Actions you took are at the heart of the START method

This is the third in our series of five columns explaining the START answering method that candidates find useful in competency-based job interviews. Typical competency-based questions start with ‘tell me about a time when you [were asked to lead an under-performing team / established a new process, etc.] …’ or ‘outline when you made a mistake and what you learned from it…’

The START method calls on you to relay a story demonstrating how you deployed a relevant competency. To get all five articles in this series, email with START in the subject line.

As we wrote over the previous two columns, S is for the Situation (the role you were in, the team you were managing, etc.), T is for Task (the high-level goal you were trying to achieve) and this column’s letter, A, is for Action(s) – the actual steps you took to carry out the Task.

Tell your story

The START method is a storytelling format. Action is where you get into the detail. If the Task you outlined was, say, to establish yourself as the new manager of the department, Action is where you rolled up your sleeves and took the steps that enabled you to assume the role in an effective manner.

Perhaps you held meetings with existing staff members, either one-to-one or in group settings, to establish the state of play. What challenges were they facing? What ideas had they for improvement? What new methods did you explore to enhance the overall efficiency of the section?

Additionally, you may have met the previous manager to gain the value of their insights. You might also have met senior management within the company to get a handle on what exactly was expected of you in the role.

Finally, you may have taken on further studies or completed a training programme to gain further expertise so that you could be a success in your new position.

Get to the detail

In a start answer, Action should be full of detail. Earlier, under S and T, you set out the broad parameters of the story you were going to tell. Under Action, you join the dots and bring the story to life.

Action should be the busiest part of your answer. The interview panel should be able to visualise you in full flow.

Quantify your Actions as best you can. How many staff members did you meet? How many meetings did you hold? What key goals did management identify for you? After the panel have heard your Actions, they should have a clear picture of what you did.

The Action step should dispel any sense of the abstract in your answers. Get down and dirty. Aim for about three Actions per answer –fewer, and you will struggle to properly paint the picture; more, and you run the risk of losing the panel.

A key point to make about Action is the importance of using the ‘I’ word. Remember, this is an interview for a job you are chasing, not a weekly report from your department: ergo, you must be clear about those points where you were the key person in the story. And if you were not the key person in the story, you need to select a different story to make the answer stick.


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Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.


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