Skip to content The Open University

An effective technique to use when answering questions on application forms or in interviews is the STAR technique.

  • Situation - what was the situation and when did it take place?
  • Task - what task was it, and what was the objective?
  • Action - what action did you take to achieve this?
  • Results - what happened as a result of your action?

You may have more than one example to consider; try to choose the one that

  • is relevant and describes the skill being asked for
  • demonstrates action and is something you actually did, as opposed to what you learned, or what you might do in a hypothetical situation
  • is personalised by stating what you did, as opposed to saying what other people did or what happened
  • has a positive outcome
  • is appropriate and gives you something you can talk comfortably about if asked for more detail
  • is specific - if the question asks for an example, then you should only describe one.

Keep your examples specific, recent and relevant. We want to hear how you have used skills and behaviours in a positive way, so that we can see how you would apply them in the work place.

Co-operative Group

Here is an example of how an employer has used competencies on an application form, the STAR technique has then been used to answer this question. You will notice that Task is implicit in the first question.

Completed example

Q. Social workers need to be able to show resilience in the face of adversity and handle difficult situations with calmness and confidence.

Think of an occasion where you were involved in a difficult, confrontational situation with friends, family, colleagues or members of the public.

What was the situation and why was it difficult to handle? I was working as a receptionist at a leisure centre, and I had to deal with a member who was not happy with one of the centre's rules. This rule did not allow children under 10 years to swim without an adult. Yet she wanted to leave her 7-year-old son with us to swim while she went shopping. It was difficult because she became angry when I did not want to sell her a swimming ticket for her son.
What did you do to address the situation and what was the outcome? I clearly explained the rule regarding children under 10 years requiring adult supervision in the pool. I explained that this rule was there to ensure children's safety, as the centre did not have the facilities to be able to look after young children swimming without an adult. I did suggest that she could leave her son in the centre's supervised play area, and that she could go swimming with her son once she returned. The woman calmed down, and agreed to leave her son in the play area.
If you had acted differently, what could the outcome have been? If I had not explained the reason behind the rule, or offered her an alternative, the woman would probably have felt that the centre was unreasonable and not customer-friendly. She might have cancelled her membership. She might also have asked to speak to the centre manager. She would no doubt have done so if I had been impatient with her, or changed my tone and become rude.