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STAR - Our Guide to Answering Competency Questions

Posted by Alison Humphries

When it comes to interviewing there seems to be so many guides around that offer you the basic tips for answering questions that you will always get asked;

  • Why are you looking to leave?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • What do you know about the role?

If you don’t know all these things about you and the role you are interviewing for, question why you are going to this interview in the first place? Yes, you must prepare your answers to these questions, but the tricky ones are where you need help, not in terms of content but in terms of how to structure your answer and why people ask these questions. They are trained to ask these questions and they are trained to pick up positive and negative indicators.

Firstly, what is a “Competency-Based” question…

Competency-based questions are interview questions that require candidates to provide real-life examples as the basis of their answers. Candidates should explain why they made certain decisions, how they implemented these decisions and why certain outcomes took place.


Let us at Pro introduce you to STAR. This is an acronym that we recommend you use to structure your answers, see below;

S – Situation

When describing a real-life situation, you must be very specific. Use client types (names where possible), names of people, and discuss with the interviewer as if you were about to tell a short story.

N.B. Interviewers will use this information later to refer to names and specifics that you have mentioned. They are trained to ensure that this is a real-life story and not made up. If you don’t give specifics they may even prompt with questions, such as “your manager's name was?”, “how big was that client?” and "how many people were working on this project with you?”.

T – Target

This is all about describing what your outcome/aim was. As you are about to start discussing your actions, so you need to ensure that whatever your aim is, your action to follow makes a lot of logical sense.

A – Action

This is the part of the answer where you describe what you did to solve the problem and reach your “Target”. A common mistake that people make in this part of the answer is to describe “what we did” and “how we resolved the problem was”. A huge tip - use the phrase “what I did was”, “how I resolved this issue was”.

N.B The interviewer here is trained to know what you did, not what the wider team did. Quite often, as recruiters, one of the most common reasons why people don’t get past interviews like this is because it wasn’t clear which part of the problem they were involved in resolving. An interviewer sometimes won’t give you the luxury of asking what you did, as they will expect you to demonstrate this in your answer.

R – Result

This is where the interviewer is looking for the outcome of your problem. Many people stop after they have described their “Action”, as they believe this is all that they want to hear. Not at all, they want to know if the client was happy, was your boss pleased, what did you learn, could you have done anything differently, what would you do differently looking back on this or what were you proud of achieving?


The above is a solid structure of how to answer a competency-based interview question.




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