Employers’ Tip: The STAR Interview Technique

Interviews are often daunting experiences, but remain instrumental to the application process and generally determine why one candidate is successful over another. To try and grasp exactly what employers are looking for from interviewees, the Professional Skills Curriculum Team quizzed several organizations at one of the university’s recent careers fairs.

Police Scotland particularly emphasized the importance of interview styles and recommended using the STAR technique, formulating answers using the following pattern:

describe a SITUATION  explain your TASK – say what ACTION you took – reveal the RESULT.


They believe that the benefit of this method is that it helps you stay focused on giving your interviewer specific examples of your success. Equally, the ‘Result Section’ of your answer allows you to quantify how you personally made a difference to the situation.


This simple acronym is one to keep in mind for when you next attend an interview, as it gives you a transferable structure which can be applied to any question. It also makes it easier to give organised and logical responses, demonstrating to your prospective employer that you have an ability both to provide relevant examples of your competencies and evaluate how projects you have been involved with have progressed from start to finish.



To find out how you can get involved with the Professional Skills Curriculum visit https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/students/careermatters/professionalskills/programme/ 

Find our latest events here: https://www.facebook.com/ProfessionalSkillsCurriculum/

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Interview with PSC Graduate Guy Brett-Robertson


Guy, currently an Actuarial Associate at Punter Southall, tells us about how his involvement with the PSC during his time at university has helped kick-start his career.

When did you graduate from St Andrews and what was your field of study?

In the Summer of 2015, with a MPhys in Astrophysics

Could you describe your current role/typical workday?

Typical hours: 9-6. About 50% working on spreadsheets, programs and documents on my computer. About 50% of my time is spent talking to colleagues, followed by paper work and meetings. The work is very diverse as it’s a consultancy. I’m often doing around 10 different tasks each day which keeps it interesting.

Which qualities proved most useful in securing your current position?

  • My strong mathematical and analytical abilities
  • Programming/IT skills
  • Written and oral communication
  • Ability to communicate difficult concepts at all levels
  • The fact that I am both team-oriented and comfortable working independently
  • Good time management, particularly when there are conflicting deadlines

What prompted you to embark on the PSC curriculum?

Wanting to be more well-rounded.

How well did the professional skills programme prepare you for a corporate environment?

It really helped with interviews, especially improving my answers to competency based questions. Beyond that it was moderately helpful in general.

What advice would you give to final year students who are unsure about their career paths?

Fake it ’til you make it. Chances are you’ll feel as clueless as you do now long after you graduate, but that’s OK, so does everyone else. If you haven’t already, you need to learn to manage those feelings and just play the game for a while. Success will come.

To find out how you can get involved with the Professional Skills Curriculum visit https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/students/careermatters/professionalskills/programme/ 

Find our latest events here: https://www.facebook.com/ProfessionalSkillsCurriculum/

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When did you graduate from St Andrews?psc-post-hayleigh

In June 2016 with a BSc (Hons) in Management.

Could you describe your current role/typical workday?

Being on the Aldi Graduate Area Manager programme. I am currently doing my ‘store time’ learning the role of store staff for half of my training year, which involves managing teams of staff throughout the day to meet strict productivity targets and customer service levels. Daily tasks include ensuring products are available and prioritising tasks.

Which qualities proved most useful in securing your current position?

The recruitment process for this programme is tough. I believe that my ability to look at situations as part of a bigger picture was instrumental. Ultimately, maintaining composure and confidence despite the various challenges I faced in the interview process was key to securing the position.

What prompted you to embark on the PSC curriculum?

In my second year I became treasurer of the badminton club. The president that year recommended that getting involved with the PSC would be a good way to learn skills that would transfer into running the club, and also be useful for the future. At the end of my second year I was elected president and decided to take his advice so that I could run the club in the best way possible. For this reason I focused on leadership modules, knowing  it would demonstrate a willingness to improve my skills.

How well did the professional skills programme prepare you for a corporate environment?

I believe the PSC programme (alongside the experience I was getting with people management, my part time job and my role in university sport) provided me with real examples of key things asked in situational interviews and also meant that I knew what to expect when I started working for Aldi. Although I am not in a typical ‘corporate environment’ the skills are definitely transferable.

What advice would you give to final year students who are unsure about their career paths?

Keep your options open! Try and get experience through sports/societies/part time work/shadowing that you can transfer into a variety of roles and talk about in interviews. Apply to jobs early because many have deadlines for each year’s intake.


Interview with an Employer: Tom Freeman, MD at Sanctuary Graduates









Please introduce yourself.

