SWOT vs STAR: You really want that job? Make sure you’re properly prepared!


As a recruiter, it’s part of my job to help my candidates be best prepared for their interviews with any client I work with. I have found that how much preparation you put into an interview usually correlates with how much you want that job. 

Of course there’s the obvious advice I can give; 

Look at your journey ahead of time and prepare your travel the night before so you arrive 15 minutes earlier. 

Allow for extra time in case there’s a signal failure on the underground, or your train out of London is cancelled, or worse, if there’s an accident on the M25 (which is usually a dead cert!). 

Take copies of your CV to hand out to who you’ll be meeting, 

Research the company, research who you’ll be meeting with… research, research, research! 

But what else can you do to make sure you’re prepared?

You can’t foresee what your interviewer will ask you, and recruiters should be able to give you a rough idea of what your interviewer might expect from you and what they might ask you, but you can’t know for certain. 

However, there are two rather excellent preparation methods that will keep you ready for any question that comes your way: SWOT and STAR. 

Let me explain…


SWOT Analysis

SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats. 

This is great to do in preparation before the interview – run your own SWOT analysis on yourself. Why? Because it allows you to identify the above so you can fully determine how you can fit into the role, company or even team you will be joining.


Strengths:  What are your key selling points? What are you best at? What skills and qualities do you have that make you good at what you do? How do these skills and attributes add value to the role you’re going to be doing? Or again, how do they add value to the company and the team you’ll be joining? 

Most people find identifying their strengths easy, and it’s usually something that you enjoy doing because it’s human nature to enjoy doing things that you know you’re good at. 

TIP: Think about what you’re good at and try to find a way to link it to the role you’re applying for. 


Weaknesses: This is probably the one thing people try to avoid during an interview. If asked about them, some may be brave with the response ‘I wouldn’t say I have any’. But you do. Think about it: no one’s perfect and having a ‘weakness’ doesn’t have to come with negative connotations. Being aware of your weaknesses and actively working on them is far more appealing than someone who chooses to ignore their flaws,  and refuses to try and self-improve.

No, you don’t want to tell your future employer that your punctuality is dire. Instead, you might want to mention your time management skills could use a little improvement. Or, maybe you just find it difficult to delegate meaning you end up doing all the work yourself. 

By raising these points, your prospective employer knows that a) you know how to identify your own weaknesses and b) he/she can work with you to improve these grey areas. 

TIP: Going through past appraisals can really help with identifying your own personal strengths and weaknesses as they’ll help you to be honest with yourself. Weaknesses, in particular, are usually consistent throughout appraisals. 


Opportunities: Here’s where your research on the role, company and team comes into play. What opportunities do you see for yourself in this new role? It might be that you feel like you can learn from your new manager, or it could be that you see more career progression within the new company. Alternatively, link it to your weaknesses and identify that one solution to your inability to delegate efficiently could be that you see an opportunity to get the team more involved and in turn, your time management might improve with having less tasks you need to complete over a period of time. 

The opportunities you see in the position you’re interviewing for are usually the reasons you want to leave your current job, so be honest. 

TIP: Try thinking about the weaknesses you identified in the step above and think about ways that your new role could help you improve upon them. Or, think about ways in which you think you could benefit the company, or the company could benefit you. 


Threats: On the flip side of the opportunities coin, simply put, threats are negative external conditions which you cannot control but you can minimise. For this, it’s great to point out what you see as threats, but when you do, bring solutions to the table too. There are always aspects of a role which are a little more difficult to overcome compared to other parts of the job, but recommending how you would jump these hurdles shows that you’ve really thought about it before officially stepping into your new role. It shows you’re proactive. 

TIP: Remember to identify solutions, not just threats. 

Plan, Prepare, Perform

STAR Analysis

STAR – Situation, Tasks, Action/Activity, Result.


“Can you give me an example where you were required to … and what was the outcome?” 


Sound familiar? The STAR analysis is always useful for competency based interviews. Competency based interviews are, as the name suggests, used to evaluate a candidate’s key competencies. By asking you about a situation you’ve been in, they are asking what you did to overcome any challenges you may have faced and what the result was of your actions. 

Whilst you cannot predict what situation your interviewer will ask about, you’ll probably have an idea of what the role will entail and will maybe find that preparing a few examples can help. The main thing to remember, when using the STAR method, is do not generalise. Keep it specific.


Situation: Normally this is a situation which you found somewhat challenging, and your interviewer will want some detail about this situation and how it might differ from your day to day activities, and why you thought it was challenging. 

TIP: Try to use an example of a challenge you successfully overcame, but if you can’t think of one, it’s okay to explain how you attempted to deal with it and what you’d do differently in the future: this shows that you learn from your shortcomings and are eager to improve yourself. 


Task: What were you required to achieve? What did you want to achieve from the situation? It’s good to present that you set yourself a target and make sure you use quantifiable target(s).

TIP: Try to use an example that you can quantify: you want to be able to explain exactly how, and how well, you achieved completion of the task. 


Action: What did you do to achieve it? How did you overcome the situation? Maybe you tried something which you thought would work, but wasn’t successful so you tried an alternative method. Be honest. It shows that you can assess a situation, take control of what you need to achieve and how you’re going to reach your goal(s).

TIP: Honesty is key – admitting you stumbled and managed to right yourself is far more appealing than pretending you’re always perfect. 


Result: What was the outcome? Did you reach your end goal(s) and hit your target(s)? Again, quantify. Although you’re talking about the end result of the challenge you faced, use this as a time to also talk about what you learnt from the experience. What, if anything, would you change if you were faced with this same situation again? How has it affected your work since?

TIP: Quantify, quantify, quantify! It’s not enough to say you completed the task set: hiring managers want to know how well you completed it! Did you over-achieve? What did you learn from it? Could you do better next time?


Bringing it all together

Both the SWOT and STAR methods will help you get through any interview you face. We’ve all had those interviews which we weren’t too sure about, but use these methods to prepare anyway – remember, practice makes perfect! So do these steps before every interview and when you meet with the one team you do dream of joining, you’ll ace the interview and secure the job! 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re interviewing for an entry level position or a senior level position, these methods do work and they ultimately show your prospective employer that you’ve taken the time to really put in the effort. Interviewers naturally see this is a good sign as it shows you really want this particular job, and it tells them that in general you put in the effort to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. Managers want people like this on their teams, and it’s all about first impressions at interviews, so make that first impression count! 


 Are you looking for a new role in Life Sciences? Or would you like some further advice about interview and CV preparation, or any other aspect of successfully applying for a job? Please feel free to give me a call on (+44)1737 236829 or drop me an email at chanel.hicken@volt.eu.com. You can also find me on LinkedIn – don’t hesitate to get in touch!