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What's the best way to respond when an interviewer asks you to give a specific example of a previous achievement? There are four simple steps to follow.

Competency-based questions have become more and more common in job interviews, not just in the corporate world, but also in the recruitment of criminal justice staff. Otherwise known as 'behavioural' or 'situational' questions, they're intended to give the interviewer a real insight into the candidate's practical skills and experience. That's important when recruiting for most jobs, but particularly so in a criminal justice context where patient care is as important as managing your own safety.

The theory is simple. CVs don't tell the full story. Specific examples from past work experience can say a lot more about you and whether you're the right person for the job.

The good news is there's a proven technique for dealing with competency-based questions.  It's called STAR, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Here's how it works...

1. Describe the 'Situation'

The first step is to 'set the scene'. Make sure the story you tell relates directly to the question. For example, you may have been asked to recall an experience which shows you are good at working as part of a team. 

2. Outline your 'Task'

Show the interviewer that you took 'ownership' of the problem. Explain why you were chosen to deal with the issue. Or did you volunteer? You should make it clear that you're not afraid to take on challenges.

3. Define the 'Activity'

Say what you actually did to solve the problem. This is a chance to show you can think imaginatively and use your initiative to find practical solutions.

4. What was the 'Result'?

How did your actions change things for the better? Try to be specific by giving examples which show tangible gains. It's also worth mentioning what you learnt from the experience.
Here's an example we've made up that shows the STAR technique in action...

The 'Situation': at a multi-disciplinary team meeting, it was identified that there was a need for offenders with substance misuse issues to be referred to the right service quicker. 

The 'Task': Substance misuse nurse X volunteered to make suggestions to improve the information flow between CARAT and the offender healthcare

The 'Activity': Nurse X developed new email templates and pre-assessment check-lists to assist the prison’s CARAT worker in making referrals for specific treatment/therapies. 

 The 'Result': offenders were directed to the most appropriate service and seen in record time.

Although the STAR approach is designed for competency-based questions, it's also a useful framework for other types of questions, for example when you're asked to describe your main weaknesses (see this previous blog). It's all about being prepared.

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