Ask The Career Energizer Coach

Note:  ‘Ask the Career Energizer Coach’ questions and answers are general and may not be applicable to everyone. If you have a specific question or would like to discuss your unique situation with a career expert, please contact Positive Goals & Solutions on  0414 511 455 or email info@positivegoalsandsolutions.com.au

Using the STAR Technique to answer interview questions

Star TechniqueJob interviews can take many different forms and may be unstructured or structured in their format. A current favoured approach is the competency based interview which is often used in large organisations and the public sector. This type of interview is designed to make the job application process as objective as possible by removing any conscious or subconscious bias by the interviewer by asking each candidate the same questions.

The questions asked revolve around the competencies required for the job. For example, a project officer may require written communication skills, or a customer service assistant may require conflict resolution skills.

The interview questions tend to start with a variation of, “Tell me about a time when…” This may sound simple but, in the heat of the interview, it’s easy to give an unstructured answer, miss out key details, or not be able to complete the answer.
One way of avoiding this is by using the STAR technique to structure your response.

The STAR technique provides you with a structured approach for answering interview questions and is also useful for writing applications that require you to respond to selection criteria.

The acronym STAR stands for:

  • Situation – set the context for your story.
  • Task – what was required of you.
  • Action – what you actually did.
  • Result – how well the situation played out.

The trick to making the STAR technique work is to weave your answers into concise stories with a beginning, middle and end – starting with a brief introduction outlining the situation.

So, in answer to a question asking you, for example, to describe a time where you had to communicate well in writing, you might say:

  • Situation: I was working as a project manager and was involved in applying for tenders for government funding. 
  • Task: I was required to write a tender application for funding of a large project which required considerable research into how the company could provide a quality service within a realistic budget. We also needed to be able to demonstrate engagement with a variety of stakeholders. All of this needed to be completed in a two week time frame.  The most detailed part of your answer will be the action, where you describe how you dealt with the task. Here you will detail your use of available resources, the personal and relevant skills you brought to the table and your direct involvement. 
  • Action: Having worked on numerous tenders in the past I was confident in my ability to write the application, undertake the research required, complete the budget, and involve internal and external stakeholders. I was able to draw on my technical skills and team leadership skills acquired from my previous management position at the community centre. I engaged my team to gather the data whilst I wrote the application. On completion of the tender application I rewarded them with a lunch. Now you need to conclude your answer by outlining the result of your actions. This is where you get to demonstrate the benefits those actions had for the company/team and for your own development.
  • Result: Under my leadership the team was successful in submitting the tender on time. The company was successful in winning the tender and the team was congratulated for doing a good job. I was promoted to the role of Program Director. There are a few things to note with this response: it’s important to speak in specific rather than general terms and quantify your success.

In a second example, a candidate for a customer services role is asked: Describe a situation when you had to deliver excellent customer service following a complaint.

  • Situation: A customer rang up complaining that they had been charged too much on their account.
  • Task: I needed to address the client’s immediate query and find out what had gone wrong.
  • Activity: I apologised, got the details and passed them to our head accounts person, who contacted the client within the hour. I investigated why the charge was so high. I discovered that a wrong price code had been assigned to the product and arranged for the manager to have all the price codes checked. I let the client know and we offered a goodwill discount on her next order.
  • Result: The client not only continued to order from us but posted a positive customer service to facebook. Used at its best, the STAR structure is invisible to the listener and it simply comes across as a well-articulated example. At all stages of the process you should strive to present your answer in such a way as to highlight your relevant skills and suitability to the role on offer.

It is important to prepare and rehearse your STAR stories. It is suggested that you prepare five STAR stories, based on achievements relevant to the key selection criteria of the particular role. Also, take time to think of how you can present your answers and achievements to suit different questions. For instance, in the first example above, the story could also be used to demonstrate leadership skills.

If you are seeking career assistance please contact Rosie at Positive Goals & Solutions today. Mobile: 0414 511 455

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Update your resume – Drop the Objective and replace it with substance!

