“Tell me about a time when….”
Many job interviews include a series of questions that start with the above phrase. The goal is to understand how you work in situations that you’ll likely encounter in the position you are interviewing for and to help interviewers make better decisions. These can also be some of the toughest questions to answer as it’s easy to get flustered, give vague answers, and leave out key examples that could give you an edge in the interview process.
On The Guardian, they recommend using the STAR technique to tackle this type of question. STAR is short for Situation, Task, Activity, and Result.
- Situation: Set the context for your story
- Task: Explain what was required of you
- Activity: Explain what you actually did
- Results: Talk about well the situation played out
In the article they give two examples of how candidates might answer a question using the this approach.
"A candidate for a marketing executive role might be asked: “Tell me about a time that you solved a problem to a tight timescale.” Here’s how you could structure your response:
Situation – set the context for your story. For example, “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 – what was required of you. For example, “It was my responsibility to find an alternative so it didn’t reflect badly on the company and we didn’t waste the opportunity.”
Activity – what you actually did. For example, “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 – how well the situation played out. For example, “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.”
While keeping the STAR technique in mind is helpful, to prepare for these kinds of questions, you should have a list of stories and examples on hand. Here is our guide to prepping for an interview.