Filling in job applications and preparing for interviews are often filled with anxiety and worry about making a good impression. While every interviewing panel will look for different qualities in their candidates, there are two things you can do to maximise your chances of having a successful interview:
- Reflect on your experience and prepare concrete examples to show you have the skills for the role you have applied for.
- Use the STAR technique to help structure and focus your answers
What is STAR?
Employers often use the STAR technique in competency-based interviews to find out how you handled certain situations and problems in the past and to determine whether you can excel in the new job.
For example, they might ask you to provide proof of effective problem solving, leading a team, managing a project or dealing with failure. Behavioural/competency-based questions normally look like this:
- Tell me about a time when you had to manage a project under a tight deadline.
- Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer. What did you do?
- Tell me about a time when you lead a team. What worked well?
How to prepare your STAR examples?
First, think of any situations when you might have used the skills and experience required, then break them down following the instructions below. Essentially, you will be asked to tell a story about your experience and for it to work you need to follow a formula. Just remember that any experience, whether work or volunteering, counts as long as you can prove that it is relevant to the skills required for the job. STAR stands for:
- Situation: describe, for example, when you led on a project and had to prioritise effectively. What was the project? Why were you working on it?
- Task: what was your role in achieving the task? What was the objective of the task?
- Action: describe how you completed or went about completing the task. Focus on your actions, challenges and how you dealt with them. Always say ‘I did this, then I did that’ and avoid falling into the trap of saying ‘We did… We were successful.’ Remember that the recruiters want to know about you and your achievements, not about other people.
- Result: explain what the outcomes were and reflect on what you learned from the experience or would do differently next time. Why is this relevant to the job you are applying for?
What are recruiters looking for?
The interviewers will be looking for very specific positive indicators of your past behaviours, such as:
- A positive approach to challenges and change
- Negotiation skills
- Your willingness to learn from mistakes and grow from your experiences
- Prioritising and managing your time effectively
- Effective communication skills
- Staying calm under pressure
- Being a good team worker/leader
- Clear and concise examples that are relevant to the job you have applied for
They will definitely not want to see any of these attitudes:
- Negative comments about your previous colleagues and managers
- Seeing challenges and change as problems and something negative
- Not prioritising effectively
- Lack of communication skills
- No or little self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses
- Irrelevant and repetitive examples
With enough preparation and practice, you will feel and come across as a more confident, and hopefully successful, candidate. Before you go have a look at our final tips and the links to external resources below:
- Research the company you want to work for, its values and the job description beforehand. You will spot what types of behaviours and attitudes they want to see in their successful candidates.
- If you can, get feedback from others about your strengths and development areas
- Have an up-to-date list of short stories about the most commonly asked behaviours/skills. Focus on results, challenges you had to overcome and lessons learned.
- Most importantly, be yourself! You’ve got this!
Reflect: now that you have read this article, take a few minutes and jot down answers to the questions below. This will help you remember the most insightful points and put together an action plan that works for you:
- What inspired you?
- As a result, what do you want to do more of?
- And what do you want to do less of?
- What will you do next to achieve these goals?