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    Hello,

    I recently had a telephone interview with company X for graduate job. The interviewer (HR) asked me " tell me one strength and weakness). So I mentioned the strength first. I then tried to elaborate on it by giving example. However HR cut me off and said " I don't want an example". After she said this, I was confused throughout the interview for every other questions she asked me, as I didn't know if she wanted me to elaborate on my answers or just give straight answer and that's it. But then I have read and been told to always give examples at interview when answering such questions.

    I have had another interview with company Y and I was asked the same strength and weakness question and I elaborated on my answer by giving example and the interviewer( HR) was fine with it and I passed the interview.

    My question is, how do you know wether to give straight answer only or give an answer plus example. I'm now confused with interview process. I thought I was getting better at it!!

    Thanks!
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    (Original post by PrincessJF)
    Hello,

    I recently had a telephone interview with company X for graduate job. The interviewer (HR) asked me " tell me one strength and weakness). So I mentioned the strength first. I then tried to elaborate on it by giving example. However HR cut me off and said " I don't want an example". After she said this, I was confused throughout the interview for every other questions she asked me, as I didn't know if she wanted me to elaborate on my answers or just give straight answer and that's it. But then I have read and been told to always give examples at interview when answering such questions.

    I have had another interview with company Y and I was asked the same strength and weakness question and I elaborated on my answer by giving example and the interviewer( HR) was fine with it and I passed the interview.

    My question is, how do you know wether to give straight answer only or give an answer plus example. I'm now confused with interview process. I thought I was getting better at it!!

    Thanks!
    I would advise you to always answer an interview question using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format - paying particular attention to the action and subsequent results.

    It's always appropriate to bring your answer alive by using examples hence the popularity of such methods.

    The HR person here was arguably wrong to cut you off. That said, next time, just ask. If you're confused, simply ask if they'd like you to expand or answer in the STAR format. A lot of people these days are afraid of asking questions, don't be. Ultimately, this is the only way you'll be able to understand their expectations.

    Again, outwith someone cutting you off - always give examples.
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    This type of question is not one where you use STAR.

    STAR is only used when the question includes "describe a time you have..." type wording to it.

    A strength + weakness question should basically be answered as (a really concise version but you get the drift):

    "My strength is X. I have shown my ability in this in A and B. My weakness is Y, but I have been ensuring I improve on that by doing C and hope that D opportunity in this organisation would develop it even further."

    The only time you would use STAR is if the interviewer asked "what is your key strength and describe a time you have used it".


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    (Original post by J-SP)
    This type of question is not one where you use STAR.

    STAR is only used when the question includes "describe a time you have..." type wording to it.

    A strength + weakness question should basically be answered as (a really concise version but you get the drift):

    "My strength is X. I have shown my ability in this in A and B. My weakness is Y, but I have been ensuring I improve on that by doing C and hope that D opportunity in this organisation would develop it even further."

    The only time you would use STAR is if the interviewer asked "what is your key strength and describe a time you have used it".


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    Whilst I agree it's best suited to comptency based questions, I'd argue every question is a question where STAR is applicable.

    The OP could easily highlight a weakness, use STAR to illustrate how he/she identified this weakness before moving on to discuss steps taken to overcome said weakness.

    Examples are always relevant.

    "I would say my biggest weakness is probably taking criticism - I can sometimes feel it's personal.

    For example, I organized a fun day event at university where the aim was to raise awareness and money for Cancer Research. I got several societies on board as well as gaining free use of the local community centre for our venue. In the end, the event raised just under £1000 for the charity which surpassed our £800 target.

    Despite raising more money than we'd hoped for though, the feedback survey at the end suggested the activities could have been more engaging and the raffle prizes could have been better. This was quite disheartening and for me, and I felt it took the edge off the event.

    That said, I've been learning to understand the benefits of constructive feedback in a more pragmatic sense and continuously seek out feedback. In fact, rather than taking it personally, I'm increasingly viewing it as an opportunity to improve future performance."

    Absolutely nothing wrong with that answer, and far better than "Taking criticism is a key weakness but I've increasingly started to view conductive feedback as a key tool to improve my performance" .
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    (Original post by pmc:producer)
    Whilst I agree it's best suited to comptency based questions, I'd argue every question is a question where STAR is applicable.

    The OP could easily highlight a weakness, use STAR to illustrate how he/she identified this weakness before moving on to discuss steps taken to overcome said weakness.

    Examples are always relevant.

    "I would say my biggest weakness is probably taking criticism - I can sometimes feel it's personal.

    For example, I organized a fun day event at university where the aim was to raise awareness and money for Cancer Research. I got several societies on board as well as gaining free use of the local community centre for our venue. In the end, the event raised just under £1000 for the charity which surpassed our £800 target.

    Despite raising more money than we'd hoped for though, the feedback survey at the end suggested the activities could have been more engaging and the raffle prizes could have been better. This was quite disheartening and for me, and I felt it took the edge off the event.

