Give behavioural interviewing the STAR treatment

In any walk of life, it stands to reason that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance. In similar circumstances, what happened before is likely to happen again.

This is the key insight behind the growing trend of ‘behavioural interviewing’, where the would-be employer focuses on job-related experiences, behaviours and skills to predict how a candidate will perform in a given role.

Behavioural interviewing is a test of the candidate’s critical thinking ability. Employers decide in advance which precise skills are necessary for the job, then probe the candidate with specific questions to find out if they have what it takes.

Again, this stands to reason. If a certain role requires strong leadership, the candidate will be asked to describe an experience where they showed that quality.

This presents an opportunity for candidates to find out in advance what skills the employer will be looking for and asking about. Prepare by reading as much as you can about the organization in question, by talking to people who know the company, and by gleaning as much as possible from their website.

In the interview itself, listen carefully to the questions – ask for clarification if you need to – and give a detailed, specific answer that demonstrates the performance and behaviours the employer is looking for. To give yourself the best chance of success, structure your responses according to the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action, Result.

STAR for success

  • Situation: give an example of a situation, in which you were directly involved, that resulted in a positive outcome
  • Task: describe the tasks involved in that situation
  • Action: talk about the various actions involved in the situation’s task
  • Results: summarise the results that stemmed from your actions

Perfecting the STAR method requires higher order thinking skills. As you give your answers, the interviewer will delve into the detail to get at the specific behaviour(s) they are looking for, asking further questions that will reveal valuable insights: “What were you thinking at that stage?”, “Why did you choose that course of action?”, “How did you arrive at that decision?”.

The results part of your story is where success can be measured, so quantify as much as you can. Use numbers to illustrate your experience – instead of saying “I was a team supervisor for 12 months”, you can demonstrate authority and responsibility by saying “as team supervisor I trained and evaluated six employees over 12 months”.

To build up a bank of STAR stories, use your CV as a guidebook. Working through your career to date, sketch out examples of different behaviours, different outcomes (both positive and negative), different learnings. Try and draw your examples from a wide variety of experiences: internships, classes, community projects, and of course work situations.

Example of a STAR answer

Situation: During my internship last summer, I was responsible for managing the company’s main social media platforms (Twitter and Facebook).

Task: I noticed that the company’s Twitter following had remained static for the previous 12 months while its Facebook activity had actually declined during that time. I decided to try and increase the company’s social community on both platforms by 10%.

Action: I created a content calendar for both social channels, with all posts scheduled in advance to ensure consistent activity. I devised monthly ‘like & share’ competitions on Facebook and hosted three Twitter Q&As during the course of the year. I also used social listening to connect with new followers.

Result: By increasing activity and engagement on both channels, I grew the company’s Twitter following by 22% and its Facebook following by 19%. I also created a social guidebook for the company which is now an integral part of their induction programme for internships.

Examples of a behavioural question

Preparation is key to handling this type of question, and the more practice (e.g. mock interviews) you can fit in, the better. Here are some examples of behavioural-type questions – read them carefully and be conscious of what the recruiter is trying to find out about you:

  • Describe a situation where you managed to persuade someone to see things your way.
  • Describe an occasion when you had to improvise to resolve a challenging situation.
  • Give an example of a time you used judgment and logic to solve a problem.
  • Give two examples from your career that demonstrate how you can adapt to a range of different people, situations and environments.
  • Give an example of a time you had to cope with a problems or crisis at work.
  • Describe a situation where you had to make an important decision in a very short timeframe.
  • Describe an occasion where you set yourself an important goal, and tell me how you achieved it.
  • Give an example of a time you went beyond the call of duty to get a job done.

As you can see, these are quite open-ended questions that allow you to choose which examples you want to use. Remember though, while the questions are general, your answers should always be specific, detailed and relevant to the behaviours that the job requires.

Denise Grant is HR & Office Division Manager with Eden Recruitment and a Chartered Member of the CIPD.