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How to create compelling answers for a kick ass interview

Using the STAR technique to give top notch interview answers

Do you struggle to give concise answers to interview questions? Are you unsure how to share your accomplishments during an interview without sounding boastful?

Do you in an interview list every single reason why you were suitable for the job, even if the points are not relevant to the question. Sounding familiar?

This is common trap that many candidates fall into, especially when they are feeling particularly nervous.

During my years in HR I have found the STAR technique to be very useful in helping candidates provide structured and engaging interview answers. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result, and forces you to stick to a framework, whilst providing all of the most relevant information in your answer.

I encourage everyone I coach to practice this technique prior to interview and feedback through individuals I’ve coached say that this technique is invaluable!

So what is STAR?

STAR is an acronym for four key concepts. Each concept is a step the job candidate can take to answer a behavioural interview question in a thorough way. The concepts in the acronym include:

Situation: Describe the context within which you performed a job or faced a challenge at work. For example, perhaps you were working on a group project, or you had a conflict with a coworker. This situation can be from a work experience, a volunteer position, or any other relevant event. Be as specific as possible.

Task: Next, describe your responsibility in that situation. Perhaps you had to help your group complete a project under a tight deadline, resolve a conflict with a colleague, or hit a sales target.

Action: You then describe how you completed the task or endeavoured to meet the challenge. Focus on what you did, rather than what your team, boss, or colleague did. (Tip: Instead of saying "We did xyx," say "I did xyz.")

Result: Finally, explain the outcomes or results generated by the action taken. You might emphasise what you accomplished, or what you learned.

Let’s explore the STAR technique in practice

Many interview questions, particularly competency based ones, are designed to gather evidence of the skills a candidate claims to have.

As such, the STAR technique is an excellent strategy and particularly helpful in providing a response to competency based questions, which typically start out with phrases such as tell me a time when and/or give me an example of a situation where…

For Example:

“You mention here on your CV that you have excellent communication skills. Can you tell me about a time time when these skills were put into action?”

  • S: Describe the situation and set the scene

Firstly, set the scene so that the interviewer can understand why your skills were needed in this situation:

“During my time at X, we launched a brand new product. This product was going to be pitched to the Marketing Director of one of our clients.”

  • T: Explain the task you undertook in this situation

Next explain your task or role in this situation, and how your skills were put to the test.

“As the appointed Sales Executive for this product, I was asked to present this pitch. My presentation needed to communicate the unique selling points of this product, and how it would be beneficial to the business. On the morning of the presentation, I was informed that two of our client’s sales directors wanted to sit in on this presentation too.”

  • A: Describe the action you took

Now explain what action you took during this task, and how this action involved your skills.

“Therefore, I adapted my communication style so that I was addressing multiple people in the room. I also tweaked some of the language used during the presentation, avoiding some of the jargon, so that my presentation made sense to both marketing and sales professionals.”

  • R: Showcase the results of the action

Next, talk about the outcomes of your action, and how your skills created a positive result.

“As a result of the successful pitch, I secured an initial order for this product, which increased our monthly revenue by 25 per cent. In addition, my presentation generated some great feedback from the two additional sales directors in particular.”

Why the STAR technique works

By following the STAR technique giving answers to interview questions, you prevent yourself from going off piste.

Following this technique will also ensure that you structure your answer in a way that tells a story to the interview that keeps them interested and makes your interview memorable.

Plus, the STAR technique encourages you to focus your mind on the question you have been asked, and ensures each part of your answer is significant and informative. This makes for a much more satisfactory answer for the interviewer.

Lastly, by practicing this technique and preparing a few scenarios prior to the interview, you will boost your own confidence, by reminding yourself of your unique skill set and all the successes you have achieved so far in your career.

Convinced to start practising yet?

Ahead of your interview, familiarise yourself with both your CV, and the types of interview questions you are likely to be asked. Practice does make a difference and keeping this structure in the interview, will keep your answers front of mind, prevent rambles and showcasing your suitability and ultimately securing a job offer.

So, with that in mind go practice and secure that dream job!

Christina Georgalla is an accredited career coach and chartered HR professional with 18 years bluechip organisational experience. Working primarily with SME's and start up's, she enjoys championing a coaching culture, coaching individuals & teams to reach their full potential and creating feedback opportunities for growth and self improvement. Pursuing a long life dream to coach, she has now dedicated her career to work with individuals everyday at the start of their own transformational journey. You can find her on instagram @thedevelopmentcoach.