Archive | October, 2015

From Application to Interview – How to Give ‘STAR’ Answers

This guest post was kindly submitted by Julie Parfitt of University of Southampton Career Destinations.

When you are going through the recruitment process and all its steps (CV’s, applications, assessment centres, interviews etc) employers are trying to discover if you are the candidate for them. Do you have the knowledge, do you have the drive and enthusiasm and most importantly do you have the skills they want. The skills to do the job, the skills to be part of the team and the skills that reflect who they are. How do you know what skills they want? Well, organisations are not hiding them you just need to know where to look, they are in job descriptions, their person specifications, their value statements, on their websites and in their questions to you!

Image Zurich
Image Zurich 

 Questions about skills!

These pop up in applications and interviews and are often referred to as Competency based questions, we’ve all seen them:

Describe a time when you have worked successfully in a team to a achieve a mutual goal?

Tell me about a time when you have negotiated with a difficult client/customer/colleague to reach a desired outcome?

Give an example of when you have had to prioritise tasks under a tight deadline

Tell me about a time you have hacked into a government facility?

Well may be not that last one but the others or similar often crop up in applications/interviews as they are testing your skills in ceratin areas like team working, negotiation and organisation.


These questions can often fill us with dread and leave us with blank expressions on our faces but the truth is you do have the answers they are looking for you just need a way of drawing upon the experience and skills you have, and a structure to formulate your responses in an appropriate way.

Here is where skills auditing and the STAR approach can become your best friends (well in interview prep anyway).


Skills auditing

To be able to talk about the skills employers are asking for you need to know what you have and what evidence you have to back it up, skills auditing can provide this. It can be done in different formats but essentially you are looking at all areas of your life; course, work experience, volunteering, clubs and societies, anything extracurricular, and breaking these down into specific tasks and actions and then reflecting upon these to see what skills you have developed.


For example:


Volunteering at a charity shop



Taking in deliveries

Sorting out clothes

 Serving customers

Opening the shop at weekends

  Supervising in manager’s absence

arrow-blue-outline-down Skills

Customer Service







This is just a brief example but the technique is very effective at drawing out what skills you have (even if you don’t know it) and also useful at highlighting areas that you may need to develop. For example if you have researched a company and they value project management skills and you feel you lack options in your work and course to develop these, you may want to seek an opportunity out so you can develop these for example organising an event for a society.


It is worth reflecting on your activities and skills regularly because who you are and what you have to offer is constantly evolving as you encounter new experiences.


The STAR approach



Right you know who you are and what you’ve got, how are you going to talk about it and construct answers to meet the needs of an application and interview. The answer is STAR


SITUATION – The who what where when

TASK – The activity you were set

ACTION – The actions YOU took, your contribution to the task

RESULTS – What results did you achieve, what did you learn/conclude

These are four parts of a framework to help you answer these skills based questions.

So let’s apply this to one of the questions mentioned above:

Describe a time when you have worked successfully in a team to achieve a mutual goal?


Situation – I volunteer regularly at a charity shop in Portswood working with two other members of staff

Task – We have a monthly fundraising target to reach and we were looking at ways to increase sales, Portswood has many charity shops that we compete with so it is a challenging market.

Action – After brainstorming together I suggested we offer a discount to all the people who donated items. Those people who would normally just come in to drop things off would now be encouraged to make a purchase because of the added incentive of 20% off of any purchase made that day. I created signage to advertise this in the shop window and asked all staff to highlight this when customers came in. We all promoted this new initiative.

Results –This resulted in an increase in our sales by 5% on the previous month. We also attracted more donations due to the incentive we introduced.

Simple yet effective

This is a simple illustration but you can see how it offers a structure whilst highlighting the skill of teamwork.

As I said above employers want to know you have what they are looking for, this is how you can tell them effectively.


Both skills auditing and STAR answers require a bit of effort, planning and self reflection but they are invaluable in helping you produce strong and confident answers showing a prospective employer what you have to offer.


For more information about skill auditing and formats for doing so please go to the Careers and Employability Website and view our online presentation:

Assessing your skills

For more information and resources on Applications and Interviews please see our website


3 lesser-known opportunities for skills development

After a summer break, we’re back! It’s been a while since I’ve exercised my blog writing skills but with the new academic year it’s a good moment to start again.

We’ve had a think about how we can use this space for most benefit, and decided that this year, we’ll focus on a different topic each month, roughly plotting the progression of our new online placement preparation course (of which more later). So first we’ll look at skills and how to develop them, before looking at how to make great placement applications, and then progress through the recruitment process before accepting your role.

As ever, we’ll have a mix of authors, including students, employers, and colleagues at the University. If you’d like to get involved, please get in touch!

3 opportunities for skills development at university

Skills – or rather, your ability to talk about them – are essential in your placement search. For reasons why, see this video extract from our new online course:

There’s loads of different ways you can develop them whilst at University, including involvement in societies, sports teams, and group work. Here are three opportunities you might not have heard of:

#1 – Become a course rep

As a course rep, you listen to your course mates and present concerns or praise at meetings with fellow reps and academic staff. This is a great way to develop your communication skills, and can provide a great example of being able to communicate at different levels.

Your leadership skills can also be furthered, as can your negotiation skills as you seek to further improve the educational experience of studying at Southampton.

Nominations for course reps close at 12pm on Thursday 15 October. More details on the SUSU website.

#2 – Business Challenges

There are a variety of different business challenges that take place throughout the year at Southampton which all allow you to develop your skills in an exciting environment.

If you’re interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, then the Social Innovation Challenge could be for you. The’ challenge’ is a one day competition to find the best social and environmental ideas for improving student life at the University of Southampton. As well as workshops on design thinking, prototyping and social business model canvassing, students will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to an expert panel for a chance to win seed-funding and a place at the Social Innovation Summit in Toronto, Canada, from 26th – 30th January 2016.

smoothie bike

The smoothie bike: a useful innovation?

Interested? Learn more here.

Employers often come onto campus with their business challenges, and on 17 November, JP Morgan will be visiting with their Operations Business Challenge. More info can be found by logging in to and visiting the ‘Events’ section. A great way for Business School students to show off their skills to a top employer!

#3 – Online courses

Taking an online course, be it a MOOC or a SPOC, is a great way to boost your skills and knowledge, plus demonstrates your motivation and initiative to an employer.

The ICAEW is currently running a MOOC with the University of Leeds entitled “The Importance of Money in Business”.   This free course “gives you the opportunity to delve into the exciting world of business, and gain the skills that are required by employers for a successful career in accountancy, finance and business.”

As a student at Southampton, you have free access to all the course on, which are not only great for developing your IT skills, but can also be used to help aid your personal development, such as this course on learning to be assertive. To login and gain access to the courses, go via this link.

If you’re on a placement programme in Southampton Business School, we will soon be launching our new online placement preparation course, which covers your entire placement journey. Watch this space!