There are no sure-fire secrets to answering an interview question. But there is an acronym…
Knowing how to answer competency questions can often be your key to success at an interview. And whilst we can’t provide you with the exact response you’ll be able to use, we can make sure you approach each one the right way. And it’s all about technique.
Never heard of STAR before? Here’s how you can use it to nail your next interview:
What is STAR?
A simple, structured technique to help you answer interview questions.
It stands for Situation, Task, Approach and Results.
When do you need STAR?
Ever been asked a question that starts with ‘Tell me about a time you did X’ by an interviewer? Chances are that you were being asked a competency question.
Competency questions are generally used to find out how candidates would react to certain situations, by asking for real-world examples to back-up their claims.
Candidates can easily be thrown by these types of questions, but don’t let their open-ended nature fool you. There is a formula you can apply to keep your answers on track, and that’s where STAR comes in.
How do I use STAR?
To use STAR effectively, all elements of your answer need to work. Here’s a breakdown of how to approach each letter:
S – Situation
Think of this section as ‘setting the scene’.
Provide the interviewer with a bit of background about the question, and give them some context. Try and be specific, and include names and dates wherever appropriate to help add credibility.
At Company Name Ltd, I was responsible for representing the firm at tradeshows. My second year there, it just so happened that three events we usually attended were scheduled within a month of each other – generally they were spread out over a much longer period of time.
T – Task
Build on the background you’ve given, and outline the task at hand.
Specifically, how did the situation relate to you? And what were the major tasks you needed to undertake to resolve it? Include how important or difficult the situation was to overcome, as well as any constraints you came up against.
It meant a tremendous amount of work was compressed into a really tight window of time. These shows were a huge source of lead generation for the company, so it was essential we attended and presented our products in the best light.
A – Approach
Translation: what did you actually do to resolve the situation?
Outline the steps you took to ensure a successful outcome, without being tempted to take all the credit. The key to effectively incorporating the ‘approach’ part of your answer is to identify what skills the interviewer really wants to see, and reinforce them throughout.
I hate to say I can’t take something on at work, but I took a long, hard look at the situation and realized preparing all three up to the standards I’d want was going be impossible, so I sat down and prioritized the events. One, I realized, was much less relevant to us, so I scheduled a meeting with my manager and we agreed to focus on only two events. Once that was settled, I could draw up a detailed to-do list with interim deadlines for each item so that I’d have all the materials I needed to really represent the company well.
R – Result
Finally, it’s time for the pay-off.
What was the outcome of the situation? Remember, everyone loves a happy ending, and recruiters are no different. Make your happy ending quantifiable, and you’ll really have nailed your answer.
The two events went off without a hitch and I was able to bring several really solid leads back to our sales department. One of them actually resulted in a £100,000 contract, so in the end I was pleased I’d made the call to eliminate one event.
Impressing at a competency-based interview is all about the way you tell your story, so it’s particularly important to prepare for this sort of interview. Put some concrete, quantifiable details down on paper, which could fit a range of situations.
Don’t shy away from including a bit of adversity or failure. It humanises you and helps convince the listener of your sincerity. All jobs involve difficulties. The interview is trying to figure out how you’ll handle them.
A final word of wisdom about STAR: as a structured system, it can help guide your answers and calm your nerves, but don’t follow it too rigidly – you’re not a robot. Make sure your responses flow naturally, from one point to the next.
So keep it natural, conversational and concise, and this acronym will be your new best friend at your next interview.
Need more interview advice?
Not sure which questions will come up? Don’t panic. We can help with that…
Buy James Reed’s new book: Why You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again and start loving Mondays now.
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