Idea in short

Behavioural interviews are popular because research shows that how you handled difficult situations in the past is a good indicator of your future job performance. So, you need to spend some time thinking about your strengths, skills and stories to illustrate to an employer. You also need to prepare answers (“stories”) that highlight the different competencies and skillsets the employer is looking for. The problem is most candidates might have a general idea of how to answer these questions. But, the answers usually come out way too long and unfocused. Such sloppiness won’t put the candidate in the best light! The STAR technique is a proven framework that helps candidates present cogent replies on behavioural interviews.

The STAR Technique

All good stories have a beginning (setting up the situation/task), a middle (where the action takes place) and an end (the result or relevance of your behaviour). One technique for answering interview questions is called the STAR method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action and Results. That helps you break down your answers into the when, where, what and how, and articulate your specific results without rambling and present well-structured answers. The STAR method stands for:

S = Situation. Ask yourself, what was the problem? Be as specific as possible.
T = Task. Then, determine what the goal was—ask, what did you need to do?
A = Action. Identify the specific steps you took to reach the goal.
R = Result. Report the final outcome. This is the time to talk yourself up. Take credit for what you accomplished, and if you can highlight multiple positives, even better!

A STAR story should be about 2 minutes long, and delivered with energy and enthusiasm about a real experience you have had.

Example: Have you ever lead a team before?

This is a terrible closed question. You could answer “Yes” or “Yes, on three separate occasions” and move quickly onto the next question. But Leadership is an important skill, and you must not miss this chance to shine. A lot of candidates would give the easy answer here. But, you have a great chance to impress the interviewers!

Situation

Yes. A relevant example being at my last company, where I was initially a software developer, in a team of 6 developing a new finance module for our core accounting product.

Task

The project was critical as launch dates had been set with a lot of sales and marketing investment riding on the product being ready. However, the project was behind schedule, when our team leader unfortunately became ill, and had to leave.

Action

I had been sports team captain at school, where I loved the challenge and responsibility of leadership. So, I volunteered to stand in and by using my technical analysis skills, I spotted a few small mistakes made in the initial coding, which were causing the sporadic errors and slowing us down. Then, I negotiated with our Product Director a small bonus incentive for the team, and budget for two pizza evenings, so we could pull a couple of late night shifts to correct the coding and catch up with the critical project landmarks.

Result

Though this took us 1.5% over budget the software was delivered on time with a better than target fault tolerance. The project was seen as a great success as the additional project cost was minimal compared to the costs of delaying the launch and the negative affect on our product branding. The team where delighted with the extra bonus and I have now been officially promoted to team leader as a result.

The example above not only answers the leadership question asked, but also conveys that you have other skills and behaviours any interviewer would be interested in. Answering tough interview questions like this will work wonders, but answering poorly worded questions will really set you apart.

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