STAR model is past its use-by date

Departments and career advisers recommend applicants use the STAR model when responding to selection criteria. This model has served its purpose well in providing a sound structure for writing an application. It continues to be useful in providing a starting point, particularly for entry-level roles.

As a general approach to any application, the STAR model has limitations, reducing its value for most applicants, but particularly more senior roles. There are three factors that reduce the value of the STAR model.

Government departments are moving away from asking applicants to respond to lists of selection criteria. One trend is to ask applicants to write a pitch or statement of claims, based on role requirements or selection criteria. This type of application does not require responses to selection criteria, so a different structure is needed.

The STAR model is a simple approach to writing a response to a selection criterion. It covers:

S = situation

T = task

A = actions

R = results.

For entry level and lower level roles, this structure may well be enough. For more senior roles, that is, roles that carry a salary of $70,000 or more, the STAR model is too simple. It doesn’t convey the strategic complexity of the example.

Using the STAR model risks considering the selection criteria in isolation. While this may have worked two decades ago, it is no longer the case. An applicant must consider the total context of the role and tailor examples to match that role. To do this the applicant must conduct research into the organisation, the role, and the level of seniority in order to fully understand what they are applying for.

A more useful model for either responding to selection criteria or giving examples to support a statement of claims, is the CAR model: Context, Actions, Results. The context of the example is the critical component as it conveys information about:

  • The strategic context: what goals, policies, strategies was the situation supporting?
  • Complexity: what factors added complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty?
  • Risks: what risks needed to be considered?
  • People: who was involved – colleagues, clients, stakeholders, senior executives, staff etc?
  • Role: what was your role in this situation and what were you setting out to do?

Actions are limited to the most critical, relevant, senior.

Results take account of not only the immediate output, but also any outcome and unintended consequences.

Replacing the STAR model with the CAR model is likely to result in much stronger, more tailored responses.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.