    That said, I've been learning to understand the benefits of constructive feedback in a more pragmatic sense and continuously seek out feedback. In fact, rather than taking it personally, I'm increasingly viewing it as an opportunity to improve future performance."

    Absolutely nothing wrong with that answer, and far better than "Taking criticism is a key weakness but I've increasingly started to view conductive feedback as a key tool to improve my performance" .
    I'm an experienced interviewer - I really disagree with this. Maybe it's a style/opinion thing, but most interviewers I've worked with would get really peeved if someone used STAR. There's too much of a reliance on it, and it would make me think the person has not listened to the question properly.

    Putting in all that detail when it hasn't been asked for also makes me question someone's ability to be concise and focused. If I really wanted an example as an interviewer, I would ask a follow up question asking for one.

    Your example would be far better as the following:

    "I would say my biggest weakness is probably taking criticism - I can sometimes feel it's personal. That said, I've been learning to understand the benefits of constructive feedback in a more pragmatic sense and continuously seek out feedback. In fact, rather than taking it personally, I'm increasingly viewing it as an opportunity to improve future performance. I recently experienced that when we organised a fun day event at university where the feedback survey at the end suggested the activities could have been better. This was quite disheartening at first but should I organise another event, I now know how such an event can be even better".


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    (Original post by J-SP)
    I'm an experienced interviewer - I really disagree with this. Maybe it's a style/opinion thing, but most interviewers I've worked with would get really peeved if someone used STAR. There's too much of a reliance on it, and it would make me think the person has not listened to the question properly.

    Putting in all that detail when it hasn't been asked for also makes me question someone's ability to be concise and focused. If I really wanted an example as an interviewer, I would ask a follow up question asking for one.


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    I very much doubt interviewers would be peeved at a candidate using STAR (too much reliance on it? Are you serious lol? - and by its very nature it is concise and to the point.

    Let's agree that it's a style... Having secured several graduate job offers even before Christmas with this approach - off the back of advice from a senior Reed mangers - I can vouch for it.
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    (Original post by pmc:producer)
    I very much doubt interviewers would be peeved at a candidate using STAR (too much reliance on it? Are you serious lol? - and by its very nature it is concise and to the point.

    Let's agree that it's a style... Having secured several graduate job offers even before Christmas with this approach - off the back of advice from a senior Reed mangers - I can vouch for it.
    I am very serious and in my opinion you have been given bad advice (Reed aren't exactly experts in this - they are sales people). A lot of interviewers are changing their interview questions because candidates are using over rehearsed STAR answers for interviews. It's why strengths based interviewing is on the increase.

    Interviews are tight on time and anyone rabbiting on about an example that wasn't asked for is using up that time. I completely understand why in this instance the HR person cut them off - I would have done the same if I had a set number of questions to ask and he person was taking up time answering a question in a way that meant they weren't actually answering the question.


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    (Original post by J-SP)
    I am very serious and in my opinion you have been given bad advice (Reed aren't exactly experts in this - they are sales people). A lot of interviewers are changing their interview questions because candidates are using over rehearsed STAR answers for interviews. It's why strengths based interviewing is on the increase.

    Interviews are tight on time and anyone rabbiting on about an example that wasn't asked for is using up that time. I completely understand why in this instance the HR person cut them off - I would have done the same if I had a set number of questions to ask and he person was taking up time answering a question in a way that meant they weren't actually answering the question.


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    I don't think I was given bad advice at all; given the Reed manager is a family friend and not a recruitment consultant I rung for interview tips.

    As mentioned previously; I've stuck with STAR religiously and it's paid dividends. I've been offered roles with some of the biggest Multinationals very early on in my search for a career - hardly poor performance (and STAR has hardly hindered me).

    Maybe there in lies the problem, the type of roles you're interviewing for vs the type of roles graduates are going for - is there a difference? If so, perhaps it's just a case of different spheres. But to say on a forum where it'll be predominantly graduates applying for graduate jobs that the STAR is outdated and not worth using is poor advice. In strengths based interviews, as in competency based, a context-action-result based example is valued.

    One quick look at any graduate recruitment website for expectations at interview stage and you'll find STAR/CAR very much alive and present.

    What does seem to be changing is the shift towards functional recruitment - where HR do little more than process your application and people working in the function applied for conduct the interviews - I'm a fan of this.
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    To the OP, apologies for digressing.

    To the original question - just ask for clarity. And certainly disregard advice about the STAR technique being outdated and unwanted by interviewers; Deloitte, KPMG, Nestlé, P&G, DHL, Accenture, Thomson Reuters, Sky, BT, JP Morgan and many, many more graduate recruiters will encourage you to structure your interview using this format.

    It simply isn't enough to say 'my biggest strength is problem solving' or 'I work best when I'm under pressure' without supplementing this with a STAR/CAR example as to why you think this.

    It is true that the interviewer will probe for more information where necessary - unless you get a lazy interviewer focused more on the clock and ticking a box next to the questions than he or she is on finding the right candidate.


    To J-SP, I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree.
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    (Original post by pmc:producer)
    I don't think I was given bad advice at all; given the Reed manager is a family friend and not a recruitment consultant I rung for interview tips.

