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How to Use the STAR Method in Your Interviews: What to Ask and Why

David Law

Tue, 19 Mar, 2019


David Law

  • Reading Time:
    ~ 5 minutes

If you ask a candidate questions about their CV, you’ll get a rehash of information you already have. If you ask skill-related questions, you’ll gain a little more insight. But if you ask behavioural questions instead, you’ll be able to figure out whether this talent is right for the position or not.

Telling a story is the most comprehensive and incisive way to share information. It makes sense, then, to have your interviewee do exactly that.

A tried-and-true way to get decisive answers for your behavioural questions is to use the STAR method. Hint: you’ll never conduct an interview in the same old way again.

What is the STAR method, really?

It’s an approach to interviewing that focuses on specific job situations in the candidate’s career. It’s an acronym that stands for the four elements you need to know: situation, task, action, results.

The structure is like that of many stories and it will help you get an insight into the most important qualities you want your future employee to display.

Answer stages in STAR

Behavioural questions are particularly useful because they delve deeper into a candidate’s job performance than any generic, CV-based inquiries.

The format of STAR questions prompts the interviewee to tell you an anecdote in story format. The four different stages of the answer structure the information in a streamlined, understandable way.

Which are these stages?

S’ the situation

This is the setting, the introduction to the problem that needs to be solved. Here, a candidate should explain how this challenge appeared, what it was, and who else took part.

T’ the task

Who identified the task that was necessary to solve the situation? Why was your candidate given this task? They should talk about their role in tackling the challenge and about the goals that were set.

A’ the Action

This stage is obvious: ‘What did the candidate do?’ What were the steps they took in order to solve the situation?

R’ the Result

After all was said and done, was the issue solved? Did the candidate meet the goals that were set for them?

The Best STAR Interview Questions

Want to apply the STAR method to your own interviews? Here are some effective questions you can ask. They target the four most critical areas of your candidate’s professional performance: pressure coping, decision-making, self-awareness, and management skills.

Get inspired!

Pressure coping

1. Have you ever had to learn a new skill under pressure?

2. Tell me about one time you had a conflict with a superior. How did you resolve the issue?

3. Describe a leadership circumstance in which you made a decision against the majority. How did you act?

4. In your career, have you been in a stressful situation? Tell me what you did.

5. Describe how you handled a problematic customer.

Questions about handling pressure at work reveal how your candidate performs when the going is rough.

Decision-making

1. Have you ever chosen goals that were too low or lofty?

2. Describe a recent hard decision you had to make.

3. Has one of your teammates ever caused the failure of a project? How did you handle informing your manager?

4. How do you prioritize your time and activity when you need to complete conflicting projects?

5. Have you ever received several conflicting feedback reports? How did you approach the situation?

Asking about decision-making scenarios tells you a lot about how efficient your candidate is when making tough calls. Just how good is their judgement?

Self-awareness

1. If your voice is being ignored, how do you make yourself heard? Tell me about a time when this happened.

2. Describe a situation in which your performance was criticized.

3. Have you ever worked with someone you didn’t like (or the other way around)? How did you manage?

4. How have you handled the consequences of failing to meet a deadline in the past?

5. Have you ever failed to meet the goals you set?

Behavioural questions about self-awareness allow you to observe your candidate’s perception of themselves, their strengths, and weaknesses.


Management qualities

1. Have you been successful when delegating tasks or projects? Describe a situation in which you were.

2. Describe how you handled providing constructive criticism to a colleague.

3. Tell me about a time you took initiative in a new project.

4. In your CV, you state that leadership is one of your most relevant abilities. Give me an example of that.

5. If your project’s team is getting recruited into other projects, how do you handle it?

Is your candidate leadership material? Do they show initiative, confidence, assertiveness? Ask these questions to figure it out.

How do you use the STAR method in your interview?

There are four steps to help you approach the STAR method as a hiring manager.


1. Write down a STAR list for the position

First, you must identify what qualities, skills, and experiences are crucial to doing a good job at this position’ and what would be a nice perk. You’ll focus on the most essential things, crafting questions about specific situations.

Now, think of your candidate’s previous experience as well as what they told you in their CV and cover letter, as you’ll need to tailor your questions to them for top efficiency. If you use the questions you read above, don’t skip this step’ using the generic STAR question will probably give you a vague reply.

Instead, decide which question you want to ask and, then, formulate it clearly, targeting a specific item of their career and skills. For example, ‘Your CV states you worked as a project manager for X company. In that role, how did you handle delegating tasks?’.


2. Make your expectations clear to the candidate

When you get to asking your candidate these STAR questions, you can choose whether to have your candidate give you candid, undirected (albeit probably somewhat vague) answers or to point them in the right direction from the get-go.

If you choose the latter (we definitely do), it’s a good idea to tell your candidate what elements you want their answer to include before asking behavioural questions. These items can be specific projects, dates, and names as well as an explanation of the tasks and results involved in the process.

Making your expectations clear gives your candidate a fair opportunity to show you their talent. You’re also more likely to actually find what your company needs!

3. Make your expectations clear to yourself

However, you won’t find anything if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Experts recommend you start by taking a good look at the CV you’ve received, trying to locate any issues or skill gaps that you want to clarify.

For example, your interviewee might have listed qualities and results that show their people skills, but you’re unsure whether they can handle the more technical side of the position. In that case, you’ll have to look for answers that explain that gap, such as describing the details of a particular project, or how they learned a new skill fast.

Try constructing your questions to give the candidate an opportunity to tell you about the experience you want. They should be able to suggest parallels between their past experience and their (hopeful!) future success in your company.

And remember, the details and outcomes of the situation described, in general, matter less than the skills and qualities they display.


4. Be flexible

If we all had the same skills and personal qualities, what a dull world it would be! Fortunately, your company can benefit from the creative flow and balanced performance that come with a diverse team.

Don’t expect all your candidates to think and behave like you or even your current employees. Instead, work to discover the unique experience and ideas they can bring to the table. An answer that diverges from your expectations is not the same as a wrong answer.

Remember, you don’t need to ask all your STAR questions in a row’ in fact, that might be a terrible idea. To avoid confusing your candidate with a complete storytelling interrogation, it’s best to throw in some STAR behavioural questions mixed up with your regular CV or cover letter questions.

The behavioural interview you get when you use the STAR approach makes it easier to give each candidate a fair and insightful conversation. And, of course, it helps you find the best talent and potential to make your company grow!

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