Category Archives: assessment centre

Interview Skills – Using the STAR Approach

Preparing for Interview? Try using the STAR Model!


Competency based interviews (or situational/behaviour interviews) are becoming the approach of choice for many employers. This type of recruitment process allows candidates to give situational examples of when they have achieved particular outcomes. Competency based interviews (CBI) are used as benchmarks for interviewers. Using this style of questioning means they can rate and evaluate candidates and their ability to fit into the new work environment instantly. This may seem daunting for many candidates particularly those who have no experience of CBI. Clearly, it is important for any candidate to be prepared.

An effective technique to employ when answering competency based questions is the “STAR” method. It allows you to focus your thoughts and structure your responses in a clear and concise way. This means you can further impress the interviewer by getting in additional examples for one question. It enables you to showcase your ability and demonstrate your Unique Selling Points (USP)!

How to Do It…

Job Description and Person Specification

Scan the Job Description and Person Specification of the role, then list the key elements of the role and identify key words that encapsulate each of the “Essential” and “Desirable” criteria. Keep these as short as you can. Once you have a list, begin to identify situations/examples and structure your responses.

The STAR Model

Against each of the key words/elements you have identified try and think of 2 (or even 3!) situations when you have demonstrated ability in each area. Using these situations, structure your responses as follows: 

Situation Set the scene.   Explain the situation you encountered.   It is important for the interviewer to engage and relate to your answer. Examples that are relevant to your potential employer are highly recommended.
Task Explain what part/role you took in the situation.
Action Explain the action you took to address the situation / perform the task. Ensure you are speaking only about you and avoid using “we” here.
Results Explain the outcome of your action i.e. how your work resulted in a positive outcome.  Close the loop!

Create a Bank of Examples

Further reduce your stress by creating a “bank” of examples, evidencing how you successfully demonstrated different competencies. Remember to close one STAR example before introducing the next. (E.g.  “ … A further example of XXXXXXX was when. ..”  (next Situation).

Competency based questions are a fantastic way to showcase your abilities and convince the interviewer that you are the perfect candidate!

No job description yet? Do some initial work. Here are some key competencies for you to consider:

  • Planning and Organising
  • Decision making
  • Motivation
  • Effective Communication
  • Responsibility
  • Problem solving
  • Organisation
  • Leadership and Management
  • Using initiative
  • IT skills and packages

Good luck!

This guest post was written by Karen Chubb, Professional Development Coordinator at the University of Cumbria. 

Concours open now – How to apply for a job in the EU today!

The final article of EU Careers week is this really useful post about the application process itself – concours opened yesterday (Thursday 13 March) so why not visit and apply today?


Application process

Having set out the various different roles available to you earlier in the week, below is a quick rundown of the application process itself, which takes approximately nine months, start to finish.

  1. Create an EPSO account here and let us know if you are going to apply: both of these can be done today!
  2. Concours are announced by EPSO in a ‘Notice of Competition’ so it’s a good idea to keep a lookout on their website, or follower them on Twitter @EU_Careers. Once this is published the application process can begin!
  3. Complete the online application form. You will need to fill out your education and professional experience (if any is required!), complete the language assessment section (you will need to use your second language at the Assessment centre) and answer the motivation questions (how is your education and experience relevant to the profile you are applying for).
  4. Validate your application and book the Computer-based (CBT) pre-selection tests.  Don’t wait until the last minute to do this, slots fill up quickly so book early to avoid disappointment.
  5. Take the CBT tests. The test will assess, among other things, your Verbal, Numerical and Abstract Reasoning skills. It’s a good idea to start practicing early as you’ll need to be speedy during the test!
  6. Assessment Centre in either Brussels or Luxembourg. On the Assessment day you will be tested on job-related skills and it will be competency-based. On the day you will have to do a group exercise, an oral presentation and a structured interview, all in your second language. There’s also a separate written test on the specialty.
  7. The Reserve List. Successful candidates are placed on a reserve list, a database which Heads of Units use to recruit according to the profile sought.

The quickest, and easiest way to access the latest hints and tips from those people who have gone through the very same process as above, is by joining the UKinEU network online. This is a network where British EU officials, in a bid to help increase the number of Brits in the Institutions, offer their advice, tips and sometimes time as British candidates move through the process. In addition there are in depth guides to the application process, with some sample tests; a forum for you to ask questions; descriptions of the types of jobs available…and so much more!

So what are you waiting for?! Contact for an invite if you haven’t joined already!

Assessment Centres – Practice Makes Perfect?

Many students worry about what will happen in a job interview, but increasingly the key phase of the selection process for many UK companies is the Assessment Centre. Usually only offered to candidates who have passed the initial stages of selection, such as an online application form or a telephone interview, assessment centres are a longer event, typically lasting one or possibly more days.

Elements that tend to be included in an assessment centre are:

  • Psychometric tests
  • Group discussion exercises
  • E-tray or in tray prioritisation exercises
  • Business case studies
  • Presentations
  • In-depth interviews

Candidates are under fairly intense scrutiny and are often very aware of competing each other, which may lead to some rather unnatural behaviour. According to careers advisers, some of the phrases that indicate successful performance are:  speaking up (without being unduly dominant), taking a lead, “building” on the contributions of others, keeping an eye on time, analysing facts, facilitating, awareness of the ‘big picture’. Much of this focus is on how people work together in teams so it may be worth studying something about group dynamics in business situations.

But nothing beats having a try! Many careers services are now offering practice sessions on Assessment Centres to students and the University of Cumbria is no exception. On 13th November, we plan to run two practice assessment centres in collaboration with Enterprise Rent-a-Car at our Lancaster campus (exact location to be confirmed).  Priority will be offered to students from the New Business School but a large number of places will be available, so watch your student globals at the start of next session.

If you can’t wait until then, here are a couple of links to help you gen up on the subject of Assessment Centres:


Employers Try New Assessment Tactics

Following a recent post on the dissatisfaction of applicants with their experience of psychometric testing, it was interesting to read in “Graduate Recruiter” that Barclays Capital have moved towards using an online business simulation exercise during their half day assessment centre programme.

The exercise aims to test candidates’ responses to realistic work situations using an interactive tool which feeds them information from a variety of sources, rather in the manner of the old ‘in-tray’ type exercise, complete with deadlines, distractions and last minute changes.

Meanwhile GCHQ have had the innovative idea of asking potential applicants to crack a code on an anonymous website and publicising the event on blogs, twitter, youtube and other social media.  Those who successfully cracked the code without hacking the site illegally could access details of the code source as well as current employment opportunities with GCHQ.

Apparently this campaign attracted 94 million hits, a record for a recruitment website. However, only 236 people succeeded in cracking the code. Presumably at least some of them are by now working for GCHQ.