The STAR Method: Awesome Example Winning Answers to Competency Interview Questions

By: Joe McDermott | Updated: 8 December, 2018 | Category: How to Answer, Interview Questions And Answers

The STAR Method for Answering Competency Questions

How to use the STAR Method to answer competency and behavioural interview questions like a pro!

Have you been asked a competency or behavioural interview question and failed to answer successfully?

Don’t worry you are not alone.

We have been coaching clients to success in job interviews for the past 12 years and we see so many candidates who struggle to give top scoring answers to these tough interview questions.

As we will see below there is a range of reasons for this however the most important fault is lack of structure. In this guide we will teach you all about the STAR method, a powerful and well recognised technique for answering not just competency but any interview question like an expert.

But first let’s look at the basics.

What is a Competency?

A Competency is a skill or ability that is required in the job. There is a limited number of these although they may be called different names.

For example in the Civil Service Competency Framework you will come across Making Effective Decisions also called by others simply Decision Making.

Other common ones are Leading and Communicating, Collaborating and Partnering (Team Work), Managing a Quality Service, Managing Successful Relationships, Delivering at Pace, Changing and Improving.

Employers Love Competency Based Interview Questions – Why is that?

Put simply they remove the risk of bias.

In the past managers would often hire based on gut-feeling. They might give the job to someone based on how they looked or dressed or how they spoke. While there still remains a risk of human bias Competency Interviewing reduces this dramatically.

In addition, past behaviour is taken as an indicator of future performance. In other words, if you have done it once, you can do it again. Employers believe that they get more qualified candidates who will perform better in the role.

Why so Many People Struggle When Answering Competency Questions?

There is so much advice out there now both online and offline; videos, blogs, books etc.

And yet why do so many people get them wrong?

We constantly see clients who come to us for interview coaching and who have had poor experiences in a competency interview.

Quite often a client will have had feedback saying that their answers were not detailed enough. They are surprised by this because they will have talked and talked in the interview so how can they not have given enough detail?

Other will have prepared and yet are stumped because the questions they prepared for don’t come up exactly as they planned. They get asked the question in a different format and they just go blank.

The top problem we see is poor structure and this is where the STAR method comes into play.

What is the STAR Method for Answering Interview Questions?

Put simply the STAR technique is a way to structure your answer. It is recommended for use by most organisations including Government, Civil Service, banks and the NHS.

S.T.A.R. stands for Situation + Task + Action + Result

SITUATION

Start by describing the SITUATION you were involved in. You can use an example from your current or previous job, education, personal experience or any relevant event. Always choose the most appropriate and business orientated example you have and one that best fits the role for which you are being interviewed. Choose an example that demonstrates the significance of your experience, the most difficult, complex, largest and successful problem, situation or task that you resolved. Give enough detail for the interviewer to understand what was involved but no more than one or two sentences.

TASK

Briefly describe what you were tasked with, your responsibilities and assignments for the situation. Once again a sentence or two is sufficient.

ACTION

This will be the section that the interviewer is most interested in and should detail the actions you took to resolve the problem, situation or task. Describe all of the actions, detailing each stage and in the correct, logical order showing your thought processes, how you reached your conclusions and the steps you completed.

This is the most important part of your answer, because it allows you to highlight in detail what your response was and to clearly show your skills in a real-life scenario.

Remember they want to the action you took, so if you are discussing a group project or task, describe what you did rather than the achievements of the team.

You may feel as if you are being overly descriptive but this is necessary in order to demonstrate that you have the experience of the action you are describing; do not assume that the interviewer will guess or infer what you did merely from your describing the context.

RESULT

The Result is the second most important part of your answer as a successful outcome proves that your actions were effective. Talk about what you accomplished, what you delivered in terms of benefit, what you learnt and if appropriate, what you would do differently next time.

Give evidence to prove success and this can be in the form of figures or numbers, anything that will show just what a winning outcome you delivered. Third party feedback is another great token of evidence so mention positive feedback you received from your manager, team or others.

