Former police officer Peter Kelleher provides some techniques on how to model the ideal answer based on proven methods when applying and interviewing for a job.

Some of the questions I get asked from time to time include:

  • what is the best way to get a job interview and
  • how should detail be provided within an interview answer without boring the recruiters.

There are a number of techniques that can help these issues. 

Useful techniques

The first is that of approach. Rather than take a “shotgun” method to your job-seeking (i.e. in that you “blast” your generic CV out there, applying for hundreds of jobs at a time) we suggest you take a more “rifled” approach. This involves having a generic CV – one that contains the basis of the information that you want to send – but then tweaking it to, as far as possible, match the job description and any accompanying criteria of the role that has been advertised. You need to do this for each and every job you apply for.

Although this does take time and effort on your part, it will help you to be more likely to get through the CV paper-sift and enhance your chances of being selected for interview (assuming that you have relevant experience for the role). This is because the recruiter will be more easily able to see the relevance of what you have to offer and, if a scoring system is being used, you will tend to score higher than someone who hasn’t taken that trouble.

The same is true if application forms are being used in the recruitment process (often more frequent in the public sector). Here the organisation helpfully provides you with the titles of the boxes that it wants you to fill in. Your job is to fill these boxes with compelling evidence that is unerringly relevant for the role and will make you irresistible to the recruiter reading the information, so that you get through to the next stage of the process.

Shine like a STAR

Sometimes you may be limited for space, which is particularly true in police promotion and selection applications, for example. I recall many hours spent, during my time in the Police Service, trying to cram lengthy answers into seemingly impossible spaces. The way to do this successfully is to neatly package your answer into some form of “answer model”.  Examples of these include the mnemonics STAR, SOAR or SAR and are formed of:

Situation – describe (in one line) the situation or context of the example

Task – describe the task you were set or, if more appropriate to use the SOAR structure in the example, in that you describe the O – the Options you considered.

Action – describe the action that you took (this is where the points are scored and should form at least 80 per cent of your answer)

Result – describe the outcome that was delivered as a result of your action (this should always be successful and you will want to demonstrate how your result supported team, unit or wider corporate objectives)

If using SAR for brevity, you simply merge the “task” or “options” into the overall description of the “situation”.

This technique is not only used for application forms, but can be used to deliver verbal answers in interview too; in fact we recommend using it or something like it. So find a model (there are a number) that suits you and your circumstances and shape your answers around it. The benefits will be three-fold.

Firstly, using a model that a recruiter is familiar with will allow them to understand the structure of your answer, recognise it quickly and help them to more easily document evidence that scores. Secondly, having a model will help you to recall the example when under pressure and deliver it in a structured way even when nervous. Thirdly, the use of a model allows you to deal with long and complicated projects and package them into neat parcels that won’t bore a recruiter and leaves the door open for them to ask you follow up questions that will tease out further information that scores marks.

Package your answer

The latter benefit is my favourite. I have been involved in national projects that have taken over a year to deliver with complex reporting streams, multiple stakeholders and lots of issues to contend with.  It seems almost impossible to know where to start with an example like that without bamboozling the interviewer and them losing the will to live part-way through the delivery of your seemingly endless answer.

The secret is to use a model, like those above, and “signpost” to the interviewer that you will be answering in sections.  The first cycle sets the scene and provides the “high-level” overview – or highlights – of the example. If you conclude your answer with something like “…and I am happy to provide further detail of any aspect of that if you wish”, it almost invites the interviewer to ask a follow up question, dropping down a level to provide slightly more detail of the example and score more marks.

In this way you can not only help yourself to score highly, but the more experienced amongst us can also use our answers to help steer the interviewer into areas where we have a wealth of evidence and away from areas where we might be found wanting.

Remember to package up your answers into an “answer model” to help you shine like a STAR at your next interview.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it. We have got loads of great information on the ‘Advice and Guidance’ page of this website, or simply get in touch and we will be very happy to help.