How to Use the STAR Interview Method to Hire Great Candidates

How to Use the STAR Interview Method to Hire Great Candidates

You’re likely no stranger to the STAR interview method. It is considered one⁠ of—if not the most⁠—effective interviewing methods around.

The thing is, most articles about it are focused on how job seekers can effectively leverage STAR interview techniques during interviews. There are only a few articles that discuss the use of this method from an HR perspective.

With this in mind, we decided to create a guide aimed at human resources professionals who are looking to make the most out of the STAR interview method.

It will explore why this method is so powerful from an HR standpoint. We’ll also share examples of the types of questions you can ask candidates to make the most of this method. Finally, we’ll provide some pointers on how to effectively use the STAR interview method during your hiring rounds.

What is the STAR Interview Method?

A manager conducting a candidate interview via Zoom on her computer
STAR is an acronym that stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

The STAR interview method provides candidates with a structured and thoughtful way to respond to behavioural questions during job interviews.

It is made up of four parts:

Situation

Task

Action

Result

As you can see, together, they form the acronym “STAR”. Let’s break it down further:

  1. Situation: The candidate should first set the scene by giving a brief explanation about the circumstances, task, problem they encountered.
  2. Task: Next, they should explain the specific responsibility or task they handled in relation to the aforementioned situation.
  3. Action: The candidate will then outline the steps or approach they took to address or resolve the situation.
  4. Result: Finally, they should share the final results of the action, relating them back to the original question.

So how exactly does this method work? Candidates can address each of the four STAR components in their answers to effectively answer behavioural questions.

To see just how powerful this method is, let’s compare two hypothetical candidates’ responses to the same question:

“Tell me about a time you collaborated with other team members to achieve your goal.”

A candidate who doesn’t use the STAR format is more likely to provide a long-winded answer that lacks structure and meaning.

Their answer may sound something like this:

I collaborate frequently with different team members. I think collaboration is a very important skill that can help you to achieve your work goals. One time, I needed to work with different teams and we were able to increase our Instagram engagement levels. It was then  that I realised just how important it is to work with other team members.

As you can see, their answer is quite superficial and doesn’t get to the heart of the question.

Compare this to a candidate who uses the STAR format to come up with their response. They can use it to organise their answer so it sounds structured, succinct, and meaningful.

Their answer may sound something like this:

Situation: Our Instagram page has over 10,000 followers, however our engagement rates were very low.

Task: My manager asked me to come up with an idea to increase engagement rates.

Action: I devised a strategy to run a competition on our Instagram page. The grand prize was $5,000 worth of the brand’s products, and there were several other prizes up for grabs too. In order to enter, people would need to like the post, follow the Instagram page, and tag a friend in the post.

I worked with a number of teams to make it come to life. I collaborated with the product team to organise the products we would give away, the legal team to write the competition’s terms and conditions, and the design team to design the image assets. I also worked with a junior member of the social media team, who assisted me to monitor the post and process the entries.

Result: The competition was a complete success. Over 3000 people entered it, so the post attracted more than 3000 comments. We also gained over 1000 new followers. The success wasn’t isolated to that one post, however. Given the amazing response it received, my manager decided that I would be in charge of running regular competitions. This has resulted in a 20% increase on average in engagement levels compared to before the original competition.

It was a real team effort. I could not have achieved my goal without the help of the product, legal, and design teams. They ensured the competition was not only enticing, but also that it was legally compliant. Given the volume of comments and entries to get through, collaborating with the junior member of my team was also invaluable. They helped me to stay on top of all of the activity on the post, sort through each entry, and organise the distribution of prizes.

Needless to say, this candidate’s answer is tenfold more impressive than the previous candidate’s. Using the STAR format allowed the candidate to strategically answer the question, so the hiring manager can easily understand not only what they did, but also the positive results of their actions and behaviour.

Ultimately, after listening to their comprehensive and structured answer, they would be left with no doubt that the candidate knows how to effectively collaborate with others.

Why Should I Use the STAR Interview Method as a HR Professional?

In order to set candidates up for success during the interview process, you need to ask them the right questions. While it’s easy to place the burden on candidates to perform well during interviews, it’s ultimately a two-way street.

