Preparing for an interview can be a daunting experience for candidates, many fearing that they will forget the detail of work-based examples and undersell their experience in the heat of an interview. I would always advise candidates to use the STAR interview technique while preparing for interviews, especially competency-based interviews. By sticking to this method you will be able to keep your response to the point and structure your answer effectively.

What are competency-based interviews?

Competency-based interviews are designed to make the job application process as objective and unbiased as possible as all candidates are asked the same types of questions.  Competency interviews are very common today and are used by most large organisations.

A typical competency-based question may start with “Tell me about a time when…” This may not seem like a difficult question but in the heat of an interview, it can happen that you leave out key details and tend to “waffle” when delivering an unstructured answer. A good way to avoid this and to ensure that you “sell yourself” in this type of interview is to follow the STAR technique to structure your answers.

An interview may not be overtly competency-based and if your interviewer is not very experienced may include questions such as: This job deals with a lot of confidential information, have you done this before? This question could be answered with a yes or no. However, in order to make the best of this opportunity to demonstrate your suitability, think of it as a competency-based question and answer with a specific example of when you have dealt with confidential information. Again use the STAR technique and you will find that you will be able to stick to the question, demonstrate your suitability and present clear evidence to show you are capable of fulfilling the role.

So what is the STAR technique?

Your answer should incorporate the following elements:

S – Situation

T – Task

A – Action

R – Result

Situation: Describe the background of a particular situation when you used the competency.  For example, if the competency is budgetary control, you may answer; “In my last job I was appointed to lead a project involving a €600,000 engineering factory shutdown lasting 2 weeks, and I had overall responsibility for the budget for this project. I did face some challenges on this project which required careful management to keep to budget.”

Task: Describe what your particular task was in relation to this, i.e. “My responsibility was to ensure that the project came in on time and to budget, which required very close liaison with the discipline heads, maintenance managers and cost and planning team. As it was very important the project ran to timescale and costs were maintained as per estimates. This was my ultimate responsibility. Any overspend, delay or conflict had to be resolved immediately to keep the project to budget.  One week into the project we were faced with unexpected delays due to the unavailability of essential maintenance equipment which threatened the completion of the project on time and would ultimately have prevented the plant from becoming operational again on time. This would have obviously created a loss in production and so revenue.”

Action: “I worked long hours with the buying and contracts manager, sourcing alternative suppliers and negotiating price, to keep to the original estimates. I worked closely with the planning team to reschedule some of the other work to ensure no time was lost. It was key that I kept in very close contact with the whole team throughout, as any delay would affect the budget. I examined all aspects of the project to ensure that there were no wasted costs and that, despite the tight budget, safety standards were never compromised.”

Result: “I am pleased to say that through perseverance and my determination to deliver on time and to budget, the long hours paid off and a new supplier was found who has since proved to be a new and more effective supplier for us. The project was completed to time and came in a little under budget, and the whole project was carried out without accident or injury.”

Remember the interviewer will probably score your response, and you will gain marks by giving a specific instance, stating what the situation was, what you did and what your motivation was to do this. Think about what you said and what the outcome was. You might also add your observations about what you learned from the experience. Be prepared for these questions by going over lots of examples that demonstrate your skills and practice using them before your interview.

More Interview Advice for Jobseekers


Nicola Egan

Principal Consultant & Team Lead

Collins McNicholas Recruitment & HR Services Group