Using the STAR technique in an interview

by Jennifer Harper

Got an interview coming up? Filling in an application form? Do you struggle to find the right answer? You know what you want to say, but it just doesn’t come out the way you think it should?

Stop! Don’t worry. The STAR technique will help.

The STAR technique is a very simple and easy to remember method that can help you to structure your answers in a way that will show your skills to prospective employers.

The beauty with this technique is that you can use it when completing a job or study applications, and you can also use it in an interview – the same method applies. You can also apply the STAR method to your CV personal statement.

So what does STAR stand for?

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

That sounds simple enough, but how do you apply it?

If filling in a job or study application form, you should use the questions as your guide. Break the question down – what are they asking you? What skills are they looking for? Do you have this experience?

If attending an interview, the job description will outline ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ requirements. These will give an indication of the type of questions you will be asked. For instance, ‘good communication skills’, ‘team-work’, ‘problem-solving’, or ‘work to tight deadlines’.

Sample questions

The questions you are being asked are ‘competency-based’ questions. Or ‘skills’ based. These are often worded:

  • Tell me a time when you had to meet a tight deadline.
  • Give an example of when you worked as part of a team.
  • When working on multiple projects, how do you prioritise?
  • Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?

So how do you answer these?

Think of examples. Remember these can come from your current or previous employment, work experience or voluntary work. You can also draw on experience from your personal life, from school, college, university, and from clubs or organisations of which you are a member or leader.

What was the Task you faced? Describe what you had to do in order to solve this situation.

What Action did you actually take? (This should form approximately 50% of your whole answer.) Describe what you did in order to tackle the situation.

  • Why did you tackle it this way?
  • What did you learn from this?
  • Would you have tackled it differently if faced with the same situation again?
  • This is the opportunity to really demonstrate your skills.

What was the Result?

  • What did you achieve as a result of your actions?
  • Did this resolve the situation?
  • Try to focus on a positive outcome.
  • How did this benefit your employer/club/university?

Occasionally a competency-based question will focus on a negative situation – such as ‘tell me about a time when you didn’t meet a deadline’. Apply the STAR technique to this answer, but try to quickly turn the negative into a positive. Focus on the actions you took, and also if you learned new skills as a result of this situation.

In essence, using the STAR technique helps you to:

  • Tell a story
  • Highlight your strengths
  • Focus on positive results

Tip: If answering competency questions in an application, ensure you keep a copy of your answers so that you can refer back to them in the future when completing other applications or when preparing for interview.

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