How to use the STAR technique in a job interview

Jessica Ching is Digital Content & Marketing Executive at the London-based graduate recruitment agency, Give A Grad A Go. Since 2009, they have placed nearly 3,000 candidates in their ideal graduate jobs. Browse the latest Graduate Jobs on Give A Grad A Go’s website.

A graduate job interview can consist of many different types of interview questions; including knowledge-based, character, credential verification, and competency-based questions. Knowing the most effective interview techniques for answering each of these questions, and understanding how to implement them, can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful job interview.

Competency-based interview questions come up in almost every job interview. Often starting with the phrase “Tell me about a time when…”, these kinds of questions require you to describe past situations, how you handled them, and the behaviour you displayed. They are based upon the logical assumption that your past behaviour will reflect your performance in this role.

STAR technique in interviews

The STAR technique (or STAR method) is a structured, and highly effective, way of responding to competency-based interview questions. While producing a fairly concise answer (this shouldn’t be longer than 1 ½ – 2 minutes), it enables candidates to show they have done their preparation, that they understand the value of their own skills and experiences, and can back up their claims with real-world examples and tangible results.

The STAR technique is:

S – Situation
Start by painting a picture of a problem or situation you faced (this could be at university or in a previous job), and explain how it came about, and who was involved

T – Task
Next, explain the end goal, and the specifics of what was required

A – Action
Then describe in detail your approach to the task, and the steps you took to solve the problem

R – Result
Finally, state the outcome or result of your work, using numbers to back up your statement, if possible

How to answer competency-based interview questions effectively:

  1. Do your research – Find out the skills and experiences that the role requires, and tailor the examples you use to what the employer is looking for
  2. Use good examples – Choose only examples where the outcome was a positive one
  3. Prepare a range of examples – Chances are that more than one of these kinds of question will be asked throughout the interview, so make sure to prepare a few different answers beforehand

How to prepare your answers to competency-based interview questions:

Here are some competency-based interview questions and example answers to get you started.
Can you describe a time when you demonstrated good organisational and time management skills?

When I was the President of the Debating Society at university, we decided to host a debating evening between us and the city’s other main university, with the aim to have 50 students in attendance (25 from each university).

I was in charge of organising the event, including the venue, refreshments, tickets, transportation, the structure of the evening, budgeting, and collating all feedback.


In order to plan and manage the event effectively, I started by laying out the budget for the event, prioritising what was most important, and creating a clear timeline. With a strict and fairly challenging timeline in place, I decided to delegate some of the less pressing tasks to other society members (including ticket design, decorations and refreshments) and managed the more vital aspects myself – starting with the venue, invitations, and transportation to and from the event. As the event began to take shape, I also organised the structure of the evening itself – including the timings, the topics which would be debated, and how we would analyse the success of the event after it was over – which would be by gathering feedback and a score between 1 and 5 (1 being not very useful, 5 being very useful) from the attendees.


The event was attended by 58 people, well over the number we initially expected. Feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive (with an average score of 4.4 out of 5) – and as a result of its success, we ended up hosting another debating evening later in the semester.

Tell me about a time when you went the extra mile.


During an internship I undertook last summer, the company I was working for were in the midst of launching a new product, meaning that all teams were incredibly busy.


Though I was working in the marketing team at the time, I saw that the tech team were stretched between a lot of different tasks. I offered my help to the tech team on some of the more administration-based tasks, to free some of their time for the more technical responsibilities.


Over a 6-week period, alongside my marketing duties, I helped with data entry, IT support, and general administrative duties for the tech team. Through no encouragement from the team to do so, I came in early and left the office late some days. I was determined to help all teams in any way that I could, during such a busy period where everyone was working towards the same goal. 


The product was rolled out successfully and resulted in a huge increase in revenue for the business. I was awarded ‘Employee of the Month’ for my work, as well as a personal thank you from the CEO.

Some more common competency-based interview questions to practice:

  • Tell me about a time when you displayed good leadership skills.
  • Can you describe a major setback you’ve had in the past?
  • Tell me about how a time you solved a problem in a creative and innovative way.
  • Can you tell me about a time when you’ve had to work with someone you didn’t get along with.
  • Describe a time when you overcame a challenging situation.
  • Tell me about a time when you demonstrated initiative.

If you’re preparing for a graduate job interview, the STAR technique will be your best friend. Get practising your answers to the most common competency-based questions, and set yourself up for success in any job interview!

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