• Describe how you handle tight project deadlines?
• How do you manage setting goals? Can you give an example?
• What do you do when your team disagrees with your strategy?

Tough questions, right? Intimidating, perhaps? Are you feeling anxious or nervous because you do not know how to answer these questions on a job interview?

Cheer up and relax because there is a good method to support you during your preparation and interview performance!

When an executive search consultant (head-hunter) or a recruiting manager of a company will invite you for a job interview, there is a big chance that you will be confronted with behavioural and competency-based questions. The intention of the interviewer is to verify and prove that you are capable of doing the vacant job based on your past working performance. We are daily interviewing candidates and the majority of them are a bit anxious and nervous when they show up for an interview, especially when behavioural questions are on the menu. The interviewer expects you to be ready to share examples about specific situations where you had to use your skills. How to solve this? It goes without saying that preparation is again key but how to prepare?

STAR method

In order to positively influence your presentation and impress your interviewer we recommend you to use the STAR method. It will help you to structure, simplify and in detail prepare your answers on behavioural questions. First, take a good look at your CV and remember your top 3 achievements of all job positions you had during your career. You will also be asked other questions about your soft skills, motivation etc. which could also be answered using the STAR method. Since you cannot prepare all the answers or know everything beforehand it is very important to practise the STAR method which will enable you to structure your answers and examples. Once you get familiar with the model and feel comfortable using it you will be able to easier answer any of the other questions you didn’t expect, following the same structure. We will now explain in more detail what the letters of the STAR acronym stand for and how they can support you to get across as a great candidate for the vacant position.

The letter S stands for Situation. When you give an example, recruiters are very keen to know in which position you were at that time, what were the circumstances and when did it take place. When you are asked for an example of one of your skills or achievements it is important to explain in a few sentences the exact situation that you found yourself in. Where did you work? What was your exact position? Who were the main stakeholders? Which challenges did you have in front of you? You should set the scene.

Task stands for the letter T. Before you explain in more detail which kinds of great initiatives you were executing, you should explain the interviewer what were your exact responsibilities, which task was laid out for you and what was the expected outcome?

The A for Action gives you the opportunity convincing the interviewer about your skills. In this part of your example you may elaborate and explain in which way you solved the challenge or why you are good in a certain skill that they are looking for. Which obstacles did you encounter on the way? Which measures and steps did you take to reach your goal and how did you involve your colleagues and other stakeholders in your activities? During this part you should be very specific and it is important to highlight your individual accomplishment.

It is very important to emphasize that your actions made impact and for this you will use the letter R, which stands for Result. We recommend that you make sure you have the right numbers at hand when you highlight your success by sharing the results of your action. By how much percent did your revenues increase? What was the effect on your market share after you launched your innovative marketing campaign? Did your scrap rate decrease after you executed your operational excellence and continuous improvement program in the factory? Never forget to mention the end result of an example you are sharing, responding to a behavioural question of the recruiter.

How to put it all together?

Make sure you practise; study the job description and estimate which skills and/or experiences would be needed to successfully do the job and make sure you are able to present your main career achievements. Then, make certain you are able to share good examples addressing a certain skill and be prepared to present them using the STAR method. Yes, this is a lot of preparation work, but it will bring you rewards. You will be able to better control your nerves and articulate your achievements and even anticipate on the questions the recruiter will ask. This all should lead to a more relaxed and positive interview experience and a (much) bigger chance to get your dream job. Before you are going to have a look at your CV and start ‘STARring’ your skills and achievements, we share a few more examples and tips:

• Since you are proud of your achievements it’s tempting to include all sorts of details in your answers but only do that when the recruiter asks for it. Stick to concise and relatively short answers and to the point. Use just 1 to 3 sentences for each letter of the STAR acronym.
• Don’t try to impress the interviewer with long stories. This leads to you being carried away and rambling. While giving your answers keep on looking and interpreting the body language of the interviewer. When you conclude the interest is slowly fading away, but you are not sure, just ask the interviewer if he or she needs more details. When you think your answer is too short have confidence that the interviewer will ask for more information if needed.
• It happens sometimes that the recruiting manager has not enough experience to properly lead an interview and this could be an excellent opportunity for you to consistently use STAR answers in order to support the recruiting manager in his own performance.
• Avoid answers that are vague or glossed-over because an experienced recruiter will notice. Your answers should be authentic, personal and based on real stories and events. Interviewers are always verifying if it was really you who made the difference or could anybody else easily do the same?
• It often happens that candidates skip one or more letters of the STAR method in their answer. Here are two examples:

During our outplacement projects we train and coach managers who were made redundant. Once we supported a manager who had a lot of working experience and achievements, but in our first interview, he was in a robotic way solely mentioning the situations and his results on any question we asked. We honestly started to doubt if the results were really his. During the interview we found out that he was a real go-getter and highly result oriented and he thought that we would not be interested in the ‘T’ (task) and the ‘A’ (action). His former supervisor was the CEO of an investment fund and he was drilled to only report the results. Once we explained the method and coached him, he felt so much more comfortable sharing his stories and he immediately became less distant and showed his real qualities, which were great actions on the tasks that were set out for him.

Recently, we run an executive search process for a production manager of a big factory and in order to test their knowledge we asked the potential candidates if they were ever in a situation that they had to reduce the maintenance costs of the machines in the factory. The first candidate started with the ‘R’ (result) mentioning he managed to bring down the maintenance costs by 5% in 1 year. There was no information given about S, T and A and it took us 3 additional questions to fully understand his example and how he had reached the result. The next candidate explained the situation, task and action but never mentioned the end result and therefore we were missing the icing on the cake. Both candidates failed to present themselves as STARs.

The end goal of the STAR method practise should be that you are more relaxed going into an interview because you know you will face the behavioural questions as an opportunity to prove that you are the right candidate for the job you want. Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter, wouldn’t it be great that you ask your smart behavioural questions and the candidate produces one STAR after the other? You might see the interviewer leaning backwards, not because he lost interest but because he immediately recognizes that this will be a great interview and he will listen to clear and concise answers. The more STARs you make, the more confident you become and the executive search consultant will highly recommend you to his client or the corporate recruiting manager will be more convinced presenting you with a job offer.

‘New Europe Resourcing’s consultants have conducted thousands of executive search interviews and gained valuable insights. Through regular client and candidate surveys we additionally collected a wealth of information.’