You’ve updated your CV and promoted yourself so well that you’ve secured an interview. Now what? Your interview is very likely to take a competency-based approach – the STAR interview technique. Here’s how to get prepared for it.

The traditional interview

The competency-based interview approach looks to extract examples of your ability and track record at performing certain desired tasks which proves that you have the right profile for the job.

Years ago, CVs prepared you and the interviewer for a “getting to know you” conversation. “I see you studied at Eton; Etonians are always welcome at Forefar & Farfore!” “Tell me a bit about yourself and what brings you here?” It’s all good ice-breaking chat, but not designed to tick off against a set of listed criteria.

The traditional interview has its place. It helps to relax people and build rapport between interviewer and candidate, but it’s becoming increasingly outdated. During an interview like this, you will be well placed to perform as well as anyone no matter what generation they come from. But you would be well-advised to prepare answers should the format change. Have specific examples to fall back on and include your achievements to demonstrate your experience. 

The competency-based interview

This brings us back to those competency-based questions that are likely to lie in wait at your interview today. While the CV helps to get you invited for that interview, you may also be able to use it more effectively for The Competency Based Interview if you write it is as such.

Today’s interviewing techniques look for STAR answers from competency-based questions.

Depending how well you answer those questions, will deem you a STAR or not such a twinkler. As you go through your answer the interviewer will be ticking off the 4 boxes of S, T, A and R.

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

To be a STAR you need to answer your core competency question while using well-rehearsed examples from your career and work experience. You should aim to have the ability to recall at least 2 examples for every competency question you can think of and insert these examples on the fly. 

The interviewer might ask you the question “Have you ever dealt with a difficult customer and what did you do?”

Now is your chance to discuss how the Situation arose, give the background on why the customer was being difficult, what you felt the Task was (what was your challenge ) in order to bring about a resolution and what Action you took to resolve it. Finally, detail what the Result was. You should finish off your answer with how it turned out to be a win-win for all of the stakeholders.

You need to be able to show that you are a STAR for many questions of this style. The idea is to show your initiative, achievements and career highlights, each supported by an example as your answer.

If you can cover all of the STAR criteria, you are indeed at the top of the tick list. If you are completely unclear, disjointed and start talking hypothetically, without getting to the 4 original elements, well it’s time to move on to the next question.

Common questions in a competency-based interview

The most common question in a competency-based interview is the MSA (Most Significant Accomplishment) question. How well-equipped you are to deliver a STAR answer when it comes to talking about your MSA is key. The “Can you tell me about your strengths or weaknesses question?” is also important. You need to think of answers here in terms of examples and using STAR as your guiding posts.

How you answer these two questions will give the interviewer enough information to know whether you are worthy of making it to the next round. You are served well by preparing your best answers for both.

There are vast quantities of further reading on this subject and it is up to you to take the time to ensure you have all your research done. Think of the question you would least like to be asked and then go about making sure you cover that one first. Google is a perfect port of call for this.

As a little tip here, I suggest that you put in .alltop after every Google search you do. e.g. “Best answer to Most Significant Accomplishment question.alltop”

And finally…

Make sure you finish up with some questions to show you have thought about what it takes to work for the company and what to expect next from the process.

If you are in for a sales role, you might feel the urge to close them. I would suggest a soft attempt at most as there is very little chance of getting commitment at this stage.

I want to caveat this article for everyone who has reached this point. My intention is not to offer the definitive approach because there is none. Your CV remains personal, so being genuine, honest and to the point is your best option. Remember you have to back everything you write during a face-to-face interview. It can’t be alien to you and you need to be comfortable with its content and tone.

My advice is to write your CV by weaving it into the format of a competency-based interview structure and to remember you always want to be a…STAR.

Best of luck to all of you.

Please feel free to offer your opinion and assistance below. There are no right or wrong answers.

At this point I also welcome anyone who needs to discuss their CV or any aspect of the above.