How to successfully answer interview questions using the CAR and STAR format

How to successfully answer interview questions using the CAR and STAR format

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9 months ago

by Russell Adams

How to successfully answer interview questions using the CAR and STAR format

​How to successfully answer Interview Questions

When attending any interview, there is a significant amount of preparation required if you are going to give yourself the best possible chance of success. Each interview process will have its unique elements and navigating these different styles of interviews can be a challenge in its own right!

Irrespective of which format the interview takes, you need to be prepared to answer the questions in the best possible way. This isn’t just about saying the right thing; it is about structuring your answer in the right way and providing tangible evidence so that the interviewer is absolutely clear about what you are capable of.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in an interview is talking too much. If you have a good interviewer, they should be allowing you to do most of the talking however it is important to strike the balance between verbosity and clarity! There is nothing worse as an interviewer, than meeting a candidate who you know can do the job but who either cannot express their abilities clearly enough or who bores you senseless with overly long-winded responses!

So, what can you do to prepare yourself to answer questions thoroughly and succinctly?

Competency Based interviews are so widely used it is worth brushing up and ensuring you have a good idea of which competencies the interviewer will be looking to assess for a particular role.

Once you have drawn up a list of the competencies needed to do your target job, you should then create your list of examples of how you have demonstrated each competency. This will give you confidence that, whether the question posed is about Leadership or Problem Solving, you will have a mental list at the ready!

The next stage is to get your structure right and this is where the CAR or STAR formats can help you.

A Competency Based Interview asks you to outline how you have performed in a specific situation in the past. Using the CAR or STAR structure will enable the interviewer to get the detail they need from you in the limited time available.

An example of a Competency Based Interview question and CAR response is as follows:

“Tell me about a time when you had to persuade people to your way of thinking”


“I needed to postpone the launch date of a new product and create a contingency plan due to product development issues”


“I asked all Team Leaders for their thoughts and ideas. I had to bring opinions together to find a way forward. I summarised and took responsibility for drawing up the plans and presenting a report to my Manager”


“My Manager agreed with my proposal and the plan was implemented. The product launched successfully with the technical issues resolved”

The STAR format tends to lend itself to more complex examples where there is greater detail required and where you need to guard against being too long-winded.

An example of a Competency Based Interview question and STAR response is as follows:

“Describe a time when you had to manage a conflict situation amongst your team”


Two Store Managers in my Area were asked to work together on a project for Head Office. They had differing views about how to implement a new procedure and were vocal in Area meetings about their disagreements. This caused tension on the Area and led to a lack of buy-in to the new procedure from the wider team. They risked delaying the project launch which would raise concerns at Head Office.


Firstly I had to understand why the conflict had arisen and consider what could be done to find a common ground.

This had to be done quickly to avoid missing the implementation deadline.

A new strategy had to be communicated to the wider team to allay any concerns they had about the imminent change.


I spoke to both Store Managers individually to understand their opinion.

I sought advice from the project team at Head Office to clarify certain points and alleviate their respective concerns.

I met both of them and directed them towards a new approach.

I set clear targets about what they needed to achieve.


By acting as intermediary, I was able to provide clarity and get additional information to help them reach common ground.

I supported them to put a plan in place which alleviated some of the pressure they felt in delivering the project.

By communicating more clearly with the wider team, they were able to get more co-operation.

The project was implemented on time and was viewed as a success by Head Office.

The key to each of these is to break down each example into the relevant section. It encourages you to separate out the Context of the situation from the Action you took. Most importantly, it makes you focus on the end Result. What did you actually achieve? Can you back this up with specific figures or percentage increases?

By working through each of your examples in this way, you will find that you naturally adopt this clarity of style. As ever, you will get better with practice and rest assured that your interviewer will appreciate your efforts!

Doing this well will make you credible and enable the interviewer to visualise you in the role along with providing tangible results to reinforce your examples.

Hopefully, it will also mean that, however structured the interview, it will flow well and give the interviewer time at the end for more informal questioning.

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