The STAR Interview Technique

April 22 2016, 0 Comments

STAR Interview Technique

For this post we've invited Interview and Career Coach Margaret Buj to share her advice on preparing for competency based interviews with the STAR technique.

Here's Margaret...

One thing I’ve noticed while working as a recruiter and interview coach is that a lot of my candidates and clients struggle with answering competency-based (or behavioural) interview questions.

In fact, many times, the main reason a candidate gets rejected after their interview is the fact they didn’t provide relevant and detailed examples in their responses.

Even if an employer hasn’t told you that you’ll be involved in a behavioural-style interview, you are still likely to face behavioural or competency-based interview questions. Here’s what you need to know to handle them successfully:


Traditional vs. Competency-Based Interviewing

Traditional interviews present you with traditional interview questions such as, “Tell me a little bit about yourself,” “Why do you want to work here?” or “What motivates you?”

The process of competency-based interviewing is much more complex. A prospective employer will try to make a prediction of your future success by understanding how you’ve handled certain situations in the past.

While in a traditional interview you can usually get away with somewhat generic answers; in a competency interview, you will be asked for very specific examples of past achievements.

Be prepared to be asked for details, including names, dates, budgets and outcomes. The interviewers are likely to ask you about lengthy projects you’ve been involved in — you’ll need to tell them how your role has evolved and how you handled deadlines, pressures and difficult personalities.

When you give examples from your work experience, the interviewer will probe you to try to understand how you think and how you determined what steps to take and in what order.


How to Answer Competency-Based Questions

The questions will start with, “Tell about a time…” or “Describe a situation…” Once you’ve answered, you might be encouraged to elaborate further with questions like, “So, why did you decide to do this?” or “What made you decide to do this?”

The interviewer will try to establish what benefits you will bring to the company, and where you’re stronger than other candidates interviewing for the same job.

Therefore, when giving examples, I’d recommend that you use the STAR statement format:

S – Situation

T – Task

A – Action

R – Result

Here’s how it works,

  • Situation/Task: Describe a work-related situation you were in or the task you needed to accomplish. Be very specific and give details, but keep it short and concise.
  • Action: Describe the action you took, and be sure to keep the focus on you. Even if you’re discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did, not the efforts of the team. Don’t tell what you might do or would do; tell what you did
  • Results: Describe what you achieved. What happened? What feedback did you receive? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? How much time/money did you save?

Take the time to develop and practice your S.T.A.R. statements. You’ll want to have at least 6-8 S.T.A.R. statements at the tip of your tongue when you go into an interview.

Create S.T.A.R. statements from the jobs on your resume that you want to bring attention to. As you use these statements as examples, your interviewer will become familiar with the various positions you have held and will get a good idea of your track record of success in those various positions.

The result segment is the most important part of your answer, because a successful outcome proves that your actions were effective. If possible, offer statistics or figures that highlight the magnitude of your success, mention positive feedback you received, and talk about what you learned and how this learning will help you in the job you’re being interviewed for.


Margaret Buj is an interview and career acceleration coach who specializes in helping professionals get hired, promoted and paid more.