As recruiters we are always encouraging candidates to take the time to prepare before an interview. The STAR technique is a great tool to help you to firstly, prepare specific examples (we’ll go into more detail later), secondly, to help you communicate those examples in a structured way and thirdly, to understand how you are being assessed and what information recruiters need to be able to make a decision whether you can do the job or not.
What does STAR mean? It’s a well used acronym which stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. The STAR technique is a tried, tested and very traditional process used by both recruiters and candidates. Recruiters use this technique to gather specific information during the interview and assess (after the interview) that information against pre-determined criteria. Here’s the good news, candidates can also use this technique to prepare for behavioural competency style interview questions.
What are behavioural competencies? A behavioural competency is an attribute, knowledge, skill, ability or other characteristic that contributes to the successful performance within a specified job role. Behaviour competencies are observable and measurable behaviours, knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics that contribute to individual success in the business. The thinking behind using this style of questioning is that past behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour. It gives the recruiter a good idea of how the candidate has managed, handled and approached situations in the past and the candidate is likely to behave the same way in the future.
A few examples of behavioural competencies are team work, communication skills, interpersonal skills, time management, prioritising or planning and organising skills. It’s worth noting too that each behavioural competency has its own positive and negative indicators and these determine whether the competency is being met or whether there could be a development need. Obviously recruiters will be looking for positive indicators that match the competency being assessed.
For example, if a candidate is being assessed for excellent customer service skills then the recruiter might be looking for examples that include listening to the customer’s requirements, gathering lots of information by asking relevant questions, understanding the nature of the enquiry, complaint or issue, investigating the root cause of an issue or problem, using several systems to find out all the facts before drawing any conclusion, keeping the customer informed throughout the investigation etc.
The key to demonstrating behavioural competencies during an interview is to use specific examples from your career history – this means taking the recruiter back into a past situation. If you talk generally about what you are likely to do then this will not give the recruiter any evidence of your capability or ability to apply this behaviour in the workplace. For most candidates it’s difficult to think of specific examples on the spot or remember the relevant details of a situation and that’s why it’s so important to prepare before the interview and give these types of questions some serious thought, time and attention.
Let’s take a closer look at how candidates can use the STAR technique to prepare for behavioural competency style interviews.
A typical behavioural competency question a recruiter is likely to ask might look like this example, “Describe a time when you had to plan and organise an event?” The candidate would then start their answer by describing the event – just a brief summary to give the recruiter some context before they go on to explain the detail of what had to be planned and organised.
The key for this part of the example is not to give too much detail about the event itself. Otherwise this example will quickly turn into a story rather than giving any information to demonstrate a competence. For example, “I was responsible for organising the office move. We moved 300 employees from X location to X location. We only had three months notice to relocate.” Or “I was responsible for organising the end of year office party. There were 20 of us in the team and I had a budget of £30 per head.”
After asking the main behavioural competency question the recruiter will then start to ask a series of probing questions to gather information in each section of the STAR process.
What was involved in planning this particular event? Make sure you let the recruiter know how much went into the planning stage and never assume they will know what was involved. Making assumptions or thinking “I won’t say that because it’s too obvious” is a big mistake during the interview. You’ll miss out key information that will help the recruiter understand exactly what you did in this example. Who was involved? Was there any equipment required? Did you have to source a venue? Did you have a budget to manage? If you were involved in organising a party for example, then think about all that needed arranging, the venue, the catering, the invites, the entertainment, the transport, the accommodation, hotels for overnight stays and the list goes on.
It’s really important that you let the recruiter know exactly what you were responsible and accountable for in this scenario. What actions did you take to make sure everything was in place and completed on time and within budget. It’s okay to let the recruiter know the tasks and duties that other people were responsible for taking however, don’t go overboard with too much information about other people’s tasks – remember the recruiter really only wants to know what you did and what you contributed to the situation. Let the recruiter know how you kept track of tasks and their status, i.e. started, pending, on hold or completed.
It’s important you demonstrate that you are organised and today it’s really important you demonstrate your ability to use systems and tools to do so – it’s no longer enough to say you write a “to do list”. Okay some of us still like using pen and paper to write a list of things to do but if you cannot use systems then another candidate will most likely get the job.
This is another really important part of the STAR technique and one that is often answered poorly by lots of candidates that haven’t prepared their examples. If you say it was a good result – this is not enough for the recruiter to get a good idea of the outcome of your input. You must give lots of details about what went well and what didn’t go so well – you might be apprehensive about sharing negatives in the interview however, it’s unlikely everything always goes as planned in reality and the recruiters will know some things are out of your control or events happen during the planning phase that change the actions taken.
You might want to include lessons learnt from a particularly situation – what would you do differently next time. You most certainly want to include a commercial element to your results – did your input save time or money or resources or did it generate revenue or increase morale, brand awareness or increase productivity.
Tell us about the examples you’ve used during an interview that have had good feedback. We hope you find this technique useful to prepare for behavioural competency style interviews.
Photo by: amalia janes