Tom Freeman. MD of Sanctuary Graduates.

Do many graduates go into recruitment?

More than you would think. There are dozens of firms who actively take on graduates as their main source of staff.

How is working in recruitment as a graduate different from other industries?

The rewards are greater and more immediate. The work is quite repetitive, and the hours long.

What professional skills are necessary to secure a job in recruitment?

Confidence, communication, interpersonal skills. Desire and hunger to succeed. Resilience.

Through what experience on campus can students develop these skills?

Any experiences which involve relationships and influence. Eg. Sports, Society Committee, SU involvement, entrepreneurial ventures.

Do you think Professional Skills Curriculum is a good idea? Why yes/no?

It can only be. Anything that gets students thinking about and honing skills that might be relevant to their preferred career paths.

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PSC @ Science Fair

Professional Skills Curriculum team went to Science Fair and asked employers what professional skill was their key to success. Here is what they told us:

Continue reading

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What professional skill is key to your success?

PSC team attended Management and Finance Careers Fair on Friday 16th of October.

We asked employers the question that is the most feared at interviews – what professional skills is key to your success? Continue reading

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Interview with Charissa Taylor, PSC alumna

Charissa TaylorCharissa Taylor, a Professional Skills Curriculum alumna, met with the PSC team to tell us how the course made a major impact on her future career.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Charissa Taylor, I am a fourth year student doing Economics and German. I did an internship with JP Morgan over the summer, and they just offered me a job for next year.

How did you get involved in Professional Skills Curriculum course?

I saw a poster for the Practical Skills ‘Leadership in Practice’ sessions and I decided to attend. I was aware of the PSC workshops, but learning through practise has always been more efficient for me. I found the sessions very helpful, and later on I completed eight workshops to get recognition for doing the course.

Has the PSC had an impact on your life, and how?

What I learnt at the Practical Skills sessions helped me a lot throughout my internship. After the session I became more aware of how other people see me, how to create a good impression and how to conduct myself. I also improved my leadership and team-work skills. During the Practical Skills session you get to work with such a vast amount of different people that you would never have to as part of your university life. When I went to JP Morgan, I could straight away work with others without much difficulty. Practical Skills sessions also taught me how to come across as keen, and even when I had nothing to do during my internship, I never looked bored, which helped as well.

What part of the course did you find to be particularly helpful?

Definitely the ‘Leadership in Practice’ Practical Skills sessions. The way it is structured ensures that everything you learn from the presentation at the start, you later put into practice. The peer assessment in the end is very helpful as well, because people are usually very honest and give good advice on what was good and what needs improvement.

Would you recommend PSC to other students?

Yes, especially to first and second years students, because they have more free time. I did mine in my third year, and it was quite challenging to do it alongside the deadlines in Honours. PSC also gives good preparation for internships applications, so by the time they get to that point, they already have some skills to their benefit.

NB: The Leadership in Practice sessions are delivered in collaboration with Tayforth Universities Officers Training Corps and are running throughout semester 1.

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PSC graduate, Jennifer Peake

J Peake - PSC

Jennifer Peake completed the PSC in academic year 2011/12. She reflects back on how her PSC experience helped her subsequently, during her year’s placement in industry.

Why did you take part?

I saw an entry in Wednesday memos for undergraduates one week and when I read about the content of the course it sounded really interesting, so I thought I would go along one week and give it a try! After meeting Cat and learning more about how it worked, I knew I had made the right decision.

How did the PSC sessions help you?

The content covered in the sessions filled some of the blanks that I had with regards to the workplace, such as what is it like in a meeting? As a chemistry student, I was able to do a 12 month placement as part of my degree and I think the PSC helped me to prepare for that. There were moments when it might have been a bit daunting but I really think the PSC gave me the confidence I needed.

What advice would you give to people considering taking part in the PSC?

Go for it! There really isn’t a huge time demand to do this course and the knowledge you can gain from it is fantastic. There are lots of things doing a degree can prepare you for, but day to day life in the workplace is very different to student life – surely any advice you can have to maximise your opportunities and smooth the transition is worthwhile?

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Interview with our guest speaker, Pawel Urbanski



Meet Pawel Urbanski, who will be speaking at PSC Leadership: Getting Started and Getting done workshop on the 29th of April. PSC approached him with a few questions in anticipation of his lecture.

What does it mean to you to be a leader?

