The secret to giving strong interview answers

Author: Susie Timlin, Global Director of People & Culture, Hays Talent Solutions

Have you ever wanted an opportunity so much, that during your interview answers, you ended up listing every single reason why you were the most suitable candidate for the job, shoehorning in points which weren’t even relevant to the question? This is common trap that many candidates fall into, especially when they are feeling particularly nervous.

During my years in recruitment, I have found the STAR technique to be very useful in helping candidates provide structured and engaging interview answers. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Analysis and Result, and forces you to stick to a framework, whilst providing all of the most relevant information in your answer.

The STAR technique in practice

Many interview questions, particularly competency based ones, are designed to gather evidence of the skills a candidate claims to have. As such, the STAR technique is an excellent method of providing this information to the interviewer without going off on a tangent. For instance:

“You mention here on your CV that you have excellent verbal communication skills. Can you describe a time these skills were put to the test?”

S: Describe the situation and set the scene

Firstly, set the scene so that the interviewer can understand why your skills were needed in this situation:

“During my time at X, we launched a brand new product. This product was going to be pitched to the Marketing Director of one of our clients.”

T: Explain the task you undertook in this situation

Next explain your task or role in this situation, and how your skills were put to the test.

“As the appointed Sales Executive for this product, I was asked to present this pitch. My presentation needed to communicate the unique selling points of this product, and how it would be beneficial to the business. On the morning of the presentation, I was informed that two of our client’s sales directors wanted to sit in on this presentation too.”

A: Describe the action you took

Now explain what action you took during this task, and how this action involved your skills.

“Therefore, I adapted my communication style so that I was addressing multiple people in the room. I also tweaked some of the language used during the presentation, avoiding some of the jargon, so that my presentation made sense to both marketing and sales professionals.”

R: Showcase the results of the action

Next, talk about the outcomes of your action, and how your skills created a positive result.

“As a result of the successful pitch, I secured an initial order for this product, which increased our monthly revenue by 25 per cent. In addition, my presentation generated some great feedback from the two additional sales directors in particular.”

Why the STAR technique works

By following the STAR technique giving answers to interview questions, you prevent yourself from going off topic. Adhering to this technique will also ensure that you structure your answer in a way that tells a story to the interviewer, keeping them interested.

Furthermore, the STAR technique encourages you to focus your mind on the question you have been asked, and ensures each part of your answer is significant and informative. This makes for a much more satisfactory answer for the interviewer. Lastly, by practicing this technique and preparing a few scenarios prior to the interview, you will boost your own confidence, by reminding yourself of your unique skill set and all the successes you have achieved so far in your career.

So, ahead of the interview, familiarise yourself with both your CV, and the types of interview questions you are likely to be asked. Practice your interview answers, sticking to the STAR technique. Once you are in the interview room, keep this structure in the front of your mind. This will allow you to answer each question fully without rambling, whilst showcasing your suitability for the role.

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