While we’re all aware of the classic job interview questions – Why do you want this job? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How would your friends describe you? – competency-based questions are more taxing and require more thought. This is the interviewer’s chance to scrutinize your levels of proficiency in areas such as teamwork, productivity, and problem-solving. They’re interested in how you cope under pressure, how well you work with others, and what kinds of techniques you’ve used to progress and learn in previous jobs. Typical competency–based questions would be: Tell me about how you dealt with a communications problem with a client? Can you provide us with an example of a situation when you worked as part of a team to achieve a goal?
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Results
In an interview situation, you should follow this formula when answering a competency-based question:
SITUATION: Explain the situation you were faced with, in a previous or current job.
TASK: Describe the task and the objective you were aiming for, and the challenge you needed to overcome.
ACTION: Describe the actions you took to achieve your objective. Expand on how you tackled the challenge you faced.
RESULTS: Talk through the result of your actions, and if possible expand on how your success was measured. You can also describe the lesson you learnt.
As an interviewee, this is your chance to shine. Being able to succinctly and confidently relay examples of problems you’ve solved, or difficult situations you’ve overcome, will show you in a favourable light. You can demonstrate how experienced you are, how you work well with people, how you can address and overcome daily challenges. The icing on the cake is ending with an impressive outcome – new business secured, turnover raised, or admin costs reduced.
Write down your best examples
At Harvey John we encourage candidates to prepare thoroughly for competency-based interview questionings. We recommend writing down some concrete, quantifiable details of things you’ve achieved at work above and beyond the usual working practices. If you have a range of anecdotes that show you performing well in a range of situations, you’re able to give the interviewer a fuller picture of your abilities.
A few ideas to get you started
Organisations are of course looking for individuals who will be committed to key objectives and able to deliver certain levels of service, perhaps helping boost profit, securing new clients, or streamlining processes. Talking about tasks and actions that delivered tangible results is bound to impress. If you’re going for a manager level role, you might want to describe how you brought a team together with specialist training, which led to staff retention levels improving. If you want to demonstrate problem-solving, you might give an example of how you researched and recommended an hours tracking system, which was successfully implemented and is delivering productivity uplifts.
Humanise the situation
The beauty of using the STAR technique is that it allows you to show your human side during the interview, confirming you have the right kind of personality for the job. Your actions might reveal your empathetic side, your ability to think under pressure, or your passion for a cause. It will help if you are able to let your answer flow and sound natural and conversational, without spending too long on the detail. The aim is that your interviewer will enjoy the anecdote. No-one wants to be bored by a rambling boast that has no substance.
A word of warning
Do think carefully about the examples you give, making sure your actions won’t be interpreted in a negative way. It’s ok to add a bit of adversity or failure, so that you sound sincere, but don’t stray into territory that will make you sound heavy-handed, rash, or rude to others. Also watch that your anecdote isn’t a moan about your past employer. The key is to show how you dealt with difficulties, but overcame them in a fair, thoughtful and creative way.
Here are some more tips on STAR from the Open University.
David Waddell is Managing Director of the Accountancy Division at Harvey John.
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