Preparing for interviews can be nerve wracking, especially when you are trying to prepare for as many questions as possible. Even the most well-prepared and confident candidates often get nervous when someone asks them a question beginning with ‘Tell me about a time when…’. If you’ve gone through this before, then you know that all of a sudden, your mind can just go blank and leave you with pretty much nothing to say. But there is a way to prepare for this and hopefully help you with any future job interviews you get invited to.
STAR is a simple acronym that stands for, situation, task, action, and result. This simple acronym can help you in difficult ‘on the spot’ questions if you remember it like this:
Situation – Think of a specific situation or task you have completed in the past that is relevant to the question being asked. Try and be very specific and to the point, you don’t want to go off on a tangent, even though this can be very easily done when nervous. They want to know about your experience, so try and come up with an example from a previous job or if it’s your first role, something from when you were learning. This could be your chance to shine or surprise. That time you worked on a major project in the aerospace industry or got that amazing project opportunity whilst doing an apprenticeship? Try and chose a situation where you worked well under pressure, solved a problem well or worked well in a team.
Task - What was the end goal? What did you need to achieve?
Action - Do not forget that this is your chance to shine. Give yourself some credit and talk about what you achieved. How did you do it, how did you feel afterwards and how did this help you with your role in the future? Boast a little bit, the interviewer wants to hear about your successes, so don’t be shy.
Result - What did you learn? What did you accomplish? Ensure you remain positive and take credit for the outcome. Make sure that the interviewer is learning out what YOU did in that team effort, not what everyone else did. If you worked in a team, great, interviewers like to know you are a team player. But just talk about your contribution, it’s your interview after all.
Keep your answer concise and to the point, remain positive and try to stick to this order so that it’s easy to form a concise answer that goes with the flow. If you have any quantitative evidence, like statistics, include this as it is an easy way to show your performance.
You can still prepare
Although these kinds of questions can leave you feeling nervous when asked, you can still prepare for them in advance. Interviewers may phrase these kinds of questions in different ways, but look out for questions starting with:
- Tell me about a time when…
- Give me an example of…
- Describe a time…
So, have a long read of the job spec and make sure you focus on the key skills section. If they ask you a question like this, you can use the STAR method to come up with an answer focusing on one of the skills they require in a candidate. Simple, yet effective.
Putting it to the test
The interviewer has just asked you to share an example of a time where you had to stay calm during a stressful situation. Before answering this question, try and think about the steps in STAR. You could potentially answer it with an 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”
With this answer, you have shown that not only can you act calm and collected during a stressful situation, but you can show off other important skills that the employer will be looking out for in a good candidate. Here, we have spoken about time management and good communication as well as staying calm. You can think of these scenarios before your interview and help you be even more prepared. Read the job spec and see what other skills you could include in your example. Also, be honest! These questions are a lot easier to answer when you’re being truthful!
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 you answer these questions when you’re feeling nervous or put on the spot. This technique 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. It’s all about practice, you will get used to answering these questions in time!