Inside the STAR interview approach: what you need to know

STAR technique

You've researched the organisation, prepared answers and even found out a bit about the CEO. However, once you’ve exchanged pleasantries and got through the get-to-know-you questions, they ask you to describe the biggest contribution you have brought to your project team. This may sound simple, but in the heat of the interview, it's easy to give a lengthy, unstructured answer and miss out key details that prove you have the experience to do the job.

One way of avoiding this is by using the STAR (situation, task, action and result) technique to structure your response. This will help you to provide a well-articulated answer that shines the light on your skills and, ultimately, shows the interviewer the problem solving, revenue generating, superhero that you are.

What is the STAR technique?

Used at its best, the STAR technique is invisible to the interviewer and is a great tool for you to answer competency-based questions effectively.

Here's a guide on how to use the STAR technique in all its simple, succinct, concise glory:

Question: “Tell me about a recent project you are proud of?”

Response:

  • Situation - set the scene: "As a system engineer with ABC Solutions in 2015, one of my main clients, Prince Crowns, was a 150 user Microsoft environment.”
  • Task - what were you required to do? Be specific: “On the project, it was my task to migrate this environment from Windows Server 2008 to 2012, I activated the migration software whilst simultaneously managing the ticket queue for those existing users.”
  • Action - tell us what actions you took: ”I carried out a current state assessment of the environment and future state GAP analysis. I worked to understand the service apps to be delivered and managed any associated compliance issues. Myself and my co-worker worked together to create a transition plan and conducted tests. We set the Change control and Change window and then executed over a two day period.”
  • Result - what was the outcome? (This could be your crowning glory): “We worked some long days and nights, and that continued the following week with a few post transition issues, but ultimately we delivered the migration project on time and with no major hitches. 150 users came into work on Monday and barely noticed the changeover. I was awarded the ‘Shining Star’ award for my customer support and efficient delivery from the manager at Prince’s."

Preparation matters

Implementing the technique often takes practice and preparation is important:

  • Research the top 5 competency-based questions: Find out which questions are commonly asked, e.g. "Your last role seemed like a chaotic one, so tell me about time in that role when you had to manage multiple projects/people/issues to reach a successful outcome? and "what are you most proud of in your career?"
  • Avoid lengthy responses: Be specific – and not general. Be concise. Interviewers don’t have long.
  • Practice, practice, practice: Use the technique to prepare and memorise answers on a variety of different topics, and practice with anyone who will listen.

I honestly can’t advocate the STAR technique and how valuable learning this question answering format will be for you enough. I’ve witnessed countless moments with candidates I have interviewed, where the STAR technique could have helped them to easily and effectively articulate their experience and avoid appearing under-prepared and lacking the relevant skills. And for hirers? Resoundingly the feedback I receive from them indicates that the candidates adopting the STAR approach have appeared less nervous and come across as more skilled, experienced and insightful.