I’ve never been a big fan of job interviews. I enjoy writing cover letters. Seriously. Cold e-mails? After years of freelancing, I can compose them half-asleep. But job interviews? I would ‘um’ and ‘ah’ and trail off mid-sentence. Despite knowing how competent I would be in the role, I wouldn’t come across as confident — at all.
That was until I discovered the STAR technique.
In a uni workshop on how to prepare for job interviews, they taught me this way of formatting answers to questions, and it honestly changed the interview game for me. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. It’s a way of formatting a story to answer a ‘how’, ‘why’ or open-ended question, like ‘Can you tell us about a time you demonstrated initiative?’.
“Highlighting key achievements from your career history is a powerful way to demonstrate your capability to a future employer, enabling them to determine if you can contribute to their organisation if you successfully secure a role,” says Ruth Beran, National Careers Advisor from The College of Law.
“It is also a crucial way to stand out, particularly if an employer is comparing you with other candidates who only list role responsibilities or key skills,” she adds.
Beran explains what the acronym letters of STAR stand for (with my two-cents in, too):
Situation: Describe the background of a work situation (employer, time frame, role). For instance, in my case, “I was working as a Lifestyle Editor at Val Morgan Digital, one year into the role.”
Task: Talk about your responsibilities or the tasks you had to complete. In my case, “I was asked to grow the e-mail database so the content our writers produced could reach more people in newsletters.”
Action: What you did to address the issue or problem. Use an action verb like implemented, designed, increased, reduced, led, and initiated. My case: “I ran one competition a month with entrants opting into our newsletter.”
Result: Focus on outcomes and quantify the end result where possible. My situation? “As a result, I was able to grow our e-mail database to [insert impressive stat here, which you will just have to imagine because I’m mid-task and don’t have the actual number yet] and therefore increase views on our content.”
In the workshop where I learned this, the tutor told us to map out three work scenarios like the one I’d outlined before any job interview. Then, whatever ‘how’, ‘why’ or ‘show us’ question or prompt you get, you can tailor one of the three STAR answers to it. So, ever since I learned it, whenever I’m asked those tricky questions in interviews, I reply with polished answers.
“Giving specific and contextualised STAR examples will ensure that you are remembered when you apply for roles,” explains Beran. Also, it’s worth noting the STAR technique can also be used to communicate your key achievements in written form too, like in your cover letter or CV.
Next time you’re prepping for an important job interview, it’s at least worth trying out the STAR technique.