The STAR Interview Technique: Why & How?
You think the interview went perfectly – eye contact, steady voice, dashing smile – but somehow you didn’t get the job. You mentioned every relevant piece of work experience you’ve acquired, but your chances may have been dashed by not using the ‘STAR’ technique.
What is ‘STAR’? It stands for Situation, Task, Approach and Result and it’s a method of answering interview questions that most interviewers now listen out for. It’s a handy way of organising responses to behavioural or competency-based questions, i.e. questions about the tasks you’ve accomplished and the skills you used.
Why? ‘STAR’ is helpful for both the interviewer and the interviewee. Having this simple, easy-to-remember frame can focus your anxious mind, and make your answers more concise. This means the interviewer can easily find proof that you have the skills they’re after, rather than trying to spot it in the middle of a long, rambling story.
Here’s an example. Let’s say the interviewer asks you to ‘tell me about a time you had to complete a task under a tight deadline.’ You’d order your response like this:
Situation – was was the context?
Here, you should briefly describe the events leading up to being given the task. Give details, such as the name of the company, the time frame and job title.
E.g. ‘When I was working as a copywriter for X Magazine, a story broke about a Hollywood sex abuse scandal. That night, the individual was set to attend Y Award Show. My editor wanted an article written up about the story within Z hours, before the show was broadcast.’
Task – what was required of you?
‘Task’ and ‘Situation’ are easily confused. The main difference is that here you should state the work expected of you because of the situation.
E.g. ‘I was chosen to write the piece, so I needed to research, write and edit an article about the individual within Z hours.’
Approach – also known as Activity or Action.
This should form the bulk of your response, as you get to demonstrate the skills asked for on the job description and prove that you are capable of applying them in a professional, real life setting.
E.g. ‘I eliminated distractions by going to the library. I divided my time between research, writing and editing to insure the article was accurate and of a high quality, despite the need to rush. I used Google to find similar articles on popular platforms. I maintained productivity using the Pomodoro Technique, then read the article aloud to check for mistakes.’
Result – how successfully did you handle the task? What happened next?
First talk about the success of the task you were given – in this case, the fact that you got it done before the deadline – but also try to suggest how this benefits the company as a whole.
E.g. ‘The article was published in time for the award show. I then shared it on social media, and Google Analytics showed that this attracted 1,000 readers and increased activity on the website.’
Some interviewers might help you out by using the ‘STAR’ method themselves, prompting you with the questions above. But it’s useful to integrate the technique into your interview prep so that you can recognise the types of questions ‘STAR’ is perfect for.
Sentence starters like ‘tell me about a time when’ or ‘can you give an example of’ are good clues that the interviewer is looking for a ‘STAR’-structured answer.
Many top companies are moving away from behavioural interviews altogether and opting for ‘strength-based interviews’. These focus on emotions and preferences, where you might be asked ‘what item always gets left until last on your to-do list?’ or ‘what gets you out of bed in the morning?’
Don’t worry too much about sticking rigidly to the structure; it’s mainly there to help you focus and organise your interview so you can quickly get the key points across.
Inspiring Interns is a recruitment agency specialising in all the internships and graduate jobs London has to offer.