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The Cheat Sheet to Acing the SAO Method

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by Shell Bongares

about 2 months ago

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Interviews can be daunting for a number of reasons, but one main cause is that you don’t fully know what to expect, especially with regards to what questions may be asked. However, what CAN be expected are behavioural or competency-based questions. These questions are commonly asked in interviews to find out real life examples of a person’s skills and past experiences.

The reason why such questions are asked is not only to learn about specific circumstances regarding one’s work history but to also gauge the way a person answers the actual question. Additionally, the previous behaviour is a strong indicator of predicting future performance, so naturally, recruiters and employers want to know the level of potential success a jobseeker can bring to the role.

You’ll immediately know when you’re being asked a behavioural or competency-based question when you hear sentences starting off with:

“Tell me about a time…”

“Describe a situation where…”

“Give me an example of…”

Or any variations of that sort. But the one key trend amongst those sentences is that they are all wanting you to give examples. On the other hand, some questions may be more disguised, such as:

 

“What are your key strengths?”

For most people they make a ‘shopping list’ where they fire off a list of attributes or qualities they possess, e.g., “Team player”, “Excellent communication skills”, “People-person”  – if you stop there without any further elaboration, that is not the right way to successfully answer the question. The right way is by using the SAO method (otherwise known as STAR or CAR):

 

“S” is for Situation – Where you describe the context, establishing how it first started. That does not mean you start at the very beginning, explaining every single detail, and retelling your entire life story; think of it as an introductory statement.

“A” is for Action – What did you do? What steps did you undertake to solve (or maybe, unfortunately, fail at solving) the situation?

“O” is for Outcome – What happened at the end? What was the conclusion? What did you learn? This last point is immensely important because showing that you’ve learnt a lesson highlights your self-awareness and ability to develop and improve yourself going forward.

 

Taking the above into consideration, here is a sample response to the “Strengths” question:

S – “One of my key strengths is that I’m a team player. In my current role as a Contact Centre Representative, my Team Leader was asking us for ways to boost the number of calls we take in a week, where the end goal was to efficiently deal with more customer inquiries, but ultimately minimise the call handling time.”

A – “I suggested to implement a challenge with incentives such as chocolates, free hot beverage vouchers, and movie tickets, which I actually provided. So I divided our team of 10 into pairs where they would compete in getting the highest amount of calls with the least amount of call handling time. I sent out a daily email every morning to showcase their stats and declared the winners from the day before, giving positive feedback to each team member, and encouragement to those who ‘lost’.”

O – “By the end of the week, our productivity rose from 30 to 60 calls daily with 5-6 mins of call handling time on average, down from 9-10 mins, a call rate that we still maintain today. My Team Leader specifically thanked me in our team meeting for my efforts in implementing the strategy and motivate everyone. I realised that just by boosting the team’s morale and providing that extra encouragement, we were all collectively able to hit our goals.”

 

At first, it can be difficult to do this naturally, but good practice is to make a list of scenarios that directly relate to each attribute. This is where you think back to your previous work experience and find relevant instances where you showcased that certain quality.

What to remember is - be specific and succinct. Don’t go on unnecessary tangents. Remember you are the one being interviewed, not your entire team or department, so although it’s great to highlight what others have done to help, we want to specifically know what you did.

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