If you haven’t done so already it’s time to drop the “Objective” statement from your resume. Why you might ask? Well there is a widely held view that an Objective statement is outdated in today’s job market, and can be a negative when presenting a resume for opportunities.

Consider these comparisons…

Objective:

Opportunities to utilize my seven years of Human Resources experience to help an organisation successfully implement change in employee development, training, benefits and recruitment.

Versus

Office Administrator

Office professional with 7 years experience in employee records, policies and recruiting. Created and maintained databases, handled performance issues, administered employee benefits. Knowledgeable about health insurance terminology, and payment requirements. Works well in a team environment, with varied responsibilities and a fast pace.

Objective:

To become an Architectural or structural CAD Designer in a consulting or contracting firm that will provide a rewarding yet challenging work environment.

Versus

DESIGN ASSISTANT

Master AutoCAD designer with 24 years experience in translating customer needs to architectural designs. Excellent communication skills and customer focus. College degrees in construction engineering, cabinet making, woodwork and general drafting.

Contrasts can be seen in each of these comparisons. Note that the “Objectives” are primarily about what the job seeker hopes to find. While a company would like to find someone who’s goals match the position being advertised, their primary focus is to hire someone who brings the skills and culture fit to effectively fulfill the job requirements and achieve the company’s goals. The individuals own goals are secondary, and it is up to the candidate to evaluate the fit with the opportunity.

Using a header that states your field of expertise helps the employer immediately recognise whether they are looking at a resume of someone who has the right background. Using columns of words or short phrases can communicate several key points in a quick glance. Allowing the employer the ability to digest more information quickly is the best way to getting them to see the match to the advertised position.

Short sentences, keywords, and phrases are always more effective at communicating a lot of information quickly than run-on sentences or paragraphs. But, never sacrifice substance for being brief. Make sure you spend time working out what is most important to convey to the employer and say it in as few words as you can.

In today’s job market, the most effective resume will tell the employer what you can do for them.…..not what you want. So drop the objective and customise your resume for each job application.

If you are seeking career assistance please contact Rosie at Positive Goals & Solutions today. Mobile: 0414 511 455

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How to Take Control of your Job Search

I often hear job seekers say they have sent out hundreds of resumes, only to never hear from anyone-ever.

It’s hard to tell if this is the result of an ineffective resume-or simply the sheer volume of applications received by the recruiter or company. Or maybe the company isn’t really hiring after all, or they’ve already filled the position … it can seem hopeless.

So here’s a list of seven ways to take control of your job search and get your resume noticed.  Get your resume noticed

1. Track your applications
Create a spread sheet for yourself or download a tracking tool from the internet. Record all applications you submit and responses you receive. List the company name, the position and anything else you want to track. This information provides you with the big picture so that you don’t have to guess how many applications you’ve sent in—you know how many. It also tells you which ones are responding and will guide you to what the next steps to take are.

2. Only apply for the most relevant positions
In this job market it is wise to apply for positions for which you are qualified rather than underqualified, because when there are a hundred other candidates who are qualified applying for the same job, the chance of you hearing back is very slim and you’re really asking to have your resume disappear and never to be seen again.

3. Hand address the envelope to a person you know (or a name you know)
If you have personally spoken to a contact at the company, send your resume to him or her. An association with someone—either over the phone or in person—you will be remembered; you won’t be just a faceless piece of paper in an impersonal pile of resumes.

4. Optimise your resume

Use the job descriptions of the positions you are applying to as a guide for those keywords that you’ll want to include in your resume and cover letter. You can usually tell which ones the company wants to see the most because these fall under position REQUIREMENTS. These should be in the TOP one-third of your resume. It is important that the employer sees this in his initial five-second review. It will buy you additional time and motivate the employer to review the rest of the resume. Be sure to include the PREFERRED qualifications as well as this makes you even more desirable. If you show them in your resume that you meet all of their required and preferred qualifications, why wouldn’t they call you? That would make you the ideal candidate. Then their search is over—and you have the interview.

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