One of the most frequently asked questions in an interview usually begins with ‘give me an example of when you…’. This can cause even the most confident and well prepped person to go blank. There is a way that you can prepare yourself for this question and any example that an interviewer will throw at you. It involves this simple acronym, S.T.A.R. If you do not already know, S.T.A.R stands for- Situation, Task, Action, Result and could help you in your next interview if you see each stage like this:
Situation: Discuss the situation or task relevant to the question. Be specific about the situation or you will lose the attention of the interviewer. Bear in mind that they will want to know about your experience so try to come up with an example from previous employment. This could be your chance to shine or surprise. That time you worked in on a major project in the aerospace industry? How about using a situation where you problem solved quickly under pressure while you were there? Show that you can learn from every job you have had.
Task: What was the end goal? What did you need to achieve?
Action: Do not forget that this is your chance to shine. Even if the situation was dealt with in a team, emphasise your role and only talk about your actions. Although, do mention that you were in a team as many employers like to know you are able to perform well within a team environment. Discuss the steps you took and highlight your contribution.
Result: What did you learn? What did you accomplish? Ensure you remain positive and take credit for the outcome.
Keep your answer concise and to the point, remain positive and stick to this order so that the story flows. If you have any quantitative evidence, like statistics, include this as it is an easy way to show your performance.
How it works in practice
So, you have just been asked to show an example of a time where you stayed calm in a stressful situation. Apart from talking about the interview you are currently in (!), you could answer like this:
S: “I was working at (insert name here) and the IT system went down when I was in the middle of a critical point in a deadline driven task”
T: “I had to finish a large piece of work on a deadline and the background was on the system I could not access”
A: “I took a deep breath and rang the Project Manager who needed my work. I used the time to prep for a meeting I had later in the day and check if I could do some research to save myself time when the problem was resolved”
R: “I had a great chat with the Project Manager, they gave me more information for the work and with the research I did offline, I halved the time and made my deadline. The prep work I had done before meant I was running ahead of schedule, so when the piece went out on time, the Project Manager and the client were really impressed”
An example like this shows more than one of your skills, such as time management, customer care, good communication and initiative whilst keeping calm and effective in a crisis. Try to give examples that work with your CV. For example, your CV states that you have a good knowledge of 3D CAD software and can work well under pressure, can you marry both up in an example? Also, be honest! An interviewer will probably know if you are embellishing the facts but if they don’t and you get the job, that’s potentially worse as you may have to prove yourself on the job.
Using S.T.A.R could help you, if used right, as it will provide an interviewer with a clear example and will make you seem like you are prepared and confident. Even just knowing that you have a structure can help with your answers. It could be helpful to come up with some sample questions for yourself and practise your answers beforehand so that you can call upon experience when put on the spot.