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What's the best way to respond when an interviewer asks you to give a specific example of how you approach certain situations at work? There are four simple steps to follow.

Competency questions are largely designed to find out how you use your strengths and overcome your weaknesses. They give the interviewer an insight into your practical skills and experience and are particularly important in social work interviews, where service user care and safety are paramount. 

Specific examples from past work experience can say a lot more about you and whether you're the right person for the job. The good news is there's a proven technique for dealing with competency-based questions.  It's called STAR, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Here's how it works...

1. Describe the 'Situation'

The first step is to 'set the scene'. Make sure the example you give relates directly to the question. For example, you may have been asked to recall an experience which shows you are good at working with partner agencies to safeguard those needing support. 

2. Outline your 'Task'

Show the interviewer that you took 'ownership' of the problem. Explain what steps you took, making sure you acknowledge any legal duties you have as a practitioner. You should make it clear that you're not afraid to challenge (within reason).

3. Define the 'Activity'

Say what you actually did to solve the problem. This is a chance to show you can think creatively and use your initiative to find practical solutions.

4. What was the 'Result'?

How did your actions change things for the better? Try to be specific by giving examples which show tangible successful outcomes, whether that was for a service user or a broader service change. It's also worth mentioning what you learnt from the experience.

Here's an example we've made up that shows the STAR technique in action...

The 'Situation': at a multi-disciplinary team meeting, it was identified that there was a need for better communication between social services and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to make referrals quicker for children and young people. 

The 'Task':  Social worker x made suggestions to improve the information flow between child protection and the local hospital’s CAMHS service. 

The 'Activity': Social worker x discovered new ways to open up referral pathways to social care, shortening the paperwork relating to risk assessment. 

The 'Result': Young people are now gaining access to the specialist help they need (within 48 hours of being referred to the service).

Although this approach is designed to help formulate strong answers to competency-based questions, it’s also useful in applying a clear and concise answer for standard interview questions. You can even download one of our interview preparation sheets to help. 

Best of luck, and if you ever need to chat things through, your Sanctuary Social Care consultant is always there to offer guidance. 

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