Professional interviewers use a technique called behavioural-based interviewing. The principle is that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

That’s why interviewers don’t ask hypothetical questions – ‘given this situation, what would you do?’. They ask behavioural questions ‘describe a time when you were faced with this situation, what DID you do?’

The best kind of answers are called STAR stories:


Now, there is plenty of information online about what a STAR story is, and how you should put it together. Here is just one good example.

But you want more than just a STAR story. To be successful in your interview, you want a SHINING STAR story. In this post, I want to talk about two key tips to help get you there.

Firstly. Great STAR stories are prepared in advance. They’re practiced and tested. The interview is the last place you want to be seeking inspiration. Lots of people will tell you that much. What most people don’t tell you is that you are allowed to write down your notes, and bring them to the interview. As long as you just use them for reference, and don’t just mechanically read from your notes, then they can be a great help.

Because an interview is about behaviour. When you bring notes to an interview with me, what does that tell me? Does it say that you’re less capable because you need notes – of course not! It tells me that you care enough to prepare for the interview, that you’re analytical and methodical, and that when I ask you a question then you have the means and ability to have the needed information at your fingertips. And if you do that in the interview, I can at least hope that you’ll do the same when you work for me.

Secondly. When you prepare and/or relate your STAR story, remember that I’m less interested in the story itself than I am in the behaviours that it demonstrates. So be very careful to consider the subtext. Consider the story from my point of view.

So let’s say that I ask you to describe a situation where you disagreed with a colleague or project partner, and how you handled it. I don’t really care what story you tell. I’m listening for the behavioural markers in your response – the social cues, your ability to work through a problem (not just capitulating, and not just forcing your own way), any ‘red flags’ of aggression, or of holding grudges, etcetera.

When you plan your response, don’t just pay attention to what you want to say. Focus on what you want me to hear. That’s how you make your STAR story shine.


I publish a (semi) regular column on the DCS Technical website and facebook page, and various social media. The RACI Young Chemists group has also created a YouTube channel for career advice videos. Get involved. Your network is your greatest opportunity to advance your career.