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!
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).
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.
Volunteering at a charity shop
Taking in deliveries
Sorting out clothes
Opening the shop at weekends
Supervising in manager’s absence
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 http://www.southampton.ac.uk/careers/students/videos-and-emedia.page?
For more information and resources on Applications and Interviews please see our website http://www.southampton.ac.uk/careers/index.page?