The Secret To Giving STAR Interview Answers
by Chris Carr
Congratulations! You've made it through the application and shortlisting stages. The only thing standing between you and your dream job is the company's interview process. But you've just been advised that your interview will involve competency-based questions. What on earth does that mean?
Don't worry, you've got this. Nailing an interview is all in the preparation, and this is no different.
Competency-based (or behavioural) interview questions dig down into how you handled previous work situations, and the purpose of them is to determine how well you'll fit with the job. Put it this way, you and your fellow interviewees may share the same qualifications, job titles and technical skill-set, but how you behave in specific scenarios will determine who is the better fit for the vacancy in question.
The thought of these questions can be daunting, but there is a strategy to answering them really effectively, called the STAR method.
STAR provides a simple framework for you to give thorough, compelling and structured answers to behavioural questions. By sticking to this framework you'll be much less likely to waffle and far more specific in your answer – which is exactly what the interviewer is looking for.
Here's what STAR stands for:
Setting the scene, explaining the problem, challenge or objective.
Describing the purpose of the task, in what way the task tackled the situation.
What actions were taken, what was actually done.
What the outcome was, and the impact the actions had on the final outcome.
And here's our advice for using the STAR method.
1) Preparing To Give STAR Interview Answers
Recognising A Competency-Based Question
You'll know you've been asked a competency-based question because your heart will immediately sink! I'm joking of course, now you've read this article you're effectively immune to such feelings. You'll be able to identify a behavioural question because they tend to start like this:
- Tell me about a time when…
- Share an example of…
- What do you do when…
Predicting The Competency-Based Questions You Will Face
You've read the job description and understand the main challenges the role will face, and the competencies being sought by the hiring manager. Try to second-guess the type of scenarios the job may encounter, and prepare STAR examples of similar problems you have overcome in the past.
It's also worth noting that larger businesses have been known to grade their interviews based on their core values (typically listed on company websites) so try to incorporate these into your examples.
2) Practice Makes Perfect
Write down the likely behavioural questions you'll encounter, and start to formulate your perfect answers. Aim for around 3-4 sentences per STAR stage, keeping in mind the following:
The intention of competency-based questions is to elicit specific responses. Once you have selected your situation, don't jump around to other examples. Talk one situation through at a time. Remember to choose a situation that directly answers the question!
Don't confuse the task with the action. This step of your answer should focus on the responsibility you were given – what were your individual accountabilities in the situation you describe?
Okay, so you've described the situation and your role in it, and now it is time to explain what you actually did. Who did you work with? What ideas did you have? What actions did you implement? What tools did you use?
To close your answer, focus on the outcome – don't forget to include the role you played and quantify the result where you can. It may be the case that it wasn't a glorious success, but temper that by explaining lessons learned or how the scenario you described contributed to a much broader process of improvement. Bigger picture thinking tends to go down well here – try to factor in the impact the result had on more than just you and your immediate customers or colleagues.
3) The Perfect Delivery
Take Your Time
The interviewer understands that some behavioural questions take a bit of thinking through. It is absolutely appropriate for you to ask for a moment to collect your thoughts before answering the question, remember there are 4 stages to think through – S, T, A and R. Keep in the front of your mind that this approach is all about asking questions that focus on specific work-related situations.
Regardless of how successful your role in the situation was, remember to take the positives out of it and communicate these at Results stage. Hiring panels will often look for someone who can turn a negative into a positive, remaining calm and confident throughout.
Be In The Room
Your STAR answers were worthy of a standing ovation when practiced in front of the mirror at home, but be careful not to come across as too robotic and over-rehearsed. Try to draw parallels between your perfect answers and any relevant points or situations discussed earlier on in the interview.
Competency-Based Question: Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
You might reply:
Situation: Application rates for an engineering vacancy were declining and the post remained unfilled for 6 months, hindering the progress of business-critical projects.
Task: My goal was to increase application rates, sourcing candidates who had profiles which fitted the vacancy specifications.
Action: Consulting with operations managers, I revised the job specification, changing the language and style to refresh the content, placing greater emphasis on the project work, training and employer benefits. Used on social media, I interviewed a member of the engineering team on video, the purpose of which was to give applicants insight to the people they would be working with and their working environment.
Result: Application rates rose by 15%, and crucially, applicants had the skills and attributes sought, increasing the number of interviews and ultimately filling the role.
You are on your way to giving STAR interview answers.