Career Advice

What is the STAR Technique

Paul Brown
09.05.23

Have you ever considered using the STAR method in your job interview? Firstly, congratulations on getting called for a first stage interview! This is no mean feat considering that on average 118 candidates apply for a single role of whom just 20% get called for an interview. Most interview questions require you to draw on your previous experiences to showcase your skills and demonstrate your problem-solving abilities. But as a recent graduate, possibly applying to their first job, how do you answer these questions?

The best way to do this is by using the STAR interview technique, which involves building a narrative that showcases all your strengths in a real-case scenario. Think of it as storytelling! Hiring managers interviewing recent graduates don’t expect them to cite instances of leading teams and managing large-scale projects. But they still want to get an idea of how you respond in a crisis situation and how you apply other soft skills like teamwork, communication and time management. You could cite any volunteering work you did or any extracurricular activities or societies you were a part of as examples of how you handled a situation.

No matter what stage of your career you’re in – whether a recent graduate or a seasoned professional – job interviews can be daunting for most people. So, let’s take a look at how the STAR technique works and how it can help you ace your next interview.

What’s in this article?

What is the STAR method?

The STAR method is a behavioural-based interview technique that allows you to tell a story by giving details about the Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

The STAR method has become an increasingly popular way of answering interview questions. The clear four-pronged format of the STAR technique provides a structured and logical way to describe how you responded to specific situations in the past and the results of your actions. 

How does the STAR technique work?

The STAR method is an effective way to convey a story that is concise and easy to understand and highlights the problem and resolution. Let’s take a look at each of the four components of the STAR technique in more detail…

Situation

This is your opportunity to set the scene! Start by providing a brief overview of the situation you were in and include any relevant details or background information that can help provide more context. This will help the hiring manager to understand how your response is relevant to the question and provides a foundation for the rest of your answer.

Task

Once you have described the situation, move on to explain the task or goal that you need to achieve in that particular situation. The task may have been assigned to you or you may have identified what was required to address the situation. This helps the hiring manager to gain a clearer picture of your ability to identify and work towards specific objectives.

Action

This is the most important part of your story! Describe the specific actions you took to address the situation and achieve the desired outcome, as this will demonstrate your problem-solving skills and your ability to take the initiative. Specify whether it was a team effort or you did it alone and share as many details as possible. This gives the hiring manager the opportunity to understand your effectiveness in making decisions and achieving results.

Result

End your story by illustrating the positive outcome of your actions. If you are able to quantify the results to emphasise the impact your actions had then that’s even better! And, don’t forget to talk about the key lessons that you learned.

When should you use the STAR method in interviews?

The STAR method is commonly used to answer competency-based questions and behavioural questions. As a general rule of thumb, the STAR technique can be used to answer questions about a) your behaviour, b) specific examples of your experiences or accomplishments and c) any questions that require you to tell a story. Using the STAR method allows you to provide clear examples that demonstrate your abilities in a way that is easy for the interviewer to evaluate.

Questions that prompt you to recall a real-life example of how you behaved in the past are easy to recognise. They typically start with openings like:

Preparing a few standard STAR interview questions before hand is a great way to prepare for an interview. It builds your confidence and prevents you being caught off-guard. Interviews can be stressful as they are. Here’s how to prepare for an interview so you can put your best foot forward, every time.

But the STAR method is not just for interviews. You can use the STAR technique to draft your CV and cover letter. Admittedly, a CV has space constraints so you may have to summarise your STAR examples – focusing on the Actions and Results.

However, with a cover letter you have the perfect opportunity to use the STAR method to explain how you handled a previous job or function. For example – if one of the criteria listed in the job description is ‘good time management skills’, you want to describe a situation where you were required to use your time management skills and what that resulted in. Read our top tips on how to write a cover letter.

11 Examples of STAR interview questions

Here are some examples of STAR interview questions that the hiring manager may ask you to understand your behaviour better:

  1. Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer or client. How did you handle the situation?
  2. Have you ever worked on a project that required you to collaborate with others?
  3. Tell me about a situation when you had to solve a problem under pressure. How did you deal with it?
  4. Can you provide an example of a time when you had to adapt to a change in circumstances?
  5. Can you describe a time when you had to learn a new skill or technology quickly?
  6. Give me an example of when you made a mistake at work. What did you do about it?
  7. Explain a time when you failed. What lessons did you learn?
  8. Can you give an example of when you had to take the initiative to solve a problem?
  9. Describe an example of when you had to deliver a difficult message to someone. How did you go about it?
  10. Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult team member. How did you handle the situation?
  11. What do you do when you need to prioritise tasks or projects?

