Have you ever been in an interview where you were confidently answering a question only to realise you've completely forgotten what the question was?
Or forgotten what point you were trying to make?
Or you realised that you've just spent five minutes telling the interviewer all about the fact you were on the football team with your best mates, but you failed to highlight what skills you learned from actually being on the team in the first place?
The STAR technique is a great way to structure your answers to ensure you're giving the interviewer the information they're looking for. Whether it's your first job interview, or you've sat through 100s, this method of formatting your responses is incredibly helpful to keep yourself on track and make sure you don't spin off on a tangent.
STAR = Situation, Task, Action, Result
Example interview question: Tell me about a time you had to work in a group and under pressure.
When an interviewer asks you a competency question (a question regarding your specific skills and experiences), you should answer with a particular example which highlights the skills you wish to show. Do not simply list out a string of skills you think the interviewer wants to hear about; you need to be able to explain a situation in which you have actively displayed these skills. This is literally describing the situation you were in VERY BRIEFLY. 1-2 sentences should be sufficient to get this point across; if it's not, you are likely rambling about things that are irrelevant to the interview question. Stop. Keep it short and sweet, and move on.
Example: I was assigned to a group project in my Year 12 History class.
Within the situation you're sharing, you need to explain the task you were assigned. Again keep this brief. Ultimately the interviewer doesn't actually care what situation you were in or what task you were assigned, so this should just be framing the information you share in the next part of your response.
Example: We had to research the Roman Empire and create a presentation to deliver for 10 minutes in class. We had one week to prepare.
This is THE MOST important part of your answer.
What actions did you take? What skills did you use? How did you react in the situation? This is what the interview really wants to hear - do you have the skills they are looking for and are you able to articulate your own strengths/weaknesses?
(Tip: Use 'we' sparingly. Obviously, if it's a group project, you need to acknowledge you weren't working alone, but the interviewer doesn't care what everyone else in the group did. They want to hear what steps you took. Remember this.)
Example: In our first prep session during class, my group decided to create a research and planning timeline. I suggested we divide up the areas to research and each take responsibility for one section of the presentation. I then suggested we spend the next class period researching our own portions of the project and plan to meet after school the next day for 1 hour to share our work. I created a check-list for the whole group to follow, so that when we met as a group we could make sure everyone had delivered the necessary information. After we were all happy with the information to present, we each made our own slides to use. I volunteered to put the slides together into a single presentation and make sure everything looked good together. Once this was done, we agreed to meet for a few hours over the weekend to practise our presentation. During this practice session, I kept track of our time to make sure we didn't go over 10 minutes. I also made notes on everyone's presentations to compare against the requirements of the assignment. I also asked everyone else to take notes when they weren't speaking, so that we could all feedback to each other. The night before our presentation, I sent out a reminder text to everyone in my group to make sure they were prepared for class.
What was the outcome of this situation? Whether good or bad, the interviewer wants to hear about the end result. You can give this section slightly more attention than 'situation' and 'task', but it definitely should not be as long as 'action'.
The main thing here is showing that you can self-evaluate and reflect on the actions you've taken. If the outcome was good, that's great. Definitely share that and explain how the situation increased your confidence in your time management and organisational skills, and you look forward to the next challenge where you get to continue to develop these and other skills.
If the outcome wasn't good, that's absolutely fine, as well. Show the interviewer that you're aware of what went wrong, you accept responsibility for the part you played, and in the future you would re-evaluate how you planned your time and set more clear expectations with your group so everyone was on the same page.
Whatever it is, show that you can evaluate and reflect, and make a plan for moving forward.
Example: We presented our project to the class but failed to meet the 10 minute mark. Aside from this, we received positive feedback from our teacher and were awarded an 83% for the assignment. In the future, I would suggest to my group that we have 2 practice sessions to make sure everyone is confident with their parts. I would also prepare myself in case another group member forgot their part or got nervous, so that I could support them by adding some of their information and filling our entire time slot. Overall, I am proud of what we presented and how we worked together, and I look forward to the next time I get to work with a group.
Great interviewees have a mental stash of answers like this that they have practised and they know demonstrate their strengths. It's a good idea to think about what examples you have and then practise putting them into the STAR format when you're preparing for an interview.
Your answers can come from school examples, part-time jobs, volunteering, clubs, church - anything you are involved in can be structured in such a way that it gives you a great answer to highlight what you can bring to a role.
All it takes is a bit of prep and practice before walking into that interview room. Good luck!