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How to Use the STAR Technique to Answer Interview Questions

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Situation, Task, Action, Result…

Whether you’re being interviewed for a role in engineering, technology or science, the chances are that at least some of the questions you’re asked will be competency based.

Interviewers often ask questions about ability, using phrases like ‘tell me about a time you achieved…’ and ‘explain how you… in a previous role’ to give you the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and experience, and help you to show they’re suitable for the job.

Competency questions are also used to see how you would react in situations relevant to the job, so being able to give real-world examples to back up your claims is essential. It’s easy to be thrown by such questions, but being able to answer them in a confident and concise manner can help you to leave a great first impression and ensure you make it to the next round.

Some of the most common competency questions will include areas such as teamwork, communication, influencing, leadership, organisational skills, working under pressure, dealing with difficult situations and problem solving.

Of course, there’s no guarantee to which competency-based questions you’ll be asked during your interview, but being prepared is always a sensible idea. The good news is that there is a straightforward approach to answering them, known as the STAR technique.

STAR is a simple, structured technique, designed to help you answer competency based questions during an interview. It stands for Situation, Task, Action and Results, and can be applied to almost every question you’re asked during an interview. Below, we give you an introduction.

Situation

If you want to bring in real-world experiences to demonstrate your understanding of a topic, then start by setting the scene and giving context and background to your situation. So, for example, if you’re asked about your ability to work as part of a team, then mention a company project at a previous employer, explaining why you were working as a team and your personal contributions.

Task

Next, be specific on your exact role and what outcome you were trying to achieve. If you’re asked about your managerial experience, then let the interviewer know what your goals were as manager and what key objectives you had decided on before deciding the appropriate actions.. Be specific and always highlight your personal goals, responsibilities and duties, rather than the rest of the team or company.

Action

Action is, perhaps, the most important part of the STAR technique, as it allows you to highlight your knowledge and expertise using examples from previous employment and other life events.

It’s important that you show how you assessed and decided on the most appropriate response to the situation, and how you managed to get other team members involved. Remember to use words such as ‘I” and “me” rather than talking about the company or team members, as the interviewer is only interested in hearing about your skills and attitudes.

Let’s say you’re asked about dealing with a difficult customer. You could use an example from a previous employer, explaining how you followed company procedure, acknowledged their position and resolved the issues by delivering great service.

Remember to always choose the most relevant example during the interview. If one doesn’t fit, then you could draw on other parts of life, like running a special interest group or volunteering.

Result

You should always choose real-life examples that ended in a positive result, and a result that can be quantified, if possible.

So, if you were working as an engineer and managed to reduce downtime on a machine, then let the interviewer know that your actions “resulted in 5% reduction in downtime, which allowed the company to save five man-hours in maintenance per week and reduce overall running costs by more than £5,000 per year”.

Being able to reel off statistics not only shows your confidence and ability but demonstrates your understanding of your industry and will set you apart from underprepared candidates.

When talking through the results, it’s important to explain what you learned from the situation and share what you’d do differently if you were faced with the situation again, as this will show your potential employer that you’re self-analytical and passionate about personal development.

Stay on point

When answering any competency based question, remember to stay on track and don’t go off on a tangent. It’s all too easy to start talking about leadership skills when you’ve been asked about your communication skills.

Often your real life examples will demonstrate a range of competencies, so make sure that you’ve listened to the question carefully and elaborate specifically on the competency you’ve been asked about.

How to prepare for a competency-based interview

If you want to be best prepared for an interview that includes competency-based questions, then there are a few things that you can do. Of course, start by practising the STAR technique as we have outlined above, asking friends and family members to come up with potential questions.

You should also take some time to recall situations that demonstrate your skills (if you’re going for a position in management, for example, then draw on previous managerial duties), find ways to see the positives in outcomes, even if the end result wasn’t favourable, and look for varied examples; find situations from different areas of your life, rather than all from one role.

At Ripple Recruit, we’re proud to be experts in recruitment in Reading , working with candidates across the country for companies in the technology, scientific and engineering industries. Get in touch with our consultants today on 0118 370 4634 if you need practical advice on finding the right position for your skill set.

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