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Competency Based Interviews and the STAR technique

Not all interviews are created equal – some may be quite informal, and resemble more of a general chat about your experience, as well as the vacancy.  Others will be far more focussed and designed to ascertain you precise skills and what you can bring to the table.

Competency based interviews fall in to this latter category, where each question asked is designed to highlight a specific skill you may need to perform the role.  For example, conflict resolution may be a key part of the job, so the interviewer will want to know details of a time when you have successfully resolved conflict in the past.

The questions asked aren’t meant to trip you up, but because they do require you to think of a situation and provide key information, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when answering.  How can you make sure you provide all the details you need, without waffling?  How do you tell the story in a coherent and easy to digest manner?

Whilst you can’t prepare ahead of time for specific questions, you can learn a very useful technique to help keep your answer on point.

What is the STAR technique?

The STAR technique has long been used to help people answer situational questions in a logical and systematic way.  Each letter represents a different step in the answer:

Situation – describe the situation at hand and when it took place
Task – clearly explain what the task was, and what the ultimate goal was
Action – provide information on the action you took to perform the task and achieve the goal
Result – conclude with the final result of your action

How does this help if you don’t know what the questions are going to be?
As most competency based interview questions are going to focus around demonstrating your ability to meet the requirements of the role, it’s important to look back at the job advert.  What competencies are listed as being relevant to the position?

It may be the case that the role asks for strong communication skills – a question may well focus around the time you had to communicate something complex to someone else.

Perhaps you will be regularly required to multi-task in this role, so you may be asked for a time when you have successfully managed multiple projects or deadlines.

Give it a go
Pick one of the competencies listed on the job advert, or perhaps even some of the skills you’ve listed on your CV, and prepare an answer, using the STAR technique, to demonstrate that skill.

Situation – Briefly set the scene of the event you’re describing.  Mention where you working at the time, so your interviewer can have context based on your CV.  Explain who else was involved (generally, rather than giving specific names) and what the overall context was.

Task – next talk about the precise task at hand.  What was your role and what responsibilities did you have?  Don’t focus on what other team members were expected to do – clearly explain what your task and part in the overall goal was.

Action – this is arguably the most important step in the process.  Clearly outline what you did, and how you did it.  If this is a team based question, make sure you talk about what you did in context of the team, how you worked with others etc, rather than just focussing on what you did on your own.  You’re trying to clearly communicate that you understand the situation, the task and the ultimate goal, and played an important part in completing the task appropriately.

Result – Clearly explain what the end result was.  This may be quantifiable, in that you increased efficiency by 10%, or brought in £1,000 of sales.  Or it may be that the customer went away satisfied after complaining.  

Example STAR Interview questions
• Describe a time when you’ve made a mistake at work.  What did you do to rectify it?
• Tell me about a time you had to break some bad news to a customer.  How did you handle it?
• Tell me about a time when you had conflicting deadlines.  How did you handle the situation?