How to use the STAR technique to answer interview questions (with examples)

The best way to use the STAR technique to answer interview questions is to identify and separate each section and come up with an answer for each. Use the following STAR template to help you:

Remember the examples you provide using the STAR method would vary in their levels of detail between CVs, cover letters and the actual interview.

Let us consider a previous example of a competency-based question: Tell us about a time when you disagreed with a colleague. How can you use the STAR method to answer this?

Provide context on the Situation

In this first step you have to provide background information. For example –

I was involved in fundraising for our university’s theatre club. But just before the annual show the college had an outbreak of COVID-19 cases and had to restrict the number of people allowed in enclosed places at any given time. The head of the theatre club wanted to cancel the show. But doing that would mean losing the majority of our funds from ticket sales. I didn’t agree with this and wanted to find an alternative solution.

Emphasise the Task

The Head of the theatre club had to comply with the university’s decision but recognised our need for funds and the effort that had gone into fundraising.

In some cases you can combine the Situation and Task segments.

Explain your Action

I suggested we stage the production with only the actors and backstage players needed – in an empty auditorium and live stream the production on our university’s internal network. This would restrict the number of people to the Uni’s stipulated number.

I worked with the AV and IT departments to film and stream the event. We also lowered ticket prices which while raising lesser money that we’d hoped – proved a better option than cancelling the show.

Showcase your Result

The result should highlight exactly what you achieved as a result of your actions.

We managed to raise X amount for the theatre club and paved the way for more live-streaming options going forward.

You can use the STAR method to explain most situations where your key competencies and core skills have been tested. As in the above example, the experiences you draw from don’t strictly have to be professional work-related scenarios. You could just as easily cite examples of any volunteering work or campus gigs. The STAR method is just a useful blueprint for organising and structuring your narrative.

What are the pros and cons of the STAR technique

Now that we know more about the STAR method is and how to use in interviews, let’s consider some of the main pros and cons of the technique.

PROSCONS
Makes you appear and feel confident when going into the interview.Responses can seem unauthentic and prevent the interviewer from seeing the ‘real’ you.
Prevents you from rambling too much, which can be a giveaway of nervousness.Can lead to you inadvertently giving too much information while explaining the situation.
Provides a clear structure for your answers, so you don’t go into too much detail.May limit your ability to think creatively when answering questions,
Easier to organise your thoughts and communicate your experiences logically.Can make it difficult for you to stand out from other candidates.
Highlights your accomplishments and how you contributed to the success of your previous employers.Limits your ability to showcase all your skills, especially if the interviewer asks questions that aren’t easily answered using the STAR method.
Makes it easier for the interviewer to determine if you’re a good fit for the job.May prevent you from providing a complete answer to every question, especially if there are time constraints.

How to prepare for a behavioural interview

It’s essential to prepare yourself for any interview, but more so for a behavioural interview, as you need to be equipped with plenty of examples. By researching the company and the job requirements, reflecting on your own experiences and skills, and practising your responses to behavioural interview questions using the STAR method, you can feel more confident and prepared for the interview.

Here are some tips on how you can prepare for an interview, so you can put your best foot forward, every time.

But the STAR method is not just for interviews! You can use the STAR technique to draft your CV and cover letter. Admittedly, a CV has space constraints so you may have to summarise your STAR examples – focusing on the Actions and Results.

However, with a cover letter, you have the perfect opportunity to use the STAR method to explain how you handled a previous job or function. For example – if one of the criteria listed in the job description is ‘good time management skills’, you want to describe a situation where you were required to use your time management skills and what that resulted in. Read our top tips on how to write a cover letter and how to write a CV with no experience.

Ace your interview with the STAR technique!

The STAR method can seem daunting at first, but with some preparation and a little practice, it will soon become second nature. Remember to be specific, focus on your actions and results, and demonstrate the skills and experiences required for the job. By using the STAR technique, you can provide clear and concise examples that showcase your abilities and demonstrate how you can add value to the company.

It can be a really useful way to structure and audit your responses to questions both in and out of an interview. In fact, hiring managers encourage applicants to use the STAR technique! When used correctly, it makes you sound confident and professional, so you can sell yourself as a worthy candidate. Before you know it, you will be able to confidently and effectively respond to behavioural interview questions, increasing your chances of success.

Are you a recent graduate looking for your first role? Apply to FDM’s award-winning Graduate Careers Programme today to become a business or technical consultant.