The STARR interview response method explained (with examples)

Shot of businesspeople shaking hands in an office

Looking to ace that upcoming interview? Take on the tougher questions using the STARR method. We'll show you what you need to know below.

If you’ve struggled to sell yourself at interviews or your responses have often been a grab-bag of garbled buzzwords and empty phrases, then it might be time to seek out the STARR method.

With competency-based questions used by a third of employers, dealing with the more incisive sides of your upcoming interview is going to be essential. That’s where the STARR method can come in handy. A proven approach to answering those tough situational questions, the STARR method demonstrates concrete examples of your experience and skills in a concise, systematic way.

Here, we’ll talk you through the STARR method in more detail, showing how you can use it to answer trickier interview questions, impressing your interviewer and boosting your chances of landing that new role along the way.

What is the STARR method?

STARR (which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result and Reflection) is a method of answering competency-based questions, i.e., questions that generally start out with phrases like “describe a time when…” or “share an example of a situation where…”, for example. Basically, they allow the interviewer to find out how you handled certain work situations in the past to see if you’re the right fit for the role.

For instance, employers might be looking for proof of problem-solving skills, analytical ability, creativity, perseverance, teamwork, or communicative ability to name but a few. As such, they may ask questions like:

• Tell me about a time when you had to complete a task under a tight deadline

• Have you ever gone above and beyond the call of duty?

• Describe a time when you were involved with conflict. How did you deal with the situation?

Each of the five concepts that make up the STARR acronym is a step the candidate can use to answer these kinds of questions. By utilising all five steps, they can provide a detailed, comprehensive answer that satisfies what the interviewer is looking for.

The concepts comprise the below:

1. Situation

Here, you’ll describe the context where you carried out a duty or faced some sort of challenge at work. Maybe you worked on a group project or you clashed with a co-worker. Whether it came from work experience, a volunteer position, or any other relevant event, you should be as specific as you can.

2. Task

After you’ve laid out the context, here’s where you’ll describe your responsibility in the situation. Did you complete a group project within a tight deadline, resolve a conflict or meet a sales target, for example?

candidate in job interview

3. Action

Now you can drill down into the details and describe the actions you took to address the situation. Remember to keep the focus squarely on yourself, rather than what your team, boss, or co-workers did. Use “I did this…” rather than “we did this…”

4. Result

Explain the outcomes or results of your actions. Be sure to mention multiple positive results in your answer, and don’t be afraid to take the credit, either. Ultimately, you’re trying to impress the interviewer.

5. Reflection

Lastly, you should tie your answer together by reflecting on the situation; what did you accomplish? Did you learn anything about yourself? Perhaps the situation made you a better leader or improved your time-management skills?

How to answer interview questions using STARR

Find a suitable example

Finding an appropriate scenario from your professional history that you can then expand on is key here. But since there’s no way of knowing exactly what the interviewer will ask you, it’s worth preparing a few stories and examples so you can adapt to their questioning if necessary.

young man writing notes

Think back to a few examples of success in your previous job and run through how you’d demonstrate that success using the STARR framework. And remember, if you’re struggling to think of an answer during the interview, don’t be afraid to ask to take a minute to collect your thoughts, rather than rushing in with a half-formed response.

Describe the situation

When you describe the scenario at the interview, it can be easy to let nerves turn your succinct, concise answer into a bit of a ramble. Instead of going overboard with the details, try to hit the key points instead.

So, if you’re asked to describe a time where you didn’t quite meet a client’s expectations, the interviewer doesn’t want to know about when the client came aboard three years earlier or the origins of the project. All you need to do is be as clear as possible and draw attention to the pain points of the scenario. That way, when you talk about the results later, it emphasises the effectiveness of your actions.

Concise answers are key. A good rule of thumb is to touch on each letter of the acronym using just one or two sentences.

candidate in a job interview

Highlight the task

In this part of the answer, you should be making it clear to the interviewer exactly where it is you fit into the scenario. Rather than confusing this with the action part of the STARR framework, you should detail the specifics of your responsibilities in the scenario as well as any objectives set for you, before you talk about the actions in the next step.

Detail how you took action

Now you’re ready to explain exactly what you did, detailing any steps you took to reach the goal or solve the problem. This is where you can put some shine on your work, so be specific here. Consider the following in your answer, for instance:

• Did you work with a certain team?

• Did you use any specialist software?

• Did you come up with a detailed plan of action?

Explain the results

Now you’re ready to drive the point home and expand on how your efforts made a difference. Here, you’ll share the final results of the actions you took. Even if you’re talking about a time you failed or made a mistake, it’s important to end on a positive note by explaining what you learned or any steps you took to improve.

businesswoman conducting interview

Too often, candidates downplay this part of the response, when really it’s the most important element, so make sure you set out how your actions made an impact. The interviewer will want to know why this story or scenario mattered, so make sure to emphasise the outcomes and back them up with figures if you have them.

Make a point to mention what you learned too. This way the interviewer can see how the experience helped you grow and improve your own skillset, something they’ll want to see in the strongest of candidates.

An example of the STARR method in action

Say you’re at an interview and you’re asked about a time when you had to deal with conflict. Touching on all five STARR concepts, your response might look a little like the following:

job interview

Situation: “I was managing a team on a group project, but two of the team members were involved in an argument and refused to work together on their assignments. To make matters worse, the deadline was only a week away.”

Task: “I needed to get these two team members on the same page so that the project assignments could be completed before the deadline.”Action: “So, I called a meeting between the two arguing parties so they could air their grievances and reach an understanding with each other. After that, I arranged a larger team meeting where each task was reallocated among the team members.”

Result: “I managed the team through their assignments, which were completed without further incident before the deadline, and the project was a success overall.”

Reflection: “It made me realise how important it is to maintain strong communication skills amongst a team and as a team leader. It definitely improved my ability to manage a team in stressful times when we were up against the clock.”

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