Don’t feel daunted when you are completing an application form or getting ready for an interview. You can use a framework such as ‘STAR’ or ‘CARR’ to help you structure your answers and focus on the evidence. It’s a good way to optimise your responses and use the space or time available to persuade the employer you have what it takes.
What is STAR?
The STAR acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result but you may have seen it expressed as CARR, which develops the process further by introducing an evaluation stage (Context, Action, Result and Reflection – watch our YouTube video for advice on how to use this framework)
It can be too easy to get tied up with the scene setting (the context) and this isn’t as important as the ‘action’ part of your answer. Focus instead on telling the employer about past experiences, use of skills and any related achievements. Remember that competency based recruiters sees past behaviour as an indicator of future potential. You need to be concise and succinct without losing the flavour of your evidence. Online application forms will have a strict word count, so use the tools of Word to ensure you don’t go over word or character limits.
To be more effective in your applications and interviews remember STAR means:
- Situation – briefly set out where you were, both physically and chronologically (i.e. “during my work experience at X company” or “in my group work my team was asked to…”)
- Task – what you set out to achieve; what you were asked to do (think purpose and objective)
- Action – the heart of your answer. Describe your specific actions. What you did to achieve/contribute to the outcome?
- Result – what was your outcome? What did you learn from this?
How to do it
Don’t stress about where your experience comes from. Recruiters do tell us that they want to see the whole of the applicant and their extracurricular and part time experience. They are impressed with the skills you evidence and are always keen to see how people manage their part time work with their degree. You are highlighting your abilities such as time management, teamwork, problem solving, communication skills and many more.
Tips for using STAR in an application
- Use relevant and timely examples to fit what the role is asking for. If you are ignoring current group work to use an example relating to a project you did at school it begs the question what have you been doing recently?
- Talk about your role but balance it within the teamwork context
- Can you quantify results? Did you increase profits or the number of attendees at a society event?
- Never exaggerate – you will find yourself caught out now or later!
- Why not look at the STAR video on the Student Opportunity YouTube channel
When you use STAR in an interview, you will have more scope to be able to expand on your experiences. You will need to go further in your examples and give more depth to them.
Here you can talk more about the learning that you gained to show how you have developed since then. “Looking back now, I would have done things differently. I would have …” or “I would make sure colleagues were aware of …” Recruiters are not looking for perfection, but for you to demonstrate how flexible and self-aware you are.
An example of using ‘STAR’
Here is an example to highlight the various stages of the STAR approach – it’s also helpful to note the allocation of space to each stage. This answer can demonstrate a range of competencies from initiative, to problem solving and communication:
During the summer I worked within the HR department at Y (Situation). My supervisor asked me to complete a performance review project (Task). Using my research skills I looked at the information we had but knew that I needed to define the scope of the project before proceeding. I approached the auditors and arranged individual meetings with them to secure the relevant information and history. Then analysing the data I used SPSS to help me collate and chart the information. At one stage, I noticed a discrepancy in the data so referred this back to the auditors. They helped me identify the source of the error. I successfully delivered the report within timescale and also presented my findings to a group of senior colleagues (Action). The senior manager was impressed with my initiative, efficiency and delivery. My recommendations have since been implemented and the performance review manual guidelines updated accordingly (Result).
By using a format like STAR or CARR when writing applications and during interviews, you’re lmuch more likely to answer the questions fully and effectively. Additionally, structures like these stop you from exceeding word limits and going off track.
University of Warwick students now have access to a variety of integrative resources on the E Grad platform to develop their interview skills