Just the Job: How to let the interview panel see the significance of your career stories

In this column, we continue our series breaking down the START answering method that will stand to you in one of the most common type of interviews, namely the competency-based interview. In the first column in the series, we explained how START stands for the five key steps of an answer – Situation, Task, Action, Result and Them.

The Situation establishes the setting or context of the story – the role you held, the course you were studying, or the community activity you were leading.

In this storytelling method, T for Task comes next. Task is the high-level goal you were trying to achieve – it focuses on the outcome you planned to reach rather than the minutiae of how you would achieve it. The minutiae comes later, specifically in A for Action. It needs to bide its time while you outline the Task.

Under Task, you put yourself back to where things were before you did what you did. It allows the interview panel to see the significance of your stories from your career to date. The question could be something like “tell us about a time when you led a team to perform to a high level.”

You’d open with the Situation (e.g., “when I worked in ABC Ltd, I managed five people in the store room”) and then move smoothly on to your Task (“our job was to ensure that we had a consistent supply of parts and materials for all areas of the plant without incurring the cost and storage problem of having too much stuff. It required the team to work effectively together to find the right balance and that we carried out our vital function within the company in an effective manner.”)

Note the emphasis on the high-level goal: Task is about setting it up so that the panel can get a feel for it. It leads them slowly and logically into your answer. You know it much better than them: slow it all down so that they can comfortably take on the information.

The following are typical Task ‘lines’:

“My role was to resolve the production issue ASAP with minimal down time”;

“I had to plan the transition from the old system to the new one so that it would all work perfectly on the day we’d press the button”;

“I had to rebuild morale after all that had gone on”.

Task captures the problem in broad terms and sets the parameters for what needs to be done. When answering questions in a competency-based interview, see yourself moving through the gears from Situation to Task, from Task to Action (we’ll cover this next week) and so on.

The most widespread problem I encounter at the Task stage is impatience. Candidates are mad to rush to the detail of what they did (i.e., Action). But Action is only useful if you take your time with Task: set the story up, let the panel see what you were trying to achieve and then – and only then – move onto Action.

The Action step may die on the vine if you rush through Situation and Task. Before you tell them what you did, let them know exactly why you did it. To get all five articles in this series on the START method, email getthatjob@slinuacareers.com with START in the subject line.

Slí Nua Careers (www.SliNuaCareers.com) offer a full online service. Their services include CV preparation, interview training, job-searching strategies, public speaking and presentation skills, and career direction. For more details, visit www.slinuacareers.com. Email your questions to getthatjob@slinuacareers.com.