How long should my answer be? How much detail should I provide in my answers? These and other questions are often asked when one is trying to improve on his/her interviewing technique. While there is never one catch-all solution, a good starting point is to use the STAR technique when answering a behavioral question.
If you are asked for an example (Can you tell me about a time when you had to implement a change within a group?), consider implementing the STAR technique to help from your answer.
S – Situation
In order for the interviewer to understand your answer, you should provide a few sentences about the setting. Did this example happen at your former job, during a volunteer activity, during your time at school, etc.? By providing a few sentences of background, the interviewer will be able to better understand the rest of the answer.
At my current position, I am one of ten counselors within the office. The group consists of my supervisor, two other Associate Directors, and six staff members. Three years ago, I led the office’s efforts in migrating to a new client management database.
T – Task
Once the setting is established, one needs to communicate the task/problem/opportunity you were facing. This portion of your answer can go into more depth as you need to communicate why the task you faced was important.
As part of our counseling work, we are required to keep notes on our clients. These notes need to be kept in a confidential manner, however, need to be accessible for other counselors to view in case the client would be seen by a different staff member. The system we were using for notes was a homegrown database, and while there were some drawbacks to the system, the staff was very comfortable with the database.
The IT guru who had created the code for the homegrown database had left the center and his system was beginning to act up – difficulty in generating reports, missing data. In addition to the technical issues, my supervisor wanted the ability to track more information than what was currently possible on the homegrown system.
A – Action
In a nutshell, what did you do? And I do mean, what did YOU do. It is fine to talk about what the team did, how others contributed, but you must get to your role and how you contributed.
After reviewing a number of potential replacement databases, I had a meeting with two of the more “change resistant” staff members. During the meeting, I conducted a demonstration of the leading database, ensuring to highlight features that were missing from the homegrown system and that I knew were of particular interest to the individuals at the meeting. I also solicited the two staff members’ input on various aspects of the database setup – for example, I used their input to improve on the wording on the site. In short, I attempted to win over some of the harshest critics by spending more individual time with them so they understood the system and felt ownership. These individuals have the influence to sway the other staff members in a larger meeting and I could not risk the chance that they were not fully on board before conducting a demo to the entire staff.
At the same time as I was creating a more ideal system in the eyes of the critics, every time the homegrown database acted up I would send out an email to other staff asking if they were experiencing the same issues with the existing database. In this instance, I was creating an environment where staff would understand the need to change databases – for if we did not change, there would come a day when the current database would fatally crash. Left to their own, most individuals would not voluntarily change processes, especially when it comes to technology – I wanted to create an environment where all staff understood why change was necessary.
Finally, the new system caused minor changes in other office processes. For these changes, I stepped back and let the rest of the staff create the solutions – it was important that others’ ideas and ‘fixes’ were used and not dictated to them. Once staff was convinced that changed was needed, that the new system was better than the old one, and the outlying processes were adjusted accordingly, I conducted several training sessions and tutorials to ensure staff members were comfortable with the new database. As we used the database, generated reports, accessed the information – it was important to share “wins” with the staff (unique features, fast reports, improved search mechanisms, etc.).
R – Result
Now is the time to summarize your answer by delivering the results of your efforts. When possible, give tangible results and key learnings.
The transition was a smooth one because the new database provided improved capabilities and staff had a say in some of the pieces that affected them the most. I learned the value in demonstrating the need for change in order to create an environment where individuals were open to change, communicating a vision and generating buy-in from key stakeholders, and finally, keeping all the players motivated and focused on the end goal. The system is now in its third year of use, each year we have entered more information onto the database and developed more robust reporting functionality – more importantly, no one talks about the ‘good old days’ because what we have now is better.
In your next interview, try the STAR approach when formulating your answers.