picture this. You’re in the middle of a job interview for a customer service position. Everything seems to be going well, you’re having a good conversation with the hiring manager about your resume, and then they ask you to share about “a time when you provided great customer service.” But as soon as you hear those words, your mind goes blank! It happens sometimes, especially with questions that require you to tell a story about your past experiences. 

In most job interviews, employers will ask a variety of questions including behavioral interview questions. Behavioral interview questions are especially common in customer service interviews, so you should always come prepared with anecdotes that showcase your professional experience. One of the best ways to tackle behavioral interview questions is to use the S.T.A.R. interview method. Read on for a S.T.A.R. method interview prep guide for customer service!

What is a behavioral interview question?

Before getting to the S.T.A.R. method, let’s have a quick refresher on behavioral interview questions. These are typically asked in a format like "Tell me about a time when…" or “Describe a situation where you…”. Interviewers use these types of questions to predict your on-the-job performance. They want to see how you would and have handled situations in the workplace. A behavioral interview question might sound like one of the following:

  • Describe a specific situation where you provided excellent customer service. Why was it effective?

  • Tell me about a time when you handled a difficult customer.

  • Give an example of a time when you made a mistake on the job and how you fixed it.

Behavioral interview questions might sound scary. An easy, helpful way to tackle these types of questions is to use the S.T.A.R interview method. 

What is the S.T.A.R. interview method?

The S.T.A.R. method is a technique for answering behavioral interview questions by telling a concise story. It involves four steps:

  1. Situation: Give the interviewer a brief summary of the context, including the problem you were solving or goal you were looking to achieve. This should answer the basics such as who, what, when and where.

  2. Task: Explain exactly what was required of you. List your responsibilities and game plan to resolve the situation. 

  3. Action: Describe what steps you took to reach a solution. This is a great time to list obstacles you had to overcome during the process. Feel free to elaborate on your thought process so that the interviewer gets a better sense of how you think.

  4. Result: This is probably the most important part of the S.T.A.R interview method. It's like the ending to a story. Explain the outcome of the situation and any lessons you learned along the way that could help you the next time around. If you have any clear metrics, such as an increase in sales, or a tangible outcome, such as a new customer review, this is the time to share it!

The S.T.A.R. method gives you a clear sense of direction for your story, including a beginning, middle and end. It also prevents you from rambling when answering behavioral interview questions. 

How to prepare for an interview using the S.T.A.R. method

While you won’t usually know the questions that your hiring manager plans to ask, it helps to prepare good customer service stories for interviews, fitting within the S.T.A.R. method format. For customer service, S.T.A.R. interview questions will often ask about your interactions with other people, especially customers, coworkers and supervisors. A good starting point is to think of some specific examples of times where you solved a problem, dealt with customers’ problems successfully or handled conflicts with clients or coworkers. 

It also helps to review the job description again, especially the section where it lists out job responsibilities. Chances are, the hiring manager will ask about situations related to those specific tasks, which may include handling customer complaints, maintaining records and providing instructions for customers. The behavioral interview questions that a hiring manager asks for a remote position may be slightly different than questions for an in-person position, so keep this in mind too during your interview prep.

Preparing S.T.A.R. interview answers if you don’t have industry experience

If you’ve never held a job in the industry or position that you’re interviewing for, then think back to anecdotes from previous school projects, jobs or internships. For example, that babysitting gig you had as a teenager might yield some relevant stories for a customer service interview. Similarly, your summer job as a cashier at an ice cream shop probably taught you many of the relevant skills you would use in a customer service position. It’s important to always be honest in your interviews and never invent stories based on what you think the hiring manager wants to hear.

Examples of S.T.A.R. interview questions for customer service

Before your interview, it helps to run through a few examples of S.T.A.R. method interview questions with a friend, family member or former coworker. Still not sure where to start? Check out these examples for answering common behavioral interview questions using the S.T.A.R. method:

Q: Tell me about a time you had to handle a customer complaint.

A: “(Situation) I once had a customer call and complain that they waited over two weeks for a reply regarding their order. (Task) As the customer service rep on duty that day, I needed to address the customer’s complaint and figure out what went wrong with their order. (Action) First, I apologized and got their order details. Then, I passed the information along to my manager that contacted them within the hour. I investigated why no one followed up about the order. It turned out that the company had the wrong cell phone number and email address on file. I let the customer know about the mix-up, confirmed her updated contact information and offered her a discount on her next order. (Results) In the end, the customer was happy with how we resolved the situation. She not only continued ordering from us, but posted a positive review online.“

Q: Tell me about a time when you needed to handle a lot of customers at once.

A: “(Situation) I was working for a retail store during the holidays, and we had a lot of customers coming in the week after Christmas to return items. Customers were waiting in the return line for 10-15 minutes, which was causing frustration for some of them. (Task) I was one of two staff members stationed at the return counter, so I was responsible for processing customers’ returns during this busy period. (Action) To help speed up the process, I recommended to my manager that we post a sign next to the counter that spelled out instructions for customers: to already have their item, receipt and payment method ready to go when it was their turn. (Results) By adding the sign with instructions, we decreased the average wait time on the return line from 15 minutes to 5 minutes, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and a more efficient workflow.”

Q: Describe a time that you provided great customer service.

A: “(Situation) While I was working as a cashier, a customer was struggling to carry her groceries out to her car while pushing a stroller with her two young children. (Task) I was one of three cashiers at the register that day, and I had just finished checking out her groceries when I noticed that she was having trouble. So I decided to help. (Action) First, I asked my two coworkers at the other registers if they could handle the remaining customers in line so I could help the woman carry the groceries to her car. They agreed, so I put up my “Register Closed” sign and assisted the customer in carrying the groceries outside. (Results) The customer was so happy for the help. She thanked me after I helped her load the groceries into her car. When she got home, she even called the customer support line listed on her receipt to give a glowing review—and she mentioned my name!“

Practice makes perfect

Using the S.T.A.R. format, you’re sure to deliver well thought out answers that will really impress the hiring manager. Do your research in advance, practice a few anecdotes based on your professional experiences and rock that interview. Good luck!