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The Perils of the STAR technique

I’m a fan of the STAR technique, for a lot of reasons I’ve mentioned before. Storytelling is engaging and memorable for the interview panel, and behavioural interview examples are a great way for you to give evidence of your talents in action.

It’s easy to go astray with the STAR technique if you are not aware of some common pitfalls. The errors I see most frequently are using general examples, saying “we” too often, and letting your answer fizzle out at the end. Here are three things to remember:

Use a specific example

Most people are applying for jobs where they have lots of experience with the skills required. It’s tempting to want to show your interviewer the breadth of your experience by giving an example that highlights multiple instances. Imagine you’re applying for a role in retail, and you are asked to give an example of a time when you provided exceptional customer service.

A general answer would be “I always give great customer service. I make sure I listen carefully to everyone. I always smile and welcome everyone into the store. I like to make sure all of our customers are satisfied with their service.”

A much better answer would tell a specific story; “One time a customer came into our shop on a busy Saturday morning. I smiled, welcomed her into the store and asked if I could help. She was distraught because she was visiting from out of town to attend a wedding, and she had accidently burnt a hole in her dress whilst ironing it. She was frantic to find something suitable and only had an hour to look. I assured her I could help, asked her about colour and style preferences, and showed her some items in her size. She loved a particular dress that was too long. I was able to get our alterations department to hem it quickly and gave her a cup of tea whilst she waited. The customer was both relieved and delighted and was able to attend her special event feeling great.”

I hope you can see how much better the second version is. It provides actual evidence of behaviour and It’s far more interesting to listen to. You can see the candidate in action. It even has a little dramatic tension!

Remember to say “I”

The point of asking behavioural questions is to get evidence for how an individual behaves in a certain situation. It’s fine to use team examples; just remember to be explicit about your role. Rather than “we did the research, analysed the data, generated the reports, and presented them to the executive” say exactly your role, and name the other players. “The new grad took on the role of gathering the data from various sources. After she collected the data, I analysed it, and then generated the report. My manager reviewed it, and was so happy with it she invited me to take the lead in presenting it to the executive.”

Make a strong finish, note the impact of the example

The last part of a behavioural interview question is the result. Perhaps due to interview nerves, folks just want the question to be over; I find many candidates speed too quickly towards the end of their story.

Candidates have a tendency to finish with “…and I met the deadline.” Which is great, but there is an opportunity for a lot more punch at the finish. Use the end of your story to note the impact of the result.

For example; “I met the deadline, and as a result the tender documents were delivered on time. The tender was successful, which helped our organisation break into a new market, and resulted in a $160,000 increase in business in the first year.”

Need help preparing for a behavioural interview? Give me a ring or drop me a line, I’d love to help!

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