A Quick Guide to the Star Method of Interviewing

by Karen McCandless | Published on May 18, 2022

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Learn how the STAR method can ensure you get the best out of candidates during the interview process and find the best person for the role.

“Where do you see yourself in five years, Karen?”

This is the kind of cliched question I used to hate answering in job interviews. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that there is no way of knowing what the future holds and how quickly your plans can go out the window.

Recruiters need to ask more pertinent, relevant questions if they want to get the best out of candidates and find out the information they need to determine if an applicant will be a good fit for the role.

In this article, we explore the STAR method of interviewing and look at how it can help you find the right candidates for your open positions.

Overview: What is the STAR method?

STAR stands for Situations, Task, Action, and Results. It’s a technique that interviewers can use to elicit relevant, specific information from job candidates by asking questions that require or encourage a response that touches on all four aspects of the method.

Here’s an example of how a job candidate might respond to a question about taking initiative during a STAR interview process.

  • Situation: My manager was off sick and I had to attend the managers’ meeting in their place.
  • Task: I had to approve text for an ad campaign that day as it was urgent and time-sensitive.
  • Action: I consulted with the rest of the team and the other project members to ensure the copy we had in place was grammatically correct and likely to produce the best results.
  • Results: We launched the ad campaign with approved and appropriate copy by the deadline even though my manager wasn’t present for the meeting.

The STAR interview technique helps you evaluate how candidates overcome challenges and what they do when faced with certain situations in the workplace.

Example questions to ask using the STAR method

Here are six examples of STAR interview questions to ask candidates to help get the best answers during your situational and behavioral-based interview.

1. Tell us about a time you took initiative on a project or a task at work.

When you are interviewing candidates, you need to explore how skilled they are at working autonomously and whether they can take action without needing instructions.

2. Tell us about a time when you set and achieved a specific goal.

Self-motivation is an important quality to look for in a candidate, and goal setting is a key part of that. This question showcases the candidate’s ability to create relevant goals that contribute to the business (or their personal growth if they use an example outside of work) and allows you to make sure they have the skills and knowledge to meet those objectives.

3. Tell us about a mistake you’ve made. How did you handle it?

We all make mistakes at work, but what you need to find out from this question is how the candidate handles the aftermath. If they don’t take responsibility for the mistake or ignore it and let someone else fix it, those are signs that the candidate isn’t a team player or mature enough to handle the role.

4. Describe a situation where you disagreed with a superior and how this disagreement was settled.

Communication is key and being able to express yourself in the workplace in a constructive manner is crucial. This question gives you insight into how a candidate views and works with their superiors and handles disagreements in the workplace.

5. Tell us about a difficult decision you've made in the last year.

It’s important to find out how well a candidate works under pressure and what they do when faced with a difficult situation. What does their decision-making process involve? Do they write a pros and cons list, act on instinct, or ask for other people’s input? How quickly do they make a decision? Do they reflect on the outcome of that decision?

6. Tell us about a project that wasn't going to meet its deadline and how you minimized or confronted the consequences.

Being able to meet deadlines is important, but so is adapting and being agile when your project isn’t going to plan. This question showcases how a candidate can manage these kinds of situations to ensure they have minimal impact on the business.

How to use the STAR method to interview job candidates

While the questions are important, you also need to focus on making sure you have the right interview setup, a coherent recruitment strategy, and smooth and open communication with the candidate if you want the STAR method to succeed.

1. Send interview questions in advance

If you want to get the most relevant and thorough answers to behavioral questions, send them to the candidate in advance. If you get well-rehearsed answers then that shows that the applicant has taken the process seriously, wants the job, and has made the effort to show up prepared.

Also, a job interview is not a performance; it’s about finding the best candidate for the role and the candidate assessing whether the job is a good fit. Not everyone works well under pressure and sending interview questions in advance levels the playing field.

You can add sending interview questions as a recruitment stage in your applicant tracking system, so you don’t forget to send the information.

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

If you’re early in the recruiting process, then you might only want short answers to questions rather than in-depth responses. Make sure you specify what kind of information you think a candidate should share and how long their answers should be. You don’t want to waste their time.

If there are any specific points you want them to address -- maybe time management skills are very important in the open job position -- then let the candidate know upfront.

3. Make the interview like a conversation

The STAR technique can often lead to longer, more in-depth answers than if you ask vague questions like “where do you see yourself in five years?” Rather than asking a question, listening to the answer, and immediately moving onto the next question, be prepared to follow up on any pertinent points.

If a candidate mentions managing budgets and that is an important part of the role, then follow up on that point. Or if they say that they mentored people, be ready to ask further questions about what that involved.

There are no right or wrong answers

The great thing about using the STAR method is that you don’t know what you are going to get. The questions are open-ended and can uncover all kinds of information that shows what kind of employee the candidate would be and how they would fit with the team and company culture.

In one job interview, I mentioned that I got very hungry when I haven’t eaten for a while (in response to a question about stressful situations at work), which led to a discovery that my potential coworkers were all foodies. It might have seemed like a strange answer to a question, but it provided important information about cultural fit.

The cost of hiring an employee is high, so you need to use interviews in a strategic way to ensure you make the right decisions. Keep an open mind during the interview and listen to all the information the candidate is giving you.

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