Before we start talking about leadership we need to set the stage. The stage is our current reality, together with the past and possible future ahead of us. The past is our background, previous experience or significant life events. Presence is our current place in life with all its constraints and potential consequences of our activities and decisions for the future. And last, but not least, the future is everything we plan, work to achieve or experience. Any of those examples can be spread on the scale from very negative, across neutral, up to very positive and rewarding.

We don’t live in the vacume and interact with other people who have their own objectives and understanding of the world. Therefore, we must be ready to listen, educate, convince, give up power or accept that leadership brings as much opportunities as responsibility.

Being a leader, in my opinion and understanding, means to be able to take decisions that will bring positive outcomes, bring other people on board, make them do something with energy and commitment. Being a leader may also mean becoming very unpopular when we stand up for a cause or course of action that may hurt someone’s interest. We must also remember that every leader is also a follower or at least equal to the other people in the university society or business organization.

Leaders bring about change, energy or give a push to launch avalanches or earthquakes.

Why is it important to start developing leadership skills while still at university?

When you are at the university, you are very much in the learning mode. You expect to gain skills, knowledge with all the ups and downs. University environment gives lots of opportunities to have a test drive with different professional areas, you consider for the future. There are many student societies with very much wanted hands to do something. Your classmates come from different walks of life.

All of the above lets you practice in a safe lab without major consequences. If you realized that you don’t feel your best when public speaking in front of a small audience, you simply go on with working on a newsletter or doing the event logistics. If managing people is not your thing, there will be some research going on and you may help a fellow student or professors with collecting feedback. And if it sounds boring you may run for the student body.

All of those experiences and skills are more or less present in the same shapes and variations in our mature / professional lives. The only difference is that accountability and impact are usually greater. When you test your swimming abilities, and improve them at the university, it is easier to jump into deep waters later on.

What do you think students will learn from your workshop?

How to get started with their projects and ideas. Finding their drive and sense behind the things they want to start doing or want to join as a participant. And finally, how to cross the finish line by keeping engagement and energy level high enough after the initial fascination and energy outburst fades a little for whatever reason.

I managed to do it when climbing the Seven Summits, starting and failing a few ventures, doing my Ph.D. in computer science or last, but not least – learning to play golf.


Are you intrigued? Come to the event itself! April 29th, Lecture Room 4 in The Gateway. Further details on the event Facebook page.

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Interview with ScotGrad Programme Manager Kelly Barbour

Kelly LinkedIn


Please introduce yourself and say a little about your role.

Hello! My name is Kelly Barbour and I work as a Programme Manager at ScotGrad.

ScotGrad offers paid graduate placements, which last 3 -12 months, within small to medium sized companies across Scotland. We also have a summer placement programme for students returning to their studies after the break: these placements are 8 – 12 weeks long, also paid, and are based in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland.

I joined the ScotGrad team in June 2013, working on our social media presence and marketing activities. After being with the team for 18 months, I was delighted to move into a management role in January 2015. My day to day job involves of a number of different tasks, which means no two days are the same! I’m also out of the office regularly, attending careers fairs and hosting presentations, spreading the word about ScotGrad. The best part about my job is speaking to loads of fascinating people, and helping others get involved with new and exciting projects through our programme.

What do you think of Professional Skills Curriculum?

I think the Professional Skills Curriculum is a fantastic initiative. The fact that it’s open to all years at St Andrews means that there will be a great range of students attending these workshops, all gaining valuable experience and seeing things from a different perspective. Having this sort of programme on your CV – before you even graduate – is an excellent way to showcase your motivation to employers, and will give you a better understanding of the skills needed to succeed in your future career.

What professional skills you think are essential for students applying for internships and graduate jobs?

When applying for graduate placements through ScotGrad, our employers are looking beyond your degree discipline to find out more about your ‘softer’ skills. For example, our employers look for evidence of self-management, team working, excellent communication skills, and someone with a motivated and enthusiastic approach. What we tend to see is most students aren’t aware that they have these skills already. You don’t necessarily need to have months of work experience under your belt – these skills are being developed throughout your time at university. The trick is to look beyond the daily tasks and projects you are doing, and be more reflective – analyse which skills you are using, learn how to explain them to employers, and ‘sell’ your experience!

What professional skills do graduates often lack?

I believe some graduates lack the understanding of how to articulate their experience to employers, and, therefore, how to submit a winning application. When applying for roles, it is vital that you are tailoring your application and CV to each job specification and company. Companies want evidence that you are engaged and proactive, and if they see a generic CV or application, they won’t be impressed… and you won’t stand out. I would strongly encourage all students and graduates to speak to their careers service for advice, then take the extra time and send in a few excellent, tailored applications. I promise you will see the results!

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