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Our STAR Method Interview Guide: Top Tips For You

Isbella Ribar

Sun, 10 Oct, 2021


Isbella Ribar

  • Reading Time:
    ~ 6 minutes

A CV tells you about a candidate’s skills and background for the position. The cover letter confirms their interest in the position.

Therefore, interviewing is crucial for evaluating a candidate’s critical thinking, leadership skills, and interpersonal skills. In essence, STAR interviews offer an opportunity to delve deeper into an interviewee’s potential.

The Star Method

The STAR method stands for Situation, Task, Action, Results. Based on past experiences, employers can determine how candidates would act in certain situations on the job through behavioural interviewing. Each candidate’s answers will describe a situation, a task required of them, their chosen action, and its outcome.

Ask questions to learn how each candidate will perform in the role. This will help you evaluate each candidate fairly. You can gain insight into these areas using the STAR method.

The STAR method encourages candidates to tell a linear story in interview questions. In examining this story, interviewers are able to identify a sense of judgment in the candidate that may not be obvious within more generic skill-based interview questions.

The format for STAR Answers

The following is an example of how a candidate’s “STAR” answer should sound when listening to their response.

S: Situation

A candidate’s STAR interview answers should illustrate how they overcame a problem or dilemma. There can be explanations from interviewees about how the situation came about and who else was involved.

T: Task

STAR answers include a “Task” component that clarifies the candidate’s role. What were their responsibilities in light of the situation? Who assigned this task? What was the goal in carrying out this task?

A: Action

STAR answers reveal how the candidate actually solved the problem introduced during the “Situation” stage of the assessment.

R: Results

As part of a STAR answer, a candidate should explain their results from their actions. Did the original problem get resolved? What was the candidate’s performance like compared to what was expected?

Instead of asking, “What is your greatest weakness?” a better STAR question would be “Explain how you handled not meeting a goal.”

STAR asks a candidate to describe a prior work situation anecdotally, provide details about the tasks involved, the actions they took to achieve them, and the outcome.

The STAR method works extremely well when properly implemented. Our STAR guide will help you learn how to prepare to interview a candidate and find out examples of questions that will enable you to identify the best candidate.

These are the top 10 STAR interview questions. Ideally you should tailor them to the specific role and candidate, so use these as inspiration.

Top STAR Interview Questions

Sense of Judgment

Questions like these give you a better picture of how the candidate thinks and makes decisions under difficult circumstances.

  1. Describe a difficult decision you made in the last year.
  2. Give an example of when you have set your goals too high (or too low).
  3. If you were tasked with multiple important projects, tell me how you prioritised them.
  4. Would you mind sharing an experience where you received conflicting feedback on a project? How did you respond to this feedback?
  5. Share a time when a close colleague negatively affected or ruined a project, and explain how you handled the situation to the project manager.

How To Handle Pressure

These questions can help you reveal how well a candidate performs under various types of pressure.

  1. Tell us about an unpopular decision you made and how you managed to implement it.
  2. Give an example of a stressful situation at work and how you handled it.
  3. Please tell me about a recent situation in which you dealt with a very upset customer/client.
  4. Provide an example of a time when you disagreed with a superior and how you resolved it.
  5. Describe a time when you had to learn something quickly that was unfamiliar.

Potential To Lead

Candidates can reveal their leadership skills, confidence and willingness to take the initiative when faced with little or no guidance.

  1. According to your CV, leadership is one of your strengths. How have you shown leadership in a particular situation?
  2. Please explain an instance when you delegated a project effectively.
  3. When was the last time you had to offer negative feedback to a colleague. What was your method of offering this feedback?
  4. Tell me an instance when you were proactive and took the lead.
  5. Can you recall a time when you had a direct report or a team that was recruited for another project without your approval?

Self-Awareness

The answers to these types of questions can reveal a candidate’s degree of self-awareness regarding their strengths and weaknesses, respectively.

  1. Describe a time you were able to successfully deal with a colleague who didn’t particularly like you (or vice versa).
  2. Give me an example of a time when you attempted to accomplish something and failed.
  3. Describe a time when you were reprimanded or criticised.
  4. If you were not going to deliver a project on time, tell me how you minimised the impact or handled the consequences.
  5. Talk me through a time when you felt unheard and what you did to get your colleagues’ attention.

