How to use the STAR technique for interviews

May 22, 2020
By Sarah Blunt
About

If there's one thing you can be certain of before an interview, it's that the more time you spend preparing for it, the more confident you're going to feel. With competency interviews remaining popular with employers, preparing to answer competency questions should be one of your main priorities. Although these can be tricky, there's a simple approach you can take to help you structure your answers to these questions and keep calm under pressure on the interview day – the STAR technique. In this post I'll talk you through everything you need to know about using the STAR technique for interviews.

The STAR technique: what is it?

STAR is a framework to help structure your answers to competency-based interview questions. These are questions that are based on the assumption that your past behaviour is the best predicator of your future behaviour. They commonly start with: ‘Tell me about a time when…’, ‘Describe a situation in which you…’ or ‘Give an example of…’ and invite you to give examples from the past to demonstrate a particular skill or competency.

Each letter in STAR refers to a particular focus of the scenario as follows:

  • Situation: Where were you? What was your role?
  • Task: What needed to be done? What was the project’s goal? What were you aiming for? What was your objective?
  • Action: What did YOU do? How did YOU do it? What were YOUR actions? How did YOU work towards the task?
  • Result: What was the outcome? How did you know you had been successful? What did you learn from the experience?

If you find the STAR framework difficult to remember you can use CAR instead (Context, Action, Result). Just combine the ‘Situation’ and ‘Task’ from STAR into ‘Context’.

The STAR technique for interviews helps you to stay focused on the details of your examples that matter most to the employer - your actions and the result.

Make your STAR examples shine

Plan your STAR technique in style with this printable Interview Answer Mind Map. Each sheet has space for 4 examples and can be printed as many times as you need!
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Example answer using STAR

Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer. How did you handle it?

Situation

“When I was working as a Floor Manager last year a customer came in to the store and started complaining loudly to one of our till staff. She was very upset and it began disturbing other customers.”
 

Task

“As a Floor Manager, I knew my job was to assist her and find out exactly what was wrong.”

Action

“I wasn’t serving any customers so I immediately went over to her. She was very annoyed and customers were nearby, so I asked her if she wouldn’t mind accompanying me to a quieter area of the store. She calmed down slightly after this and so I used open questions to invite her to talk and active listening techniques to demonstrate I was giving her my full attention. I found out she had ordered a book that had not arrived by the promised date. I was very apologetic and sympathetic. I found her order on our system and realised the book had been delivered to our other store across town. I offered for someone to bring the book over within the hour and gave her 10% off the price as a goodwill gesture.”

Result

“When the customer returned to pick up the book later in the afternoon she was very thankful. She even wrote a letter to my manager to praise my handling of the situation!”

Top tips on using the STAR technique for interviews

  • Have 2-3 examples to draw on for each competency the employer is looking for
  • Focus on recent examples (in the last 1-2 years) and if you can, pick a range to draw on from different jobs/experiences
  • Record the key points for each example. I find using a mind-map really helps
  • Plan to speak about your actions (the A in STAR) in the most detail
  • If you have time in the interview, consider reflecting on the experience and what you learnt (some people remember this as the extra R after reflection)
  • Write down each example on a cue-cards to help learn them
  • If your mind goes blank and you can't think of an example to a question, ask your interviewers if you can return to the question at the end of the interview – most will be happy to do this

Now you know how to use the STAR technique for interviews, the next step is to start practicing! Get feedback on your technique by scheduling a practice interview today.

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