So if you’ve seen our earlier blog on the STAR formula you’ll be familiar with STAR as a way of structuring answers to competency based questions.  Our guest blogger Mike Higgins is back with some tips to help make your interview answers even stronger.

The art of interviewing is the art of storytelling

You can’t disguise a competency-based question – it is always something like “tell me about a time when…”.  In effect, they are asking you to tell them a short story about, say, working in a team to show that you understand what teamwork is and that you have some experience of it.  Stories tend to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and possibly a bit of drama in the middle.  Keep hold of the idea of you as the narrator.  You don’t have to tell everything, but what you do say needs to make narrative sense.

Break down the competency and choose your example

Take the competency, say teamwork, and see if you can break it down into behaviours that you could talk to in a story.  For example, teamwork could include:-

  • Taking different roles e.g. organiser during part of the story, researcher, then presenter.
  • Collaborating with others to negotiate, discuss and decide on a course of action.
  • Splitting up the workload and handing it out.
  • Handing it out to the most appropriate person e.g. who is good at writing, researching, data, speaking to people?
  • Keeping track of the tasks e.g. daily or weekly progress meetings.
  • Reporting progress to a manager/sponsor
  • Sharing information
  • Addressing and resolving any conflict
  • Motivating others and sharing success.

You don’t need to get all of these into your example, but the act of deconstructing the competency will encourage you to pick out things that you might otherwise exclude.  Even just saying, “The four of us met for an hour and came up with some ideas of how we could split up the research.  We then stated our preferences, negotiated who was to take each part and agreed to get back together in a week to update on progress” ticks a number of the behaviours.

See if you can tell the story in the STAR format, as discussed in the previous blog.

Think of lots of examples in advance.

At some point you will have to answer a question that you haven’t prepared for, but most questions are predictable. By analysing the job specification or description of the scheme you should be able to get an idea of what questions will be asked and specifically, about what.

Don’t write out the answers as a script as they will seem rehearsed, but bullet points can make the bare bones of an example flexible for several questions.

You may want to create a table for yourself like the one below:

Practice

Stories tend to get better in the telling, so the first time you give your teamwork example it may seem a bit clunky, but do it two or three times and it will start to flow.  Practising in front of another human being is the best way to do this, as is using the parts of your brain that you will be utilising in an interview.  This is different to recording it on a phone or webcam, although these options can be useful prep in the absence of a person.  As an LSE student you also have access to Interview Stream to practice.

Get feedback

Feedback from interviews can often be too bland to be helpful – “another candidate had slightly better experience than you”.  If you ask “what two things could improve my performance for next time around”, this may spark a more specific answer.

Thanks to Mike Higgins for this blog. Mike works as a careers consultant at LSE Careers and is also the author of “Pit Stop: A Career Workbook for Busy People”

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