How good are you at answering interview questions? Are you confident that you’re performing at your best? How well do you express yourself? Are you able to convince interviewers how well suited you are to the job over and above other interview candidates?
It’s always excellent news to find out you’ve been called for interview, but your next challenge is to make sure you perform well to get the job offer you’re looking for. Nowadays, employers use a number of different interview formats including phone ‘screener’ interviews, on-line video interviews and more conventional panel interviews. Whichever type of interview it is, you will need to use coherent and convincing language to engage and interest the interviewer. Humans respond well to stories (the derivation of the word “history” is “his story”); it is your story-telling skills which will help you to bring your content to life and capture the attention of your interviewer listeners.
This is where the STAR technique comes in. An abbreviation of SITUATION – TASK – ACTIVITY – RESULT, this handy acronym can help to guide you to tell mini-stories during your interview, adding colour and life to your experiences. The idea is to set the scene for a situation when you had to put into practice a certain skill or strength to achieve a particular outcome.
For example, if you are asked a question about your problem-solving skills, think of a project you have been involved with (SITUATION). What problem were you trying to solve? (It could be technically, people, ideas, etc. orientated) (TASK). What exactly did you do, which skills and experiences did you draw upon in order to solve the problem? (ACTION). What was the result of your action, what impact did it have – you can use quantities to make it even more interesting (RESULT).
Another example to demonstrate working in a team: You may have taken part in organising a departmental event (SITUATION). What were you organising? (TASK). What was your role? What part did you play? (ACTION). What was the outcome? (RESULT).
The interviewer(s) may then go on to ask you questions around your STAR story such as what kinds of difficulties did you encounter, how could you have done things differently, what did you learn from the experience, etc. If you can predict from the job description/role, the types of skills and competencies the interviewers are likely to be interested in hearing about to help convince themselves of your suitability, you can prepare the examples ahead of your interview so you can talk about them succinctly and coherently. Beware of spending too much time on describing the situation; this is usually the least important part of the STAR story. Your actions form the most important part of the story, demonstrating the way you think things through, tackle tasks and interact with others.
Bear in mind that even when you are asked questions about how you envisage yourself carrying out certain duties in the future as part of your potential new role, e.g. setting up a lab, applying for grants, thinking innovatively or communicating to different audiences, you can still refer to past experiences and examples using the STAR technique. Refer to a past or current situation to demonstrate how you have already done these types of activities in a different setting and how your skills can be transferred into future responsibilities. Whatever gaps you have in your skill-set can form the basis of continuing professional development opportunities in your new role.