Competency Question Tips – STAR

Competency Question Tips – STAR

Well done. You have finally managed to secure yourself an interview. Surely, that’s the hard part done? Right?

Well, maybe. Getting your foot in the door is sometimes one of the most challenging parts of the process. However, when you are given an opportunity to show your worth in an interview, you must use all your preparation, skills and abilities to seize this day. A general overview of best practice and tips leading up to the interview can be found on the first blog post of this series (here is the link if you are yet to read it (

This episode of the blog seeks to outline how to thrive and succeed when faced with a number of the typical competency questions that are now seen as a key part of the interview process. It is almost a certainty that throughout your career, you will encounter several competency questions when working through face-to-face or telephone interviews. Yet, many candidates are willing to overlook the value in practising and preparing for this line of questioning. This does strike me as rather odd, as we can almost guarantee that in more than at least 75% of the interviews you are part of, you can expect to be asked 1 or more of the all too familiar competency questions.

Generally, there are approximately 5 key competencies that recruiters and interviewers alike are seeking. It is usually these 5 competencies that are focused on within the interview. The 5 key competencies (followed by an example) are:

Communication – Tell us about a time you had to adjust your communication approach to suit a particular audience

Decision Making – Give an example of when you have had to make a difficult decision

Leadership – Describe a situation when you assumed the role of a leader. What challenges did you encounter and how did you address them?

Results Orientated – Give me an example when you were particularly successful

Teamwork – Describe a situation in which you were working as part of a team. How did you contribute?

Trustworthiness – Give me an example of a time you were deceptive

As a rule of thumb, your answers should always be clear, concise, varied, well thought out and as specific as possible. To achieve this level of questioning, an element of preparation is vital. Choosing a number of go to answers to fit in line with these competencies can serve as strong foundations for providing adequately explained answers. However, bare in mind that weaker answers usually rely on negative justifications. For example, a classic question may be:

“Tell me about a time when you failed to complete a task or project on time, despite intending to do so.

In your response your interviewer will want to find out how you manage your time during difficult tasks and the reason why you failed to meet your deadline on this occasion.

An effective answer would develop a positive justification for a past failure, as with the following example:

During my final year at university, I failed to deliver my dissertation by the due date. This was because I was heavily involved in cutting-edge research right up until the end of my course and was waiting for imminent results from surveys being undertaken by researchers at other academic institutions.

Considering this was my final piece of academic work, I wanted to ensure it was based on the most accurate and up-to-date sources of information available, even if this meant a delay in production. To ensure no marks were deducted from my dissertation, I contacted my course director and personal tutor two weeks before my dissertation due date to discuss my particular situation. I argued my case and, was consequently allowed an extra two weeks to produce my work.

Although my work was delayed, I feel that this delay was justified in that the work was of the highest quality it could be. Furthermore, I sufficiently organised myself in relation to my department and tutors, so that all relevant people were aware of a possible delay in the production of my dissertation.

Weaker answers rely on negative justifications:

During my final year at university, I failed to deliver my dissertation on the due date. This was because I was ill for a couple of weeks during my final term.”


It is clear to see from this example, the different level of standard in answering the questions. To achieve this level of answering, I would always encourage listing potential questions in relation to the common competencies listed above. Following this, practice and more practice is a sure far way of ensuring strong and fluent answers. You can find such answers through all aspects of life, whether these are work, personal or educationally related examples.

A well tested and researched method of structuring answers is the STAR technique, which can be learnt very easily by anybody driven enough to have a want to succeed in interviews. Briefly, STAR is an acronym – (S)ituation (T)ask (A)ction and (R)esult. Following this practice will ensure that you hit all the relevant points that the panel, or interview, is looking for. STAR supports an approach that will allow you to provide comprehensive answers coupled with relevant supporting evidence.

Competency Question Tips - STAR IT Recruitment Leeds