    As mentioned previously; I've stuck with STAR religiously and it's paid dividends. I've been offered roles with some of the biggest Multinationals very early on in my search for a career - hardly poor performance (and STAR has hardly hindered me).

    Maybe there in lies the problem, the type of roles you're interviewing for vs the type of roles graduates are going for - is there a difference? If so, perhaps it's just a case of different spheres. But to say on a forum where it'll be predominantly graduates applying for graduate jobs that the STAR is outdated and not worth using is poor advice. In strengths based interviews, as in competency based, a context-action-result based example is valued.

    One quick look at any graduate recruitment website for expectations at interview stage and you'll find STAR/CAR very much alive and present.

    What does seem to be changing is the shift towards functional recruitment - where HR do little more than process your application and people working in the function applied for conduct the interviews - I'm a fan of this.
    Ok - that your experience. Mine is probably over 8,000 interviews over 2 decades with a mixture of different graduate recruiters across various sectors. Plus designing assessment frameworks to ensure these processes are fair and consistent.

    I didn't say STAR is outdated, but if your attempted STAR in a strengths based interview system, you wouldn't do very well. The question posed is a typical strengths based question - many organisations use hybrids of competency and strengths based questions. STAR is only appropriate for those questions that sit under a competency system.

    STAR is perfectly suitable to use for some of the organisations you have listed as they still use competency framework models.


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    (Original post by J-SP)
    Ok - that your experience. Mine is probably over 8,000 interviews over 2 decades with a mixture of different graduate recruiters across various sectors. Plus designing assessment frameworks to ensure these processes are fair and consistent.

    I didn't say STAR is outdated, but if your attempted STAR in a strengths based interview system, you wouldn't do very well. The question posed is a typical strengths based question - many organisations use hybrids of competency and strengths based questions. STAR is only appropriate for those that sit under a competency system.


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    For the very last time... The job I ended up taking involved a process of 3 different interviews (1 over Skype, 2 seperate 1:1 interviews), and a residential 'assessment centre' of sorts lasting several days with a final director interview - a hybrid of competency and strengths based questions (across all interviews), all were answered with the STAR/CAR technique. At their request would you believe it? Again, let's agree it's down to the interviewers preference and hope the OP doesn't encounter anyone clock watching next time.

    And it's not just my experience either, it's my experience and every friend before and after me that's been offered a graduate job.

    Typical strengths questions:
    What are you most proud of?
    When are you at your best?
    What have you learned quickly?
    Do you find you have enough hours in the day to do all the things you want to?
    Etc etc - despite being designed to understand the 'real you' and what drives you, they can be easily answered with examples using the STAR/CAR format (and for me, should be).

    Granted, other strengths based ones would be a struggle... e.g. What subjects do you enjoy studying the most? Or What do you enjoy doing the least?.
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    Take the strengths based question 'When are you working at your best?'

    A) When I'm under pressure.

    or B) When I'm under pressure - last year highlighted that. I had my dissertation and organizing my graduation ball to juggle alongside exams and coursework. Of course I wanted a 2:1 degree, and for everyone to have an amazing ball so I continuously reassessed my priorities, tweaking SMART objectives where necessary and achieved both my good degree and grad ball by the end of the year!
    I definitely found I thrived working under pressured conditions and am better suited to that type of environment.

    Every day of the week I'd argue the STAR example answer is leagues ahead.
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    (Original post by pmc:producer)
    For the very last time... The job I ended up taking involved a process of 3 different interviews (1 over Skype, 2 seperate 1:1 interviews), and a residential 'assessment centre' of sorts lasting several days with a final director interview - a hybrid of competency and strengths based questions (across all interviews), all were answered with the STAR/CAR technique. At their request would you believe it? Again, let's agree it's down to the interviewers preference and hope the OP doesn't encounter anyone clock watching next time.

    And it's not just my experience either, it's my experience and every friend before and after me that's been offered a graduate job.

    Typical strengths questions:
    What are you most proud of?
    When are you at your best?
    What have you learned quickly?
    Do you find you have enough hours in the day to do all the things you want to?
    Etc etc - despite being designed to understand the 'real you' and what drives you, they can be easily answered with examples using the STAR/CAR format (and for me, should be).

    Granted, other strengths based ones would be a struggle... e.g. What subjects do you enjoy studying the most? Or What do you enjoy doing the least?.
    For the very last time?! Hmmm...

    Yes, let's agree to disagree. Some of those strengths based questions don't necessarily need STAR as it depends on what the individual states.

    All I am trying to say is forcing in long winded detailed examples isn't always necessary. You can talk about situations as evidence of your strength/default behaviours but rarely need the detail of a STAR model answer. And to me this is one of those situations.

    It isn't about clock watching - it is about making sure matter are assessed consistently - if you have various aspects you are assessing in a designated timeframe, keeping to time, keeping on track and ensuring all questions are asked are vital. Therefore cutting someone off is acceptable if the conversation is going in an unnecessary direction.


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