The STAR Interview: How to Format It

In order to make STAR questions a successful part of your interview strategy, try following these four steps.

1. Create a list of role-specific STAR questions.

Prepare a list of questions pertinent to the candidate’s experience, qualifications, and characteristics. For a deeper dive into a candidate’s specific background, you can customise your questions depending on the role.

Having the applicant describe a time when they delegated a project effectively is vague, and may lead to the candidate describing work situations from five years ago when what you really just wanted to know about a project from their last role. Be clear, and be specific: “Can you tell me specifically about a time in X role when you delegated a project effectively as a Digital Marketing Manager at Company Y?”

The STAR interview method requires you to ask questions that are situation-specific. For example, if you want to find out about a candidate’s flexibility, you could ask, “Tell me about a time when you put your needs aside to help a colleague.” How did you assist them?”

2. Explain what you are looking for in a candidate’s response.

There is a difference of opinion when it comes to this step: some recruiters prefer to not explain that they are looking for situation-specific answers, in order to see how the candidate handles the question. Choosing to be vague can have its advantages – at the very least, you’re likely to get honest answers from your candidates.

However, you risk receiving an incomplete reply or confusing the candidate if you fail to explain what you are looking for upfront. Should the candidate’s answer be inadequate, maybe you should offer them an opportunity to revise it. In your response, you could say: “I’m interested in the steps you took to accomplish the tasks, and what results the project produced.”

3. Know what you’re looking for.

Interview questions such as STARs are particularly useful for finding out what major characteristics your candidates possess, or to get context for potential problem areas in their CV.

As an example, you might ask, “How did you convince your supervisor or professor to adopt a particular idea or concept?” What was the outcome?

It is important to know what you will be looking for in a candidate’s response before you ask STAR questions. When considering the question above, it shouldn’t matter too much what the candidate said – rather, you are looking for someone who is assertive, confident, and able to make good decisions.

Pay attention to the way the candidate showcased those qualities, regardless of how the answer was given. It matters more what they do than what happens in the end.

To get a better idea of what you’re looking for when asking a candidate STAR questions, think about what the candidate’s CV lacks. If the candidate’s CV reflects skills tied to analytics, but you’re worried the candidate lacks the creativity necessary for the role, ask a question regarding innovation. Be sure to pay attention to whether the candidate offers original ideas. To summarize, work backwards — think about what you want from the candidate, and then formulate the appropriate question about their behavior.

Recruiters should start looking for candidates who are willing to learn the business challenges and see themselves as part of the solution, according to Jasmine, Talent Manager for Fulcrum.

A STAR interviewee is obvious, says Jasmine. They can easily explain how they would successfully impact (the company), and provide a clear account of how they can fit into the role.

If candidates doesn’t have the exact experience required for the job, they need to be able to connect the dots and explain how their past experiences would benefit them in the role. As a last step Jasmine says she looks for candidates who are details-oriented, have solid industry knowledge, are strong team players (and can also influence those around them), and are career driven.

4. Stay open-minded.

STAR behavioral interview questions bring out unique and sometimes unexpected answers within each candidate’s background and work history.

Maintaining an open mind is important. It is important to build a team made up of people with diverse ideas and experiences – a candidate answering a question differently than what you had expected doesn’t mean that they are wrong by any means.

“At the end of the day, I am looking for candidates who can tell me the impact they have made on businesses in the past, and the impact they will have on a company in the future,” Jasmine says.

Asking ten STAR interview method questions in a row will only confuse you and your candidate – it’s important you don’t overdo it. You might be selective and mix behavioral interview questions with standard interview questions, especially during the first interview round. Before diving into the behavioral questions from STAR, allow the candidate to warm up by asking a few standard questions first.

In your next interview, try out some of these STAR interview questions so the candidate gets the opportunity to demonstrate how they can help your business succeed. By using behavioral interview tactics, you will be able to engage in more candid, insightful, and helpful conversations with potential new hires.

Good Luck!

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