Interview nerves giving you sweaty palms and a blank mind? Unsure of how to phrase your answers for fear of looking stupid?
Don’t worry, this is a normal response to the pressure of interviews. And there is a brilliantly simple technique you can harness to ensure you remain calm, answer questions articulately and never run out of examples while under pressure.
Being well-prepared is a good way to reduce interview stress. Go through your CV or application and remind yourself of your selling points such as your key strengths.
Now you need examples to support what you say. This is where being a STAR candidate will give you the edge over the competition, position you strongly in the interviewer’s mind and help reduce your anxiety.
The STAR method is a great tool for mining and refining your examples. It’s also perfect for competency-based interview questions, often used to objectively assess candidates against set criteria.
The STAR method is a mnemonic for:
Situation, Task (or target), Action and Results
It’s a great way to tease out the specifics of what you did or achieved and can be used to answer the dreaded question ‘tell me about a time when…’ Under pressure, you’re likely to forget what you did, or jumble it up and your answer becomes a rambling mess, missing the key points. Easily done.
Here’s why the STAR technique makes your life easier
How can you use the STAR method for interviews and make yourself look great?
Using the STAR method is straightforward:
Situation: set the scene of the issue or challenge. Keep it concise to avoid a rambling response. This helps keep you focused too.
Task or Target: What needed to be done or had to be achieved.
Action: What you did and the skills or knowledge you used to overcome the challenge. You could say something like ‘because of Y, I decided to Z,’ which also shows your reasoning and problem-solving skills to maximise your answer.
Result: The outcome. End on a positive note and make the answer quantifiable if you can as this strengthens your answer, e.g. your actions saved a client account worth £1.5 million, or you saved the company £10k.
The best part?
You can tailor the technique to flesh out any example and highlight the key skills you used that match the criteria the interview is looking for. So don’t panic if you haven’t saved the company hundreds of thousands of pounds!
Simply use the technique to demonstrate any example of a time where you’ve taken action to overcome difficulties. You might have saved your team the headache of losing paper by creating a better filing system, or made a team meeting run more efficiently by introducing an agenda. Whatever your example, the STAR system will help you identify the key elements, and keep you focused as you tell it to the interviewer.
These are just a few examples of how to put the STAR system into action.
Make sure you're using STAR successfully
But that’s just part of the story. Now you know how the system works you need to apply four rules to make it work successfully.
Demonstrate one example rather than combining several. Also quantify information where you can. If you spoke to a number of clients, say how many. If you cleared a backlog of admin files, estimate how many.
No one likes waffle and your interviewer will thank you for keeping it short and sweet. Maximise the value of your answer by describing the key points only. You might start to wander off due to interview nerves. Remember where you are in the STAR stage – have you outlined the situation sufficiently? Great, now move on to what you needed to achieve. Keep on track and don’t forget to show how you solved the problem!
Keep it positive
Avoid using examples where you risk slating ex-colleagues. You don’t want to come across as a person who blames others. If you must use an example where it was someone’s fault, try to couch your response in positive terms. Instead of poor customer service due to ineffective staff, perhaps the customer service team were struggling due to a new technical system - you could then go on to say how you rectified it, leading to a happier, more effective team and an increase in positive customer comments.
Keep it smooth
Don’t make it obvious that you’re using the STAR system. It works best when your answer is given as a coherent, smooth reply. It will come across as a well-articulated answer that contains maximum information.
Avoid saying ‘the situation was X, my target was therefore Y and the result was Z’
Write the example down beforehand and practise it until it sounds natural. Struggling to get a natural flow going? Imagine you’re telling a friend about this situation.
Now you know how STAR works and why plus how to use it successfully. Start identifying your best examples that show the skills the interviewer is seeking and you’ll be well on the way to breezing that interview.
Best of luck!
Sarah Norris is a professional copywriter and CV writer with a background in recruitment, psychology and marketing. She helps individuals to create a buzz with recruiters and to win interviews, via polished CV's and professional profile writing. Sarah also works with companies to create high quality CVs and team profiles as part of the contract bid process.
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