Structuring Answers for Questions Asked During Executive Interview Scenarios

The STAR approach is a commonly used approach for structuring answers at mainstream job interviews. However, whilst providing a good outline, we believe it is too much of a simplistic approach for executive interviews, especially given higher expectations and more challenging interview questions. Therefore, we have identified some additional elements to consider if using the traditional STAR approach as the basis for interview preparation.

STAR Approach Overview

The STAR Approach (also referred to as the STAR Method), is essentially a simple method for structuring interview answers. This refers to SITUATION – TASK – ACTION – RESULT and guides candidates through an established process.

  • Situation: Briefly outlining scenario by describing and clarifying situation
  • Task: Showing what the candidate did and role played if within a team
  • Action: Outlining key actions, decisions made and main skills deployed
  • Result: Giving clear outcomes, excellent results or key improvements

Executive Interview Skills

Expectations tend to be much higher for executive interviews, so there are some additional things to consider if applying the STAR approach. These include providing context, giving relevant examples, choosing best examples, highlighting clear actions / decisions, showcasing credible achievements (outstanding results) and identifying any learning points from decisions made.

Giving Context: Executives must give interviewers important context about the situation chosen as an example. Context is everything as it can help reinforce the relative importance of a scenario. For instance, there may have been a large change programme, turnaround strategy or closing a major deal, thereby adding greatly to the relative importance (complexity) of a scenario. If the context is not properly conveyed, then how will the interviewer know the overall importance of a situation?

Relevance: To reinforce examples, executives may need to clarify why it is relevant. This often helps clarifies understanding and enables candidates to be more convincing at interview. Therefore, ensuring examples are relevant can have a greater impact at interview. Sometimes candidates bluff their way through interviews with a lack of preparation and by not choosing good examples. This often greatly increases chances of poor performance.

Carefully Choosing Examples: Effective preparation ensures executives have a portfolio of examples that can stand up to scrutiny in different ways. Choosing 5 or 6 really good examples forms the backbone of any interview and can give greater flexibility when answering questions. Furthermore, interviewers can ask the same question but in a different way or emphasis, so make sure examples have clear scenarios, actions and outcomes.

Clear Actions:  For executives, this can involve taking key decisions, influencing others or applying different strategies to scenarios for example. Make sure any actions have clear decision-making rationale. Executives may have to account for such decisions at interview. Executive interviews often cover the ‘why’ and ‘how’ as interviewers are looking for how candidates approached such decisions. This is also a good way to showcase expertise, skills and specialist knowledge where appropriate.

Outstanding Results: Interviewers are looking at how executives influenced others, took important decisions and had a wider impact on the organisation. Such outcomes are referred to as achievements. Candidates are expected to quantify and quantify achievements to show how they excelled or delivered something exceptional. Achievements are good differentiators, so make sure they are credible and stand up to scrutiny.

Learning Points: When devising examples, it is important to identify essential learning points or decision-making rationale for taking certain courses of actions. Some executive interviewers ask questions about mistakes, weaknesses, poor decisions and learning points to evaluate how executives took decisions and how they have subsequently learnt from mistakes. This gets to the core of the executive mindset and is a different approach than just talking about achievements.

STAR Approach & Executive Interviews: Conclusion

If choosing to use the STAR approach, executives are reminded that there are some limitations as it only provides a useful outline for structuring answers to interview questions. Given that executive interviews carry higher expectations, it is essential to prepare effectively, carefully choose examples and showcase credible achievement likely to make candidates stand out from other executives.

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