Interviewers will often ask you about past experiences in order to assess whether your skills, knowledge, and decision-making are suitable for a new position or promotion. These 'Behavioural Questions' give you a chance to refer back to previous positions; however, they can often prove more challenging than traditional interview questions due to their complexity and unpredictability. The STAR Technique provides you with a simple framework to prepare for, and answer these types of questions.
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Interviews – particularly job interviews, promotion interviews, and formal assessments – will often feature a type of inquiry known as behavioural questioning. Behavioural questions will attempt to examine proficiency by referring to past work or academic experiences, rather than hypothetical scenarios, in order to understand how the individual has handled situations in the past. Their actions during these past times often provide greater insight into the knowledge, skills, and personality of the applicant than do typical, rigid interview questions, as they give an insight into how one may act in future, perhaps similar, scenarios.
- Give an example of a goal you achieved, and how you reached it.
- Describe a challenging or stressful workplace situation and how you got past it.
- Describe an unpopular decision you made and how you implemented it.
- Explain how you have previously handled the workload of multiple projects.
- Provide an example of when you have worked well as part of a team.
These questions are often highly variable and unpredictable, making it difficult for an interviewee to prepare for such. As they are about your experiences, these are very rarely simple yes-or-no questions, instead, they require longer answers which will often not be considered as right or wrong, only insightful. The STAR Technique can act as a simple guideline to answering these questions, offering a framework by which to delicately structure both your thought process and your response. Prior to the interview, one may consider and note down times when they have exhibited skills which may be expected of them for this role, in order to apply them during their questioning.
The first step in STAR refers to the situation you found yourself in, which you are going to refer to in the context of your answer. You must set the scene clearly – referring to the situation you personally were in (your position at the time, your company, your place within a team or organisation, when this was, etc.), why it was an important or relevant scenario to refer to their question, the time and other resources available to you during this situation, and any other specifics which you may feel are relevant both to the question, and to the context of the interview (perhaps the organisation or position you may be applying to in a job interview).
The task stage is very specific to your role within the situation, and your personal and group objectives. The interviewing individual or team needs to understand what your exact role was in comparison to the group as a whole, what decisions you had to make, the goals you were set, and any potential restraints. You can also use this stage to consider and explain any KPIs or other performance measures that were considered prior to or during the task, which may have relevance in particular to your own personal achievements. This section of your answer generally should start with something similar to “It was my responsibility to…”
This is perhaps the most important stage of the STAR Technique, as it refers to what you actually did or contributed to the situation, task or problem at hand. You should look to highlight what you yourself did, rather than any team-based actions or choices, otherwise, you will not necessarily be displaying your personal skills in an efficient manner. Make sure to include as much relevant detail as possible, as the interviewer will likely still be unfamiliar with you and your history, but make sure not to use any acronyms and institutional language which could not be understood by others. This will also aid in convincing the interviewer that this is a real scenario – names, locations and figures will make it seem far more legitimate.
One must make clear the way that they evaluated the situation at hand, and how you came to your final decision on the next step. This can be relayed to communication, teamwork and leadership skills if you also include how you delegated roles to the team and encouraged inclusion and co-operation. You can also display emotional intelligence by explaining how you considered the individual strengths and needs of individual team members to maximise their performance. If this was an individual task, express how you were well organised, managing your time well and how you made sure the appropriate path played to your strengths.
When elaborating on the results of your actions, you should be able to display at least one positive outcome, and preferably one which is easily quantifiable. In the case of many positions, it may be beneficial to choose a scenario which resulted in a financial benefit or an increase in productivity, for example.
Furthermore, the interviewer may well ask what you believe went well in that situation, and what went poorly. They then may question you on what you would change if you could relive the same moments again. You should not be too overly critical on yourself or your actions during this time – even if the result was not what you wished for – and instead should try to frame yourself in a positive light, despite making any reflections on what could have been improved.
If you take the time to carefully consider appropriate scenarios prior to the interview, and follow this outline step-by-step, you should have a strong structure to answer behavioural questions. With any luck, these will show that you have the appropriate experience, knowledge, skills, and decision-making required to excel in the position, promotion or whatever else you are being interviewed with regards to.