Answering Competency-Based Questions

Nail your interview with the STAR Technique

By Nancy Wu

Many interviewers will ask competency- or behavioral-based questions. These types of questions are easy to spot, in that they often start with “Tell me about a time when…” and “Can you give me an example of…?”. They are designed to assess candidates objectively, to see how they handle challenging situations. It can be used to examine your skill level in many different areas, including managerial, analytical, interpersonal and motivational.

We recommend using the tried-and-true STAR method to answer these types of questions. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Results. This technique forces you to be specific with your response. Here is an example of how to approach the question “Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a particularly difficult client?”.

Situation

Describe the situation of the challenge. Give the interviewer some background and context, including who was on the project and who the client was.

Example: I was working on the project for client X… We had been sent in to review the internal controls and procedures, and I found that there were a number of mistakes and discrepancies.

Task

The task component asks you to describe what was required of you. Describe the challenges or expectations of what needed to be done, and why.

Example: The client contact we were dealing with had put in place the procedures, and was a very demanding customer. He would not get back to us with the information needed and disputed almost every finding that we presented to him. I knew that I had to find a way of working with him or else risk losing the client.

Action

This part asks you to talk about what you actually did. Include any descriptions of how you solved a problem, figured out logistics, or motivated your team here.

Example: I met with him multiple times and explained the risks of letting the company run with the current procedures in place, and made sure that he was involved in rewriting some of the procedures. I told him that I did not want to go to the CEO with the current findings and that I needed his help to get things right.

Result

Did the situation play out well? What did you expect that didn’t happen? Were you pleasantly surprised by anything?

Example: Upon realizing that we had the same goals and would benefit from working together, he changed his whole attitude and became very helpful. We worked long hours for over two weeks and at the end of the project, the company was fully compliant. He received praise from his boss and was very pleased with my services. He also recommended me to a friend at another business. As a result, we are now working with that company as well.

By using the STAR guideline, it is more easy and natural to speak specifically. It is important to transition from each of the 4 components of the answer to make your answer more fluid. Your answer should be as seamless as possible; when used correctly, the interviewer won’t have realized that you used it. The STAR technique enables you to highlight the relevant experience in an organized and systematic manner. Prepare adequately and good luck!