Job interviews can take many different forms and may be unstructured or structured in their format. A currently favoured approach is the competency-based interview which is often used in large organisations and the public sector. This type of interview is designed to make the job application process as objective as possible by removing any conscious or subconscious bias by the interviewer by asking each candidate the same questions.
The questions asked revolve around the competencies required for the job. For example, a project officer may require written communication skills, or a customer service assistant may require conflict resolution skills.
The interview questions tend to start with a variation of, “Tell me about a time when…” This may sound simple but, in the heat of the interview, it’s easy to give an unstructured answer, miss out key details, or not be able to complete the answer.
One way of avoiding this is by using the STAR technique to structure your response.
The STAR technique provides you with a structured approach for answering interview questions and is also useful for writing applications that require you to respond to selection criteria.
The acronym STAR stands for:
- Situation – set the context for your story.
- Task – what was required of you.
- Action – what you actually did.
- Result – how well the situation played out.
The trick to making the STAR technique work is to weave your answers into concise stories with a beginning, middle and end – starting with a brief introduction outlining the situation.
So, in answer to a question asking you, for example, to describe a time where you had to communicate well in writing, you might say:
- Situation: I was working as a project manager and was involved in applying for tenders for government funding.
- Task: I was required to write a tender application for funding of a large project which required considerable research into how the company could provide a quality service within a realistic budget. We also needed to be able to demonstrate engagement with a variety of stakeholders. All of this needed to be completed in a two-week time frame. The most detailed part of your answer will be the action, where you describe how you dealt with the task. Here you will detail your use of available resources, the personal and relevant skills you brought to the table and your direct involvement.
- Action: Having worked on numerous tenders in the past I was confident in my ability to write the application, undertake the research required, complete the budget, and involve internal and external stakeholders. I was able to draw on my technical skills and team leadership skills acquired from my previous management position at the community centre. I engaged my team to gather the data whilst I wrote the application. On completion of the tender application, I rewarded them with lunch. Now you need to conclude your answer by outlining the result of your actions. This is where you get to demonstrate the benefits those actions had for the company/team and for your own development.
- Result: Under my leadership, the team was successful in submitting the tender on time. The company was successful in winning the tender and the team was congratulated for doing a good job. I was promoted to the role of Program Director. There are a few things to note with this response: it’s important to speak in specific rather than general terms and quantify your success.
In a second example, a candidate for a customer services role is asked: Describe a situation when you had to deliver excellent customer service following a complaint.
- Situation: A customer rang up complaining that they had been charged too much on their account.
- Task: I needed to address the client’s immediate query and find out what had gone wrong.
- Activity: I apologised, got the details and passed them to our head accounts person, who contacted the client within the hour. I investigated why the charge was so high. I discovered that the wrong price code had been assigned to the product and arranged for the manager to have all the price codes checked. I let the client know and we offered a goodwill discount on her next order.
- Result: The client not only continued to order from us but posted a positive customer service to Facebook. Used at its best, the STAR structure is invisible to the listener and it simply comes across as a well-articulated example. At all stages of the process, you should strive to present your answer in such a way as to highlight your relevant skills and suitability to the role on offer.
It is important to prepare and rehearse your STAR stories. It is suggested that you prepare five STAR stories, based on achievements relevant to the key selection criteria of the particular role. Also, take time to think of how you can present your answers and achievements to suit different questions. For instance, in the first example above, the story could also be used to demonstrate leadership skills.
If you are seeking career assistance please contact Rosie at Positive Goals & Solutions today.