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Using the STAR technique to succeed at interviews

Using the STAR technique to succeed at interviews

It is all well and good knowing what qualities you need for a position, but in an interview you need to show that you are a master of them. A common error can be simply saying “I am good at this” without showing why. Anton Morozov, Co-Founder of Interview Bull gives some tips...

If it helps, think about what you're saying in an interview as if you were writing an essay or concluding a project, giving a list of unsupported statements and conjectures will get you nowhere.

You need to back up your claims with evidence and examples; you need to be concise and avoid ambiguous language and you need to anticipate any criticisms. This will allow you to make the strongest possible claim or argument."

In a competency-based interview, the questions will be set by a framework of skills and qualities that are desirable for the position. For example, if you're interviewing for a marketing position you will be required to show off your problem-solving skills and in customer services you will need to demonstrate your conflict management skills.

The interviewer will invite you to tell them a story, starting the questions off with a: "Tell me about a time when…" At first glance you might think that this makes the interview much easier, but like with an essay or project your answer must be structured and effective. In the heat of the moment and under the gaze of the interviewer it's easy to miss out details or waffle on about irrelevant facts. 

How do you make sure you aren't found doing this? It's simple, use the STAR format.  

How to Structure Your Answers: S.T.A.R. 

S – Situation

Provide context to the example; explain the role you played in the scenario.

T – Task

Clearly state the objective you or your team had, explaining whether the challenge was set by another or if it was a self appointed goal.

A – Action

This is all about what you did. Use first person pronouns and verbs to specify what you did towards achieving the tasks you mentioned previously. At least what half of what you say has to be directly aimed at explaining the action you took, the reasoning that informed your decision to do what you did, and the skills you employed to turn the plan into a reality.

 R – Result

Mention the outcome, ideally quantitatively, referring to the tasks you or your team set. Saying something like “the sales strategy I suggested was implemented and had a great knock on effect” isn’t attention grabbing. Saying “my change led to a 10% rise is profits” is more memorable and concise, as well as being easier to judge in a quantifiable way.

Obviously, it’s good if you can give an example were the outcome was exactly what you’d been hoping for, but any reasonable employer will understand that this isn’t the case. Even in failure you can talk about what you have learned and what you would do to be successful next time.


Do NOT: talk generically about the Action. E.g. Leadership/Team Work – “I had a discussion and then we agreed what to do.”  You can bring this to life by saying “I said to the team, 'why dont we talk about the areas one by one and write down the pros and cons'”. This shows the interviewer that you were actually in that situation and how you interacted in the group.  Bringing specific detail to your answers also provides interest to the listener as it clearly properly paints a picture of what happened, rather than giving a vague outline.






Key Competencies tested: Time Management & Problem Solving

Tell me about a time when you were forced to solve a problem within a tight timescale." 

A speaker-less presentation: 


As part of social enterprise society when I was in University, we (the exec) were due to deliver a presentation to a group of 15 local business owners about the services we could provide them. The night before we were to have the meeting Benjamin, the member due to deliver it, suffered a pretty nasty injury and alerted me to the fact that he would no longer be able to attend."



As the event co-ordinator, this meant it was my responsibility to find an alternative speaker. I wasn't prepared to cancel or delay the event at such short notice as I didn't want it to reflect badly on our society or waste the opportunity we had all built."



I spoke to the other senior members of the society immediately and they agreed that it was too late to alter the time or date of the event. I called Benjamin and very sensitively found out who else new the details of the presentation as well as he did, as well as expressing my regret at the misfortune that meant he was unable to attend. Having discovered that Rachel had written the presentation with Benjamin and knew the details almost as well as he did, I asked member her to step in. Despite the short notice she agreed to drop what she was doing and spend the night preparing."



I sent an email to the business owners due to attend alerting them to the change of speaker and the following morning the presentation went well. There were a few 'umms' and 'errs' but it was received well nonetheless. Despite the setbacks we established a working partnership with 5 of those who attended." 


In this example it is easy to see why it is so important to be specific and quantify your success. Turning 5 of the 15 attending members into future partners gives you a 33% conversion rate and all of the personal pronouns show the effort you put into making the whole event a success. It is also evident how and why the action step should be longer than the others - conveying how you display the desired qualities. It should also show you the importance of a positive conclusion, giving a gloss to the example and putting more weight behind your application.


Key Competency tested: Judgement

"Give me an example of when you made a decision based on logical, rational thinking."


A Society's democracy:


As Editor of my University's student newspaper, it was my responsibility to interview and select members to the newly set up business team."



Traditionally, when selecting new members informal interviews were used, with few little tests in place to check suitability. Naturally, personal biases and the selection of candidates on the basis of pre-established friendships isn't reliable and doesn't often deliver the best candidate for the job. I set myself the task of changing this whole for the better."



I spoke to the other members of the exec at the time and after discussing a few worries we agreed on a way forward. I took the decision to implement a more objective and rigorous selection process for future candidates, which included getting the candidates to solve a series of problems in a selected case-study as well as a structured, competency based interview. When conducting interviews with candidates, a strictly structured competency based interview format was used to keep the interview processes fair and reliable. Personal biases were then ignored and the final selection decision was based on the candidates' abilities rather than just their personalities."



The selected candidates and the business team as a whole proved very successful; the entire exec were extremely satisfied with my selection decision. It also marked the first time that the newspaper actually made a profit in the over a decade, increasing our revenue by 200% thanks to the creation and hard work of the team. Since I left University I have been informed that not only does the newspaper continue to use this selection procedure, other societies are also following suit, adopting the structured competency based interview format along with other objective selection tools."


In this example you can see this importance of the personal pronoun. You should not keep using "we", instead you should be saying "I said this; I did that..." as this shows what you were personally doing and are capable of. You might want to use "we" modestly, but it is confusing as it doesn't clearly define what you did. It is your ability that is of interest to the interviewer and if you aren't clear it can be interpreted as you not taking a leading role.

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