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Reach for the STAR at competency based interviews

Most interviews are what is known as ‘competency-based’ or ‘behavioural interviews’. They operate on the principle that past behaviour is the best indicator of how people will behave in the future. You are required to show how your previous experience can be used to meet the challenges facing the post.  For an employer, this means allocating key competencies to each role within their organisation and then assessing candidates against these competencies and each other.

Most job descriptions / application packs will list the key competencies required for that job.
Competencies can be split into five areas; each having its own drivers for the business:

  • Individual Competencies  – the personal attributes required for a role and focus on key areas such as decisiveness, integrity and independence.
  • Managerial Competencies – the person’s ability to manage others and focus on key areas such as leadership, planning and project management.
  • Motivational Competencies  – the things that drive you and qualities that will be required to succeed in the role. Behaviours such as motivation, initiative and resilience are vital this area.
  • Analytical Competencies  – including analytical skills, numerical problem solving, attention to detail and other decision making abilities.
  • Interpersonal Competencies – how a person deals with others and covers areas such as communication, openness and the ability to work as part of a team.

The most effective way of answering questions in this format of interview is to use the STAR technique. This simple acronym provides you with a structure on which to build your responses and crystallise your thoughts;

  • Situation – describe a situation or problem you have encountered.
  • Task – outline the task that was required to resolve the issue or problem.
  • Action – describe the action you took to overcome the issue or problem.
  • Result – highlight the outcomes achieved.

A typical question to assess Problem Solving might be; “Occasionally we make decisions our manager disagrees with. Tell me about a time this happened and why they disagreed with you?”

The interviewer will be looking for evidence of where you have committed to a course of action after developing alternatives based on logical assumptions and factual information, taking into consideration resources, constraints and organisational values.

Key Actions would include defining the decision criteria, considering alternatives based on pertinent facts; weighing the ‘pros and cons’ and informing or including others in the process.  Remember to include the result of your actions, which can include learning points if the process was not 100% successful

Additional tips
At the interview, always be honest about your attributes as you will inevitably get caught out if not before you start the interview, then very soon afterwards.

Take the time to consider your answers. Prepare appropriate examples; do not prepare fixed responses, as you will be tempted to plough on regardless of the specific question. Ask yourself whether you are using the best example to illustrate the attribute they are interested in.

If you are unsure as to what the interviewer is asking you, don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify what they mean they should not think any less of you. Rather than say “I don’t understand what you mean”, try, “Do you mean such-and-such?” This will show that you have at least tried to interpret what they have said.

Finally, make sure you take time to ask the interviewer about the environment, culture and people in the company. The competency process is not only about them evaluating your attributes, but also you evaluating whether the company is right for you.

This article featured on www.nijobs.com as part of an advice series from Neal Lucas

Apply Yourself - Filling out Application Forms Correctly

The job application process can be a laborious and daunting task, particularly nowadays when lengthy application forms, unseen tasks and very often not one but two interviews are the norm when it comes to landing the job of your dreams.

Although most organisations - mainly in the private sector or recruitment agencies - still ask for CVs, larger organisations or public sector use application forms, this is because it allows employers to compare candidates more easily in a structured format.

The application form itself is often part of a collection of documents along with an information pack, the job description and the person specification. It is not surprising therefore that the thought of wading through this information and then completing the form, can be a job in itself.

However, if you want to get invited to the interview stage, then filling this important form out correctly is vital.

Remember, what you put on your application will determine whether the panel want to meet you, so primarily it should meet the criteria so you will be invited to interview. The second reason is that it should excite the reader so they are looking forward to seeing you.

Here are my top tips on completing that all-important application form:

1. Take your time! Never rush an application form, or simply copy and paste elements of your CV or previous form into it, employers will know who has taken the time to fill out a lengthy form in detail and this demonstrates your commitment and interest, and allows the employer to extract more specific information from you than is included in your CV.

2. Preparation is key. Do not leave it to the last minute; write, review and amend. Ask others to read it for you to make sure you are addressing the criteria and not just shoe horning in a 'good example' that you think will impress the reader.

3. Use the STAR method. This is the easiest way to answer questions. Use the Situation, Task, Action and Result format and it will give your answer structure and clarity that will be lacking from most other applications.

4. Keep it short! Even if there isn't a word or character limit, keep your answers short and to the point. If you are using the above format, this will come naturally. It is the easy option to right down lots of information, but this is simply akin to throwing a pile of mud at the wall hoping some will stick. It requires much more effort and skill to give a succinct answer which addresses the question asked than just writing down all you know about the topic. Use relevant examples and include clear dates of each of your employment start and end dates.

5. Take your time! Take the time to read the instructions and detail contained within the information pack so you can appreciate the context of the role. Very often there are interesting snippets on the challenges facing the organisation or their recent successes which could help you decide which examples you use to highlight your relevant experience. Read the job description thoroughly and ensure you have a good understanding of the role. Careless mistakes, including spelling errors, will definitely dent your chances. This suggests you rushed the form or did not take the time to review it properly, which indirectly says that you are not as enthusiastic for the position as other candidates.

6. Lastly, keep a copy of your completed form for your own records, you do not want to forget what you've written if you get to the interview stage.

So remember, follow the instructions in the information pack, familiarise yourself with the job spec, set aside sufficient time to complete and answer the questions asked succinctly and truthfully using the most relevant examples you can muster so the panel look forward to meeting you at interview.