Unless you ask candidates the right questions, they won’t have an opportunity to put their best foot forward.

Think about it. If you don’t ask candidates the right questions, you won’t give them an opportunity to put their best foot forward. Instead, you’ll leave them scrambling to communicate their best qualities to you.

However, if you present candidates with the opportunity to use the STAR interview method, you’ll empower them to demonstrate why they could be an ideal fit for the job.

Their answers will give you far more insights into who they are as a professional than questions that require simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. When a candidate uses the STAR format to answer questions, you’ll be able to develop an understanding of how they behave in common workplace situations. It’s also a chance for them to showcase their professional skills and experiences, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

Candidates’ behavior is a key indicator for assessing their suitability for the role.

At the end of the day, you are looking for candidates who are not only a good fit for the role you’re hiring for, but also your organisation’s needs and culture. Candidates’ behavior is a key indicator you need to consider when assessing their suitability for the role.

If you want to arm yourself with as much information about their behaviour as you can in a  short time, employing the STAR interview method is a must.

What STAR Interview Questions Can I Ask?

Not every question you ask candidates will allow them to use the STAR format. It is best suited for behaviour-based questions. Behaviour-based questions are the name given to questions that require candidates to explain how they behave in given work contexts.

Here are 20 examples of star interview questions you can ask candidates to encourage the use of this response method:

Tell me about a time you…

  • Made a difficult decision.
  • Were required to think on your feet.
  • Demonstrated flexibility.
  • Failed to achieve a goal.
  • Were consulted about a problem.
  • Didn’t meet your goals.
  • Handled an unexpected challenge.
  • Delegated work across an entire team.
  • Worked collaboratively with cross-departmental teams.

Give me an example of…

  • A decision you made that you ended up regretting.
  • A problem you faced and overcame.
  • A difficult client you encountered and how you handled them.
  • A project you worked on where you went above and beyond.
  • A professional accomplishment you are proud of.

How do you…

  • Deal with stress.
  • Motivate other team members.
  • Communicate effectively with upper management.
  • Ask for help.
  • Manage multiple projects at the same time.
  • Foster a positive work environment.

Expert HR Tips for Making the Most Out of This Method

Want to make the most out of the STAR method? Here are some tips from our experts:

  • Ensure the job ad mentions the behaviours you’re seeking. Don’t leave candidates guessing which behaviours are necessary or desirable to have in order to succeed in the given role. Make sure to mention them explicitly in the job ad. For example, “This role requires someone with proven leadership qualities, who works well with others…”
  • Ask relevant star interview questions a.k.a. behavioural questions. In order for candidates to leverage the STAR interview method to its full potential, you will need to ask them behavioural questions. Refer to our examples above if you’re unsure where to start. The questions you select should be directly relevant to the role, so look back to your job ad for guidance.
  • Don’t feel afraid to prompt candidates to use this method. Before you start asking behavioural questions, simply ask candidates if they can use the STAR method to answer them. If they are unfamiliar with it, give them a brief overview of the key components.
  • Give candidates time to think. While it is great if candidates demonstrate an ability to think on their feet, it is worthwhile giving them the time to think about their answer before they say it. Letting candidates know in advance that they can gather their thoughts first will go a long way in supporting them to provide an insightful answer.
  • Take notes. Just as you would during the rest of the interview, make sure to take notes of candidates’ answers, as well as any other information you may wish to consider later on. For example, you may wish to note down their reaction to the question.
  • Fairly evaluate candidates’ answers. Many interviewers find it challenging to evaluate candidates’ answers to behavioural questions. Make it easy for yourself by developing a scoring system to ensure consistency and fairness. First, pinpoint what a desirable answer sounds like, and then rate candidates’ answers accordingly. For example, you can score a candidate’s answer that addressed all of the behavioural qualities you’re after a 5, while one that failed to do so can be scored a 1.

Conclusion

After reading this guide, you should have a firm understanding of how to use the STAR interview method to find great candidates. We’ve explored everything from why you should encourage candidates to use it, to expert tips to make the most out of this method.

We hope that the next time you’re looking to recruit new talent to your company, you can leverage the STAR interview method to make it happen.

What are your favourite STAR questions to ask candidates? Do you have any tips for hiring managers looking to use this method? Comment below!

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