Formal job interviews are, frankly, the worst.
I know I’m not the only one who clams up when a prospective employer asks me to describe a time when I overcame a setback or went above and beyond in my role.
These are called competency-based questions – as opposed to strength-based questions, like ‘what energises you?’ or ‘what are your weaknesses?’ – and thankfully, there’s a clear-cut method to answering them without tripping over your words.
Behold: The STAR method.
What is the STAR method?
‘The STAR technique is a framework that allows you to structure your thoughts and gather the evidence you need to show your future employer why you’re worth hiring,’ careers coach Ayesha Murray tells Metro.co.uk. ‘It also helps you stay brief when you have limited time to get your points across.’
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result:
First, describe the situation you were in – set the scene,’ says Ayesha.
‘Then, explain the task at hand, challenge or goal.
‘For action, explain what you did in order to complete the task.
‘Finally, what was the result or outcome? Make sure it’s positive.’
Example STAR technique
Here’s an example of the technique for a question on ‘using your initiative’:
SITUATION: Sales dropped in the first quarter.
TASK: My team was given a target to increase sales by 10%.
ACTION: I developed and delivered an in-house sales training course for my team.
RESULT: Sales increased by 25% and the training course was rolled out across all teams and divisions.
Laura Kingston, director of Leap Career Coaching
When should you use the STAR method?
‘I use the STAR technique with clients for interview preparation as it helps to focus the candidate on giving concise answers providing the interview panel with evidence,’ says Laura Kingston, director of Leap Career Coaching.
‘Anyone can say they have a skill, but hiring managers want to know you have done it.’
As Ayesha notes, the STAR technique is great for answering competency-based questions ‘[based] around past successes and achievements.’
It’s not necessary to use this technique during strength-based questions, and it’s important to occasionally go off script – future employers need to know what your personality is like, after all.
‘It’s important to establish a rapport with your interviewer, to show them the authentic you and to differentiate yourself from the rest,’ says Ayesha. ‘So although frameworks like STAR are great for structure, do allow your personality to shine through.’
Top Tips for using the STAR technique
- Put yourself in the hiring manager’s position – what do they want to hear? How can you show you are the best person for the role?
- Read the job description and highlight the key skills and competencies required. Write a STAR example for each one – you will feel so confident when you have done this.
- Be open to the fact that most skills are transferable, don’t limit yourself.
- Don’t get hung up on the examples, go with what comes to mind and trust that you have enough examples. Remember: one example usually covers three or four skills. Some people get unstuck when they ‘save; their best example for the relevant question.
- Don’t tail off and miss the result, this can be the most impactful part as it shows how you have made a difference to the organisation.
- Go one step further and think: what is the result of the result? E.g. After the training was rolled out, sales increased globally by X with an ROI of Y resulting in Z.
- Don’t be obvious you are using the STAR formula, ensure you give your answers in a natural and authentic way (don’t say the situation was, the task was)
- Remember the STAR approach works particularly well for traditional competency-based interviews. Lots of organisations use strengths-based interviews so be prepared for random questions like what animal would you like to be?
- Rather than selling yourself, focus on how you can help the company, how you will add value and solve their problems!
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