Interview Tips: STAR Technique

Knowing how to answer competency questions can often be your key to success at an interview. Whilst we can’t provide you with the exact response you’ll be able to use, we can make sure you approach each one the right way, and it’s all about the technique.

What is STAR?

The STAR technique is designed to guide you through competency-based interview questions, often questions starting with ‘Tell me about a time you did X’.

Competency questions are generally used to find out how candidates would react to certain situations, by asking for real-world examples to back-up their claims.

Don’t let their open-ended nature fool you. There is a formula you can apply to keep your answers on track, which is where STAR comes in. Here’s a breakdown of how to approach each letter:

S – Situation

Think of this section as ‘setting the scene’. Provide the interviewer with a bit of background about the questions and give them some context. Try and be specific by including names and dates wherever appropriate, to help add credibility.

Example:

At Company Name Ltd, I was responsible for representing the firm at tradeshows. My second year there, it just so happened that three events we usually attended, were scheduled within a month of each other – generally, they were spread out over a much longer period of time.

T -Task

Build on the background you’ve given and outline the task at hand. Specifically, how did the situation relate to you? What were the major tasks you needed to undertake to resolve it? Include how important or difficult the situation was to overcome, as well as any constraints you came up against.

Example:

It meant a tremendous amount of work was compressed into a really tight window of time. These shows were a huge source of lead generation for the company, so it was essential we attended and presented our products in the best light.

A – Approach

Translation: What did you actually do to resolve the situation?

Outline the steps you took to ensure a successful outcome, without being tempted to take all the credit.

The key to effectively incorporating the ‘approach’ part of your answer is to identify what skills the interviewer really wanted to see and reinforce them throughout.

Example:

I hate to say I can’t take something on at work, but I took a long, hard look at the situation and realised preparing all three up to the standards I’d want was going to be impossible. So I sat down and prioritised the events. One, I realised was much less relevant to us, so I scheduled a meeting with my manager and we agreed to focus on only two events. Once that was settled, I could draw up a detailed to-do list with interim deadlines for each item so that I’d have all the materials I needed to really represent the company well.

R – Result

Finally, it’s time for the pay-off. What was the outcome of the situation? Remember, everyone loves a happy ending and recruiters are no different. Make your happy ending quantifiable and you’ll really have nailed your answer.

Example:

The two events were run effectively and I was really happy with them as no problems occurred. I was able to bring several really solid leads back to our sales department. One of them actually resulted in a £100,000 contract, so in the end, I was pleased I’d made the call to eliminate one event.

Final Note

It’s particularly important to prepare for this sort of interview. Put some concrete, quantifiable details down on paper, which could fit a range of situations. All jobs involve difficulties. The interview is trying to figure out how you’ll handle them.

STAR is a structured system, it can help guide your answers and calm your nerves, but don’t follow it too rigidly – you’re not a robot! Make sure your responses flow naturally.

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