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How STAR helps you shine in an interview

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. 

Typical competency-based questions would be: Tell me about how you dealt with a communication 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?

This is the interviewer’s chance to scrutinize your levels of proficiency in areas such as teamwork, productivity, and problem-solving. They’re eager to gauge your ability to handle pressure, collaborate effectively with others, and the strategies you’ve employed to advance and learn in past roles. This is where the STAR interview technique will save the day.

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.

Blow-your-own-trumpet time

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, and 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 questioning.  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 deliver 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 aim to showcase problem-solving skills, consider illustrating with an example of actively researching and recommending an hours tracking system. This initiative resulted in successful implementation and tangible 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’ll help if you 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

Think carefully about the examples you give, making sure your actions won’t be interpreted negatively.  It’s okay to add a bit of adversity or failure. This makes 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 at Harvey John.

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