How to use STAR in selection criteria & cover letters

How to use STAR

How incorporate STAR into your own writing process.

By Joel Smith

Home » Advice » Selection Criteria » How to use STAR in selection criteria & cover letters

Navigate to:

This piece will give you a general overview of what selection criteria is and it’s application.

Check out our articles on everything you need to know about selection criteria, and on writing cover letters addressing selection criteria if you want more detailed pieces and examples.

These will give you insights, examples, and great detail on how to choose your best examples.

Why use the STAR method?

The STAR method is the best way to structure your responses to criteria, and in general, to write a cover letter. Your application is meant to give the recruiters insights into your behaviour in the workplace. Therefore, the best way to write a good application is to give them examples of your capability. In other words, you need to tell them about particular times you’ve demonstrated the capabilities needed for the job.

And the best way to give them your examples is to use the STAR method.

Before you start: Read the fine print

The job you’re looking at may have clear or vague directions on how to respond. Generally, there will be information available on the word limit per response, or the page limit in total. You can find this information by looking thoroughly through the candidate information pack or equivalent. If it’s not there, you can contact the officer listed on the job ad.

For example, for federal government jobs, it is a common requirement to submit a one- or two-page summary, or 600 word pitch. This is meant to address not only address any present selection criteria, but your skills, attributes, qualifications, and general capability to do the role. So, they are asking for a selection criteria that is more like a covering letter, with the responses weaved in. You can find out ore about that here.

Things to look for are:

  • Word count
  • Formatting requirements (margins, font, font size)
  • Should documents be in the one file, or separate files
  • If the responses will be uploaded online separately
  • How many referees are required

In the absence of clear directions, use STAR responses and use your judgement.

Planning your responses using STAR

Look at the capabilities. Are they asking about your ability to manage projects? If so, think of a time you’ve successfully managed a project. This will be your example.

And it needs to be specific – you cannot just say “I regularly manage projects.” Think of a real doozy where you had to work really hard, and then use the STAR method to talk them through that experience.

Have a look at all the criteria, and come up with at least one example for each.

Using the STAR method

After you have identified good examples for each criteria, it is time to get writing. The STAR method is the universally agreed-upon method for responding to selection criteria and for writing cover letters. The four elements of a good STAR response are:

S – Situation

Explain the situation you were in. This should take up about 10 per cent of your response.

“I managed a range of different projects in my role as Senior Officer with XYZ Incorporated. This included projects in IT, business improvement, and policy implementation.”

T – Task

Explain the specific task you undertook in this situation. This should also take up only 10 per cent of your response.

“As a particular example, I managed the implementation of a new customer relationship management system.”

A – Action

Detail the approach you took to the task. This is where you really have the opportunity to get creative and demonstrate your expertise. Below you will see that we have detailed the candidates project. However, we have not focussed solely on their skills in project management. It also shows related skills like time management, written communication, and stakeholder engagement. 

This action part of your response should take up about 60 per cent of your word count.

I conducted independent research and analysed organisational requirements to identify appropriate solutions. I developed a business case for senior management which compared options and prices to minimum specifications requirements. This included a recommendation to implement ABC Solution, which was agreed to by the board. I then developed detailed project documentation in consultation with the client relationship management team. In these documents, I established and negotiated deadlines, milestones, budgets, and key dependencies. This allowed me to closely manage the project outcomes. From there, I worked with the vendor to design the customised user interface and modules of the system, and worked with senior managers to test the performance of the system. This ensured that the system met specifications before roll out. Once the system was designed, I developed and delivered a suite of training. I also created technical documentation and standard operating procedures to further support the implementation.”

R – Result

What was the result of your action? What were the outcomes your achieved, and how were things improved by your actions? This should take up about 20 per cent of your response.

“As a result, the system was successfully implemented, met organisational requirements, and staff were appropriately trained in it’s use. Additionally, the project was delivered on time and under because of my careful planning.”

Pieced together, this response would be satisfactory response to a project management capability.


Word processing software has become more and more user friendly. It’s also a lot more flexible with it’s designs. Therefore, there is little excuse to not have a beautifully presented document. There are a number of templates you can use in Word itself, or you can find inspiration online.

Edit, review, repeat

This step is simple. Review what you’ve written. Reading out loud what you have written will help you detect issues.

It’s also always best to get a second set of eyes on your application. So, ask someone you know to have a look over it.


Carefully follow their directions for submission and recheck all information. Make sure that all names, phone numbers and contact details are correct.

By this point, you should be totally finished with your submission. However, it never hurts to give them a call and ask for more information if you need it. This can be a valuable tool, as the Contact Officer may give you tips and tricks for your submission that get you ahead of the other applicants.

We hope this has given you the boost of confidence you need to get a start on your selection criteria and cover letters. If you need more help, fill out our form for a personalised quote.



This Post Has 2 Comments

Comments are closed.