In an interview situation, you need to fit the most amount of relevant information about yourself into the shortest amount of time possible.
There are many ways to do this – the problem is that some of them will lead to long or overly complex answers, in which you can lose your direction or bore the interviewer.
Enter the STAR interview technique, which aims to provide a clear and concise structure when answering interview questions, to ensure that your interview runs as smoothly as possible.
STAR is an acronym of the four stages needed to answer a typical interview question. Following this format is especially recommended for competency based interviews, where you will need to demonstrate particular competencies such as teamwork, organisation and leadership to your interviewer by drawing upon your previous experience.
The four stages of answering an interview question using the STAR technique are:
When answering a question, you will first need to describe a situation that you were in at the time of the experience you are using.
This may be an experience from your previous employment, university or extra-curricular activities. Such a situation must be relevant to the competency you are demonstrating, and must be a unique situation specific to a fixed point of time.
You must make sure that the situation is appropriate and doesn’t include any behaviour that could be deemed unprofessional. Also, make sure that the situation use isn’t one highly specific to a previous industry that your interviewer might not understand. This is because some sectors, such as the legal sector, often involve lots of technical jargon.
The next stage of using the STAR approach is the task or challenge that you were presented with in that particular scenario.
This can be something as simple as fixing a computer, or something as complex as creating a piece of software, as long as it is something that needed to be done.
Make sure to explain the importance of completing the task itself, as well as the loss that would occur if the task were not completed. The best answers will use unique and interesting challenges that are general to any area of life.
The most important stage of the STAR structure is the action you have done to change the situation for the better. This can be as simple or complex as you want, though remember that your answer will be dependent on the competency you are demonstrating.
It must be an action that you as a person, rather than as part of a team, has done – as this will demonstrate that you alone have the specific competence that you are demonstrating to your interviewer.
The final stage of the STAR technique is the result that was achieved. This requires you to specifically explain what your actions alone did to solve the problem, as well as any other benefits that arose from you solving it.
This will always be a positive result to demonstrate your competence and ingenuity in solving a problem.
“In my previous employment at Aldi, it was my job to replace all of the previous stock by restacking the shelves. This was stock which had reached its best-before-date and so was going to be thrown out by the supermarket.”
“One night, while I was replacing the stock, over 200 customers came into the store around 6am, which overwhelmed the staff. I needed to help the cashiers manage all of the new customers but also still needed to restock, as if I didn’t then the customers would be even more agitated by the lack of fresh produce.”
“To solve this I decided to call a couple of volunteers from the local homeless shelter and agreed with them that if they restocked the shelves, they could have all of the food that had gone beyond its best-before-date.”
“Not only did the volunteers agree to restock the shelves so that I could help the cashiers, resulting in 200 happy customers that day, but also the branch I was working with decided to make it policy to give all food that had gone beyond its best-before-date to the homeless shelter.”
Be specific. When answering a question using the STAR technique, be specific with your answer. General actions such as “working harder” or results such as “things got better” will not impress your interviewer as they are not measurable.
The best answers will give specific numbers and a form of quantifiable success to easily prove to your interviewer that your actions had impact.
Make it relevant. If your interviewer is asking you to demonstrate a specific competency, make sure your answer demonstrates that competency. If a question is about leadership, try to put yourself in a situation when you were in such a role and took charge.
If the question is about problem solving, make sure that you give an example of a time that you found a creative example to solving a problem. If you merely choose any scenario and then try to vaguely link it to the competency, your answer will drag on and the interviewer will become bored with you.
Timing. Most candidates want to get out of the interview as quickly as possible and so will rush some of their answers. Avoid this, especially if you are answering questions using the STAR technique, as you give your interviewer the impression that you’re unconfident and incompetent.
At the same time, make sure your answers don’t drag on for too long. The most suitable time to answer an interview question should be between 2–3 minutes and in that time, you should make sure that only the most potent information is mentioned.
Make it free flowing. The STAR technique is very well known among interviewers and so while they will look for interviewees to use it, they do not want it to be obvious. Merely rehearsing a list of activities is almost exactly the same as memorising model answers to other questions, and demonstrates your lack of creativity to the interviewer.
Make sure that your story flows as a normal conversation would, and maintain a professional tone throughout.
Finally, as with anything else, practice makes perfect. Going to a mock assessment centre will help you refine your interview technique and ensure that you ace the interview.
Now that you know how to use the STAR technique to answer interview questions, read more about some of the specific competencies that you can demonstrate through using the technique: