We often hear that the interview questions candidates struggle with the most are situational questions, such as “tell me about a time when you made a mistake and what you have learned from it.” Hiring managers ask these questions to get a better understanding of a candidate’s previous experience and to evaluate how well the candidate can articulate his or her ideas. Don’t let these questions stump you on your next interview. In fact, once prepared for them, situational questions can be a great opportunity to illustrate your achievements to the hiring manager or recruiter.
For your next interview you may want to utilize the STAR Interview Technique when asked a situational question. STAR is an acronym for Situation-Task-Action-Result. Each letter represents a step in the process of structuring your answer. The basic concept is to ensure that your response to the situational question is thorough without getting off topic. So, how does the STAR technique work? When asked a situational question, think about a specific example of a time that you encountered the situation and construct your response in the following way:
- The first thing you need to do is describe the Situation or context of the example you will be sharing. You want to be as specific as possible. Which company were you working with at this time? Was there a specific project involved? How long ago did this event take place? You want to start out by setting the stage and sharing any pertinent details to help establish the scope.
- Next, you want to let the hiring manager know what your exact Task was. What was your goal? What had your boss asked you to do? What did you need to accomplish? If this was a team project, what was your specific role? You want the hiring manager to understand what exactly it was that you were asked to do.
- After you have explained the situation and task, you must describe what Action you took. What did you do to accomplish this task? Again, it is important to be as specific as possible.
- Lastly, it is important to share the end Result. Was the project a success? Did you complete everything on time? Did you implement a solution that hadn’t been thought of before? Hopefully you chose an event to speak about which had a positive result. Prior to your interview, it would be smart to think of a few examples of personal success stories that could be used when asked a situational question.
Let’s look at an example!
Q: “Describe a stressful situation at work and how you handled it.”
A: “My first job after graduating from college was as Office Manager at a small financial services firm. I remember a particularly stressful time when I was asked to plan a holiday party, in addition to my day-to-day responsibilities. My time was already stretched thin, so adding another project was quite stressful. I decided that the best way to start this project would be to identify and prioritize which things needed to be done first. I created a spreadsheet to ensure that no aspect of the party would slip through the cracks and to maximize my efficiency. The party was a huge success! Even the COO congratulated me for planning the best holiday party that the firm has ever had.”