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Follow these STAR interview techniques for a greater chance of interview success...

Author: Nathan Foulds
Category: Recruitment
20 November, 2013
The acronym STAR stands for:

• Situation
• Task
• Action
• Result

It is a universally recognised communication technique designed to enable you to provide a meaningful and complete answer to questions asking for examples. At the same time, it has the advantage of being simple enough to be applied easily.

Many interviewers will have been trained in using the STAR structure. Even if they have not, they will recognise its value when they see it. The information will be given to them in a structured manner and, as a result, they will become more receptive to the messages you are trying to communicate.

Step 1 – Situation or Task

Describe the situation that you were confronted with or the task that needed to be accomplished. With the STAR approach you need to set the context. Make it concise and informative, concentrating solely on what is useful to the story. For example, if the question is asking you to describe a situation where you had to deal with a difficult person, explain how you came to meet that person and why they were being difficult. If the question is asking for an example of teamwork, explain the task that you had to undertake as a team.

Step 2 – Action

This is the most important section of the STAR approach as it is where you will need to demonstrate and highlight the skills and personal attributes that the question is testing. Now that you have set the context of your story, you need to explain what you did. In doing so, you will need to remember the following:
• Be personal, i.e. talk about you, not the rest of the team.
• Go into some detail. Do not assume that they will guess what you mean.
• Steer clear of technical information, unless it is crucial to your story.
• Explain what you did, how you did it, and why you did it /

What you did and how you did it:

The interviewers will want to know how you reacted to the situation. This is where you can start selling some important skills. For example, you may want to describe how you used the team to achieve a particular objective and how you used your communication skills to keep everyone updated on progress etc.

Why you did it:

For example; when discussing a situation where you had to deal with conflict, many candidates would simply say: “I told my colleague to calm down and explained to him what the problem was”. However, it would not provide a good idea of what drove you to act in this manner. How did you ask him to calm down? How did you explain the nature of the problem? By highlighting the reasons behind your action, you would make a greater impact. For example:

“I could sense that my colleague was irritated and I asked him gently to tell me what he felt the problem was. By allowing him to vent his feelings and his anger, I gave him the opportunity to calm down. I then explained to him my own point of view on the matter, emphasising how important it was that we found a solution that suited us both."

This revised answer helps the interviewers understand what drove your actions and reinforces the feeling that you are calculating the consequences of your actions, thus retaining full control of the situation. It provides much more information about you as an individual and is another reason why the STAR approach is so useful.

Step 3 – Result:

Explain what happened eventually – how it all ended. Also, use the opportunity to describe what you accomplished and what you learnt in that situation. This helps you make the answer personal and enables you to highlight further skills.

This is probably the most crucial part of your answer. Interviewers want to know that you are using a variety of generic skills in order to achieve your objectives. Therefore you must be able to demonstrate in your answer that you are taking specific actions because you are trying to achieve a specific objective and not simply by chance.

Example: Please tell me about a time you had to manage a client who was very angry with the service he was receiving from you company:

S: ABC Payments had experienced some major technical problems, meaning our downtime was much higher than it should have been. A major value merchant was calling to complain about their transactions being lost in the system, and it was causing concerns about our reliability as a service provider.

T: My task was to pacify the client, explain the situation, and at the same time try to work hard internally with my colleagues to rectify the overlying problem to improve the situation and ensure that the system was working as reliably as possible.

A: I immediately got back to the client and informed them of the issue. I spoke to several colleagues and got an expected time the system would be back. I communicated this, using empathy and making an apology, to the client, whilst explaining what had led to the breakdown. I gave the client the option to discuss his feelings and I listened to how our outage had affected his business. This gave him the opportunity to feel better and also feel that someone cared and was listening to him.

R: The result was a happy & retained customer, and I learned that often listening in these situations is as important as speaking.

Feel free to contact me for more interview advice, or a discussion about your own career: nf@payments-recruitment.co.uk.

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