Student and Graduate Publishing

The S.T.A.R. Technique and Competency Based Interviews

Friday, 16 March 2018 13:15

Traditional (unstructured) interviews are infamously subjective. One person might think you’re a terrible fit for a particular position, another might hire you on the spot. To reduce this bias, companies are increasingly reliant on competency based (structured) interviews. The interviewer has a list of these kinds of question to ask every candidate. This term might be unfamiliar to you but, if you’ve been to an interview, you’ll recognise the style. 

The typical format of these questions is ‘tell me about a time when you…’. You can use something called the S.T.A.R. technique to give organised, informative answers. 

S.T.A.R. stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, and it structures the type of answer that the interviewer is looking for.

For example, perhaps I am applying for a job that involves handling customer complaints. The interviewer might say 
‘Tell me about a time when you diffused a difficult situation’.

Situation: Here, you outline the context for the story.
‘I was working on the shop floor of a department store, and a very angry customer came over to me to complain. She explained that she had bought several items for an important family dinner. However, when she got home, she realised that the cashier had neglected to put two expensive knives into the carrier bag.’

Task: Explain what was required of you. 
‘It was my responsibility to confirm what the customer was saying, and to resolve the issue in a way that maintained our reputation for outstanding customer service.’

Action: State what you actually did. 
‘I apologised, checked the receipt, and contacted the cashier who served her to see if she remembered seeing these knives behind the counter. The cashier confirmed what the customer was saying, so I replaced them and gave her an additional 15% price reduction. We also reviewed the situation with the cashier in question, and emphasised the importance of attention to detail.’

Result: How well the situation worked out. In an interview, you want to end on a positive note. 
‘The customer was happy with the discount she received and tweeted positively about our customer service. She also continued shopping with us and spent over sixty pounds on the same day.’

It is important to be concise, so that you don’t lose the interviewer’s interest. Be as specific as you can, without overwhelming them with irrelevant details. Including exact numbers, like ‘two knives’ and ‘15%’ makes you seem more convincing, and helps them quantify how successful you were.
You can look through lists of competency based questions online, and prepare some answers before your interview. However, don’t just repeat the acronym! Saying things like ‘The situation was…’ and ‘then my task was…’ makes your answers seem formulaic and overly rehearsed. It shouldn’t be obvious that you are using this technique. When used correctly, it simply makes the information you’re giving sound compelling and methodical, and many employers recommend this approach.

- By Philippa Coster