Finally, talk about what you learned and how this learning will help you in the job being recruited for.

Get The Job With InterviewGold!

Competency Example Answers

Discover how to answer any competency question with 100% confidence.

Get Instant Access

How to Use the STAR Technique to Make Your Answers Really Stand Out

Here’s a secret – it’s all in the Story!

Would you read a book that was boring? No, probably not and you would not recommend it to your friends.

And how many pages would you read before you concluded it was boring? Some might persevere to the end, but most would give up after maybe 20 or 30 pages.

The point I am trying to make is that your answer, your story must be gripping and it must grip in the first few sentences.

2 Key Factors That Make a Good Answer Great

Almost all Competency Based and Behavioural Questions ask you to provide an example that details a situation you have taken part in.

As straightforward a request as this is, not being prepared with a solid example may cause you to ramble, which could result in a poor score.

The best and most effective way to deliver a high scoring competency answer depends on:

  • 1. Choosing the right structure
  • 2. Choosing the right example

As regards the right structure we have looked at using the STAR technique above. In the InterviewGold online training we teach two other formulas the IPAR and CARL methods, both of which are powerful techniques which you an use an an alternative to STAR.

However, no matter how great the structure is you must choose the right examples to talk about.

Tips on Choosing Examples for Your STAR Answer

Choosing the right example is vital. It must be relevant and real and here are our top tips.

Relevant: Make sure that the example is relevant to the role you are being interviewed and clearly relates to the competency being explored. For example, if talking about Making Effective Decisions you should make specific reference to what the decision was, what data you gathered and used, what process you followed and how you met the objectives successfully while dealing with obstacles.

Complex: The task or project must be sufficiently complex for the role. It should also have been long enough in duration and complex enough in terms of actions completed to adequately demonstrate the skills required at this level. Choose one where you had to use other competencies at the same time. In addition make sure that you can talk about problems or obstacles overcome.

Impact: Choose an example with impact in terms of scale, reach, growth, results delivered or improvement made for example.

Sample STAR Answer To Inspire Your Interview Success

So let’s look at how to use the STAR method in a practical example. We will choose the Problem Solving competency however the technique can be used for any competency or skill. Use this example to inspire your own interview answers; think about your own situation and the role you are being interview for and search for relevant and real examples you can use.

How would you answer the question? Can you think of any examples of when you used these skills successfully?

Keep in mind that your answer should be told in a story format to keep the interviewer’s interest. Here is an example situation forming part of an answer using the STAR technique mentioned above.

Problem Solving – Example For Your STAR Answer

Competency Question: Tell me about a time when you used your initiative to resolve a complex problem. What was involved and what actions did you take?

Situation

Last year while working as Customer Focus Manager with ABC Products Ltd in London, I successfully implemented a new process which reduced the time taken to process customer refunds from 14 days to 2 days, saving over £100,000 annually in agent time and gaining a 50% uplift in customer approval ratings.

In that single opening they are hooked, they know what your story is about, they know you have done something great and they want to hear more.

Task

The next part of the answer is the Task and this should be summarised in no more than 1 or 2 sentences.

Our customer refund process was taking 14 days and was using up an excessive amount of agent time and resources. I was tasked with reducing this to 2 days with the added benefit of saving time and resources.

That’s all they need to know – no more.

Action

I initiated the project by firstly clearly defining the objectives and the procedures.

I created a detailed brief that both analysed the problem and outlined the potential benefits of the newly proposed process.

I completed a walk-through of the existing system and identified where problems were occurring.

I interviewed the agents involved to gather their input into both the current system and their ideas of what they thought would work well. I believed this to be vital as I knew I needed to get them on my side in order to implement the new process.

With all that knowledge, I designed a new process and drafted a brief which I then forwarded to four software companies who specialise in the system we needed.

I considered their alternative approaches and compared each in terms of cost and ease of functionality, discussed with the agents and after having a demonstration and on hands testing, selected our preferred supplier.

