If you've ever applied for a job, chances are you've heard of the STAR Method – a framework promoted by both recruitment agencies and government organisations to be used during the job application process. And for good reason. When used effectively, it is one of the best ways to demonstrate your relevant work experience and skill set. However, while many are aware of what the STAR Method is and why it is used, there is still a lot of uncertainty around how to successfully apply the framework to a relevant job opportunity.
In today's blog our Public Sector Team unpack each element of the STAR Method - complete with real-life examples - to help candidates use the framework more effectively in their next public sector job interview.
Generally, most government agencies encourage job applicants to use the The STAR method to answer behavioural questions in both written applications (your key selection criteria for example) and in interviews. Within the public sector and especially within state and local government, each role within an organisation will have a clear capability framework that outlines the required capabilities and associated behaviours that are expected of their employees. Consequently, interviewers, HR professionals and recruitment specialists will often use behavioural questions to determine if a candidate’s experience and skillset align with a role’s capability framework, as behavioural questions require candidates to explain how they’ve handled particular work situations in the past. Furthermore, past experience can be a great predictor for future performance. Therefore, you can usually identify behavioural questions by how they are asked; any situational questions that require you to draw on a previous work scenario (e.g. tell me about a time when….describe a scenario when…) are when candidates should utilise the STAR Method in their answers.
The STAR Method is a useful tool in answering behavioural questions as it ensures the answers follow a clear structure and shape responses so that they best showcase a candidate’s competency and skillset in relation to a particular role. STAR stands for:
The Situation- sharing the context around a particular work challenge or task you faced;
The Task- describing your situation or role in that task or challenge;
The Action- explaining how you were able to overcome or resolve that challenge. If the action was carried out by a team, focus on your efforts as it is your efforts that are being assessed.
The Response- summarising the outcome that was directly achieved by your efforts.
Before applying the STAR method to your behavioural questions, it is important for candidates to be aware of the different skills and competencies interviewers, HR professionals and recruitment specialists are looking for. When asking particular behavioural questions, a prospective employer might be looking for evidence of problem-solving skills, analytical skills, communication skills etc. in your answers. The range of skills required will vary depending on the role and the role’s specific competency framework. So, to determine what skills you should focus on showcasing in your answers, it’s crucial that you look at the advertised role’s capability framework prior to completing your application or arriving at your interview. These frameworks will usually be included in the information package sent through with any job application or available on your state government’s website. Alternately, you can reach out to your organisation’s human resource department.
When answering a behavioural question, it’s best to limit your examples to one per question to ensure your answers remains clear and concise. Your example should be described in detail – if you’re answering a behavioural question within your key selection criteria, 150 -250 words per answer is a good benchmark. If you have to answer a number of behavioural questions, ensure you have a range of different work examples up your sleeve that you can discuss. The key thing to remember when reciting any experience, is that they should provide real-life, quantifiable examples to help ‘prove’ or showcase your ability to meet their criteria. A breakdown of how to do this using the STAR Method is as follows:
Example Question: Can you provide an example of when you overcame a challenge at work and the steps you took to resolve it?
Situation- firstly, check the key competency framework for the particular role advertised, as this will inform the context around your answer; the who, what, when and where. For this example, the key competency we’ll showcase is problem-solving. Once you’ve established the key skill to showcase and chosen your example, you then need to clearly set the scene; what was the situation, how were you involved? :“As the marketing coordinator for my local council, I was in charge of ensuring all organisation communication (internal/external) aligned with our branding…”
Task - secondly, you need to mention the specific task that you performed or the problem you needed to solve. So, if continuing to address the criteria on problem solving, you could then say: “our council worked with a lot of external stakeholders on community projects, and when referring to our council in their communications (emails, socials etc) our branding wouldn’t be showcased correctly or consistently. There would be different logos, font sizes, colours etc. which would make it harder for the public to recognise and associate us with these projects.”
Action- once outlining the problem or task, you must then provide the action you took to solve the problem or handle the task; demonstrating what you did and how you did it. So again, if continuing to address the criteria on problem solving you could then say something like:“to ensure consistency I developed branding guidelines which included instructions on how and in what scenario to apply our branding elements (colour, logos etc) and sent this to all of the stakeholders we worked with.”
Result- finally, list the outcome achieved or the direct result of your actions. In this section it’s important to try and quantify your actions where possible. So, when referring to the problem-solving criteria, you’d summarise your answer by saying: “These guidelines were able to provide brand consistency across all external communication, which in turn positively contributed to our brand recognition and awareness- we saw an increase of 6.5% in direct traffic to our website in the months after sending off these brand guidelines.”
Example Question: Describe a situation when you had to deliver excellent customer service following a complaint
Situation- as with the previous example, the first thing to do is check the key competency framework for the particular role advertised, as this will inform the context around your answer. For this example, the key competency could be stakeholder management, so this will be the focus of the work experience provided. Once you’ve established the key skill to showcase and chosen your example, you then need to clearly set the scene; what was the situation, how were you involved? “As the client success manager in my previous role, a key responsibility was handling complaints from our key stakeholders, including the wider community. Recently, a local resident rang us complaining about a question they’d emailed to the council in response to an e-newsletter they'd recieved and they’d never heard back…”
Task - secondly, you need to mention the specific task that you performed or the problem you needed to solve. So, if continuing to address the criteria on stakeholder management, you could then say: “consequently, I needed to address the resident’s immediate query and find out what went wrong in the normal process.”
Action- once outlining the problem or task, you must then provide the action you took to solve the problem or handle the task; demonstrating what you did and how you did it. So again, if continuing to address the criteria on stakeholder management you could say: “I apologised, got the details of their query and passed them to our head of communications team (who design and run our external communications), who contacted the resident back within the hour. I then investigated why their email hadn’t been answered and discovered that because of the resident’s generic email address, their email had gone straight to the communication team’s spam folder. I let the resident know and we were then able to answer her query before COB that same day.”
Result- finally, list the outcome achieved or the direct result of your actions. In this section it’s important to try and quantify your actions where possible. So, when referring to the problem-solving criteria, you’d summarise your answer by saying: “The resident was grateful for our ability to resolve her query quickly and gave a five out of five rating for how her problem was handled on our customer feedback platform.”
Within these two examples, there are a few things to note: both examples speak in specific rather than general terms and quantify the respondent’s success or the outcome of their actions. For example, receiving a five out of five rating or a 6.5% increase in direct traffic. Including specific quantifiable terms are important as from a listeners perspective, this makes the story more interesting and easier for them to gauge the effectiveness of your actions. Nameless figures and undefined successes can make the answer feel less convincing. Secondly, as there are likely to be many questions and interviewers have short attention spans, it’s important to keep your answers concise: try and convey the maximum achievement in the minimum time. Finally, it’s important to finish on a positive note so the overall impression is strong.
Public Sector People specialise in helping candidates with resumes, selection criteria and cover letters within the public sector and know what government organisations are looking for in candidate’s answers during the application process. If you are wanting to seek advice on how to ‘cut through’ within the current job market, through effectively applying the STAR Method reach out today at: email@example.com
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