Using STAR Effectively in your Job Application
You’re preparing your job application and in the role description you see the line:
Use STAR to show how you meet the capabilities.
Do you confidently start writing, or do you think “What’s STAR?”
STAR is a great tool that can help you win the job. While it has been around for a long time, it still survives as an excellent guide for job applicants. STAR provides a structure that can assist you to present examples as part of your written application or in an interview. It allows you to describe a situation or problem you have encountered; highlight the task you had to accomplish; tell what actions you took to achieve the task; and show the result – what you achieved and what you learned.
So, how do you use it? See the example on the right for an idea of how to use STAR to present a specific example of your experience in your job application or at interview. It looks easy, but there are some tricks to making your example display your abilities in the best possible light.
Like any tool, however, STAR is only as good as you make it. It can be used very effectively, or it can demonstrate, for example, that you really do not have those excellent, for example, writing skills you claim.
1. Start with a strong example
Firstly, although we should not have to say this, make sure it is a real example and it is your own. You may be asked to talk about it in detail an interview or your referee may be asked to verify your example.
Select an example that is at, or above, the level of complexity or challenge for the job you are going for. This shows a strong level of ability. There is no point demonstrating you can do basis level work if you are applying for a job of significant responsibility.
Make sure the situation was challenging, something outside the day-to-day routine.
Select a task or challenge that you did well and achieved a positive or good result. You want to paint yourself in the best light.
2. Focus on what’s most important
Keep your discussion of the situation and task as brief, succinct and to-the-point as you can. This information simply sets the scene or context and is not as important as what you did to address the problem and how you achieved a good outcome.
3. Make your role shine
Be very clear about what your role was and what specific actions you personally took. Also address the skills you used and the reasons why you did what you did. This shows a depth of ability. If it was a team effort, say so, but you still need to say exactly what you did within the team. Try to keep it sequential and if challenges arose, briefly describe them and what action you took to deal with them. More detail should be provided about your actions, skills and decision making.
4. Go for a big finish
In any role, we are expected to be outcome-focused and the outcome is the good result achieved by you which contributed to your team, unit, branch and organisation. Think about how you measured success and describe them in tangible benefits. You may have achieved a change, an improvement, an efficiency, a solution. You may also have learned a new skill or knowledge and be able to contribute even further to your work area. If you can show how your actions contributed to the organisation’s goals and objectives, even better – that helps you illustrate you have the ‘big picture’ in your line of sight.
5. Write it well
Remember, everything in your job application displays your written communication skills. Use plain English and short sentences, avoid jargon, and use active rather than passive verbs (e.g. say ‘I organised a meeting’, not ‘a meeting was organised by me’). Keep it succinct, to-the-point and interesting for the reader. Proofread and spellcheck carefully. Do not underestimate the importance of ‘white space’ in your layout for readability – keep paragraphs short, put some space between each paragraph, and have good margins at the top and bottom and on both sides.
Don’t claim to have excellent communication skills –
PROVE YOU DO!
STAR can be a powerful tool to show the selection panel how well you meet the selection criteria, competencies or capabilities. It is up to you to apply it well in your job application or interview. Find a strong example that displays your abilities, present it clearly and succinctly and show how it contributed to achieving your work area’s objectives. A good example that is well written will go a long way towards getting you an interview, and ultimately the job.
Using STAR to describe an example at interview gives structure and logic to present your experience and abilities.
Our unit was conducting community consultation to determine people’s views about a proposed change to legislation.
I was responsible for collating, sorting and summarising the feedback from several sessions of community consultation.
Firstly, I ensured I understood exactly what the aims of the consultation were and the information my manager was seeking. Then I developed a table for responses, themes, specific issues and comments. I coded feedback sheets to identify which sheets came from which sessions. I did this so I could check back if any issue was queried. I grouped feedback themes and captured any issues and comments, such as any related legislation. I was careful to work systematically through the feedback sheets so I did not miss any information. When I had finished collating and summarising the feedback, I presented the results in an easy-to-read table format to my manager and director. I also provided an written summary capturing the main issues.
Both my manager and director expressed via email that they were pleased with this work. My unit was able to identify both positive and negative issues and key concerns, and develop a plan to work through them in progressing the proposed changes to the legislation.
Please note: this article was first published in March 2011 by Nancy Olsson and last updated in June 2021 with edits from Jane Woodland.
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