After presentation and consultation with my management team I organised a project team tasked with implementing this new system.

I set up a system for internal and external feedback and communication, ensuring that everyone involved was on board and up to speed.

Throughout, I successfully managed the team members, updated and revising project milestones as necessary and in the end delivered a system that performed superbly.

Result

We always like to see some numbers which demonstrate the scale of the project. So you can simply repeat the outcome that you used in your Introduction as this emphasis the great success you had.

I was very pleased with the outcome. I reduced the time taken to process customer refunds from 14 days to 2 days, saving over £100,000 annually in agent time. It was also a great result from the customers point of view and we gained a 50% uplift in customer approval ratings for the team. Even more pleasing was the fact that the Board of Directors awarded me a prize for top performing team leader as a result of this project.

As you can see this answer is punchy, more exciting and demonstrates more clearly the actions completed in a step by step way.

Get More Competency Sample Answers

With the InterviewGold online interview training you get competency interview questions, sample answers and the effective behaviours to show. Click here to learn more.

Remember: You Must Include the Correct Behaviours in Your STAR Answer

The other key feature of Competency Based Interviews is that your answers will be scored against pre –determined results. These are called Behaviours and can be positive and negative. For example, looking at Communication skills, the positive behaviours the interviewer will look for may include:

  • Develops messages using structure and logical order
  • Tailors content of message to meet the needs and interest of the audience
  • Conveys messages in a clear and concise manner in language appropriate to the receiver.
  • Checks understanding of the audience and adapts message and tone accordingly
  • Uses most effective channels as appropriate to the situation

For the positive behaviours to include in your answers have a look at the InterviewGold Online Interview Training for Competency Based Interviews.

7 Key Strategies to Keep in Mind When Answering Competency Based Questions

1. Use Real Examples

When considering how to answer, I strongly recommend using authentic examples from your past experiences, as opposed to giving a fabricated or made up account.

2. Avoid Stock Answers

It is tempting to use a competency answer from a book or online and pass it off as your own. I strongly recommend against this. Instead, use the formulas and advice outlined here to develop your own personal answers. This will help you avoid a potentially awkward situation during your interview, should you be asked to elaborate on a particular point.

3. Keep it Relevant

You should also take great care to ensure that your answers are relevant to the question being asked. They need to contain a sufficient amount of detail. Show a strong command of the core competency and clearly demonstrate that you skilled at using it.

4. Check the Job Description

Study the job description thoroughly so that you completely grasp exactly what core competencies are essential to the position. Use this information to develop and rehearse relevant examples of past situations where you applied these skills.

5. Its all about I

Always frame your answer with a proper introduction, and make liberal use of ‘I’. In fact, every one of your answers should be in the first person; always choose ‘I’ over ‘we,’ even in cases where you are discussing a past team collaboration.

6. Review your CV

Carefully examine your resume / curriculum vitae to fully prepare your responses, and devise competency answers which correspond to your highlights and achievements. Doing this will provide you with plenty of useful information that you can then use effectively no matter what type of competency question you are asked.

7. Get Jotting

Even making a bulleted list in advance as opposed to devising full answers can be helpful. This will ensure your examples will be fresh and at the forefront of your thoughts during the interview.

Want to Answer Any Competency Based Interview Question With 100% Confidence?

I hope you have benefited from the guide above but if you want something more in-depth have a look at our InterviewGold online interview training.

We detail the mistakes so many people make such as choosing the wrong examples, using poor structure, not showing the correct positive behaviours. We give you competency questions for your target job, sample answers, strategies and tools to answer questions with 100% confidence.

Boost Your Chances of Getting The Job

Get Instant Access to InterviewGold

About the Author |
Joe McDermott is CEO of Anson Reed the UK's leading interview coaching specialists and founder of the successful InterviewGold online interview training system. Since 2006, Joe and his team of top interview coaches have helped over 35,000 people and in this blog they offer their expert advice - all to make sure you get your top job.
Top