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Be a STAR!

Competency Based Approaches

You will have come across lots of different questions during your previous job interviews. Some of them might have been very direct and asked you about your education or qualifications, some others perhaps were a bit trickier.

These trickier ones often start with something like “Describe a situation where you had to ….” or “Give me an example of when you …”. These types of questions that dig into your past experience and behaviour are often called competency-based questions.

As we know that many employers are highly interested in your competences – they believe it predicts your future behaviour - it would be clever to outsmart the employers by addressing some of your experiences in your CV.

Let’s look at the STAR approach. This will help you to think about your competences and skills needed for the workplace.

Simply put, here’s how it works

  1. Situation: sets the context for your experience
  2. Task: what was required of you. It is also important to remember that the first two parts ‘Situation’ and ‘Task’ form an introduction to your reflection.
  3. Action: what you actually did. Remember to emphasise your own role in the situation. Sometimes people focus on what the group did without mentioning their individual contribution.
  4. Result: how well the situation played out. What did you learn from the experience?


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Let’s now try to put this approach into practice. Look at the example below (full story available on the Guardian. The Careers blog)

Situation: “We were due to be delivering a presentation to a group of 30 interested industry players on our new product and Stuart, the guy due to deliver it, got stuck on a train from Birmingham.”

Task: “It was my responsibility to find an alternative so it didn’t reflect badly on the company and we didn’t waste the opportunity.”

Action: “I spoke to the event organisers to find out if they could change the running order. They agreed so we bought ourselves some time. I contacted Susan, another member of the team, who at a push could step in. She agreed to drop what she was doing and head to the event.”

Result: “Stuart didn’t make the meeting on time but we explained the problem to the delegates and Susan’s presentation went well – a bit rough around the edges but it was warmly received. Stuart managed to get there for the last 15 minutes to answer questions. As a result we gained some good contacts, at least two of which we converted into paying clients.”

Can you describe a situation where you had to practise problem solving? Please use the STAR approach in the comments area to share your experience. It doesn’t need to be long, but the practice will really help you.

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This article is from the free online course:

Net That Job: How to Write a CV Online

The University of Glasgow