Oliver Struthers

July 27, 2022, by Jackie Thompson

STAR Technique – A Simple Method for Acing Scenario-Based Interview Questions

By Oliver Struthers, LLM Human Rights Law alumnus

After completing my masters in Human Rights Law last September, I began my job hunt for a graduate-level role in the charity or not-for-profit sector. As is the case with most graduates, I massively underestimated how difficult attaining a job would prove to be and my six-month job hunt ended up being both stressful and disheartening in equal measure.

Eventually, I was invited to an assessment centre for a job at a charitable housing association in my local area. I was extremely nervous about the interview section of the assessment centre, as despite applying for over 100 jobs in the previous six months, I’d only had one interview.

Help from the Careers team

To help me prepare for my interview, I organised a meeting with the Careers team who recommended practising the STAR technique, which stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. This acronym is a well-known technique used by applicants when answering scenario-based (also known as competency-based questions) to demonstrate their competence and skills in a range of situations. Scenario-based questions give the interviewer an example of how you have applied certain skills to real-life problems. Although this may sound daunting, these questions are a great opportunity to demonstrate your value to a potential employer.

STAR – in more detail

Situation:  Provide the context for your example. Where were you working? What was the problem?

Task: What was your role? What had to be done to resolve this situation?

Action: How did you go about completing this task/challenge? What did you do?

Result: What did you achieve? What lessons did you learn?

An example demonstrating STAR in action

To prepare for these types of questions, prepare four to six scenarios where you have the opportunity to demonstrate your skill set. These scenarios can focus on experiences at work, at university or even situations experienced in your normal day-to-day life.

One scenario I used in my job interview focused on my time working as a bartender. In this situation, I had to deal with a drunk customer who was acting aggressively toward staff members. Here’s the question and my answer using the STAR technique.

Could you give me an example of a time that you had to deal with a difficult customer?

(Situation): During my time working as a bartender, a drunken customer was acting aggressively toward staff members.

(Task): As one of the more senior staff members, it was my responsibility to ensure the situation didn’t escalate.

(Action): I took the customer to the side and calmly explained to him that he couldn’t speak to staff members in this manner and that if it happened again, we would have no choice but to ask him to leave.

(Result): The customer understood that they were in the wrong and apologised to the members of staff he had acted aggressively towards. I believe my calm and honest approach to the customer helped defuse this situation.

Choosing the right scenario

The best part about having a number of scenarios at your disposal is that each one can be applied to more than one scenario-based question.

Take my example of the drunken and aggressive customer. This scenario could be applied if the interviewer had asked me to give an example of a time I remained calm under pressure. By slightly altering my answer (but still using the STAR technique to answer), the drunken and aggressive customer scenario provides an excellent answer to more than one scenario-based question an interviewer may ask.

I hope this has been a helpful guide to using the STAR technique to answer scenario-based interview questions. Remember to practise applying this technique and to have some scenarios at the ready. Good luck!

Scenario-based or competency-based questions can also appear on applications form as well as during an interview. If you need help with any aspect of the recruitment process for an internship or graduate role, check out the Making applications section of our website.

Posted in Alumni StoriesApplying For JobsInterviews