Using the STAR technique in competency based interviews

There are many interview styles from the relaxed conversation, to the intimidatingly formal panel, but at some point it’s likely that you will have to deal with competency based questioning. It’s increasingly popular with HR departments, as working to a competency framework is an attempt to reduce bias that any one interviewer may have, based on the candidates’ background.

Through asking the same questions to each candidate, it can create a more level playing field, comparing specific examples of past performances, and giving an indication of what might be expected from each of them in their future role. However, it usually allows for less natural conversation, making it harder to build rapport and be yourself.

These kind of questions tend to start with “Tell me about a time when….” and although they seem straight forwards, it’s easy to miss out key details when you’re under pressure. 

When faced with this formal interview style, much better results can be achieved by preparing structured answers. A useful technique to practice is the STAR method.

 

STAR stands for:

S: Situation

T: Task

A: Action

R: Results

 

The trick here is to prepare your answers as concise stories, with a beginning, middle, and an end. It helps to avoid a couple of common mistakes:

  • Forgetting to give examples context, meaning the interviewer struggles to understand the relevance.
  • Failing to mention the results that were achieved.

As with all good storytelling, keeping your answers succinct and clear is key to engaging your audience. Try to tell each of your examples in under three minutes and be upbeat, positive, leaving jargon and clichés out of it.

It’s important to give weight to your examples by specifying the details – quantities and names help to reassure the interviewer that you’re referring to a real example. If you sound generic, they might assume that you’re not competent!

Ahead of a competency based interview, choose a few of your greatest moments along the lines of:

  • When you delivered great results beyond expectations.
  • When things didn't go according to plan, and you had to react quickly.
  • When you had to take a position of leadership to get things done.
  • When you got to work on a very high profile of unusual project.

Then for each example, think about the following details:

 

Situation

Start by outlining your Situation, the essential background information that’s needed to understand the context of your story such as

  • Your position and marketing/comms responsibilities.
  • Other key players—team members, competitors, consumers.
  • When and where the situation occurred, if relevant.
  • The business environment you were in.

Be brief. It’s important not to spend too much time setting up your story. Include only the details necessary to appreciate the rest of it, not all of the above. 

Task

  • Describe the key objectives you were given. It could be a regular responsibility assigned by a manager, a long-term campaign you executed, or an abrupt emergency you responded to.
  • Outline any particular challenges to your Task: deadlines, budget restraints, competitors, internal and systematic obstacles.

Action

  • What you did to fulfill your objective - this should be the longest part of your answer, and it’s important to remember to use “I” rather than “we” here. You can describe what your team did, but you must detail what your personal actions were within the team.
  • Use it as an opportunity to list your positive traits: anticipating problems, operating under pressure, acting as a leader, etc.
  • Mention the reason why you made key decisions.

Results

  • Communicating your ability to drive results is the most important part of your interview.
  • Show how your Action produced demonstrable, measurable improvements and achievements.
  • As much as possible, provide hard numbers: an increase in conversation rates, greater campaign responses, better ROI etc.

 

Used at its best, the STAR technique isn't noticeable to the listener, but comes across as articulate story telling, leaving the interviewer with all the information they needed within a succinct answer.