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Get to Know Candidates With the STAR Interview Format

When interviewing candidates for a job opening, employers need to ask them a variety of questions to decide if they are the right person for the role. A STAR format interview is a technique candidates can use when answering behavioral interview questions. As a hiring manager, you can get to know your prospective employees better by asking behavioral questions and recognizing responses that use this strategic technique.

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What is the STAR format interview?

The STAR interview format is a technique candidates can use when answering behavioral interview questions. STAR stands for situation, task, action and result. Candidates who use the STAR format to answer your interview questions illustrate that they have prepared for the meeting with real-world examples that apply to your business.

Answers to STAR method interview questions follow this format:

  • Situation: The candidate describes the scene and provides relevant details of their example. Look for an answer that explains the context of the situation and why it connects to your question.
  • Task:Next, the candidate describes their role in the situation. This can help you determine what level of responsibility they had in their previous roles.
  • Action: They explain how they addressed the situation and what steps they took to overcome the challenge. A good answer shows how the candidate added value to the situation and made logical decisions.
  • Result: At the end of their answer, the candidate explains the outcome of the situation. A quality answer includes concrete examples and quantifiable achievements. They should explain the direct effects of their efforts in their answer.

What are behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interview questions can help employers determine if a candidate can handle certain job aspects. These questions assess if a candidate has experienced a relevant situation and how they responded. They also provide insight into the person’s definition and understanding of certain concepts; for example, what does the candidate consider a high-pressure situation or challenging task?

Many behavioral interview questions begin with statements such as:

  • Tell me about a…
  • Describe a situation…
  • Give me an example of…
  • Have you ever…

What are the benefits of the STAR interview method for employers?

By asking these kinds of questions, you can get to know your candidates better and determine if they have the background to be successful at your company. The STAR format gives interviewees a chance to show you how they provided value to a situation and the challenges they have overcome.

According to an Indeed survey of more than 2,000 job seekers, only 30% say the questions they were asked at their last interview were “very effective” at assessing their fit for the role. Asking STAR interview questions can be a good way to help candidates feel like you’re asking the right questions to get to know their skills and experience. This may in turn encourage attractive prospects to move forward with the interview process, an important benefit in this tight talent market.

Only 30% of job seekers say the questions they were asked during their last interview were “very effective” at assessing fit

What to look for in an answer that uses the STAR format

When answering questions during a STAR format interview, the candidate creates a story with a conflict and resolution. You can tell how well a candidate has prepared by how easy their story is to follow and understand. Using the STAR interview method can often reveal:

  • The candidate’s understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. Ask questions such as “How do you handle a project that is going off deadline or budget?” or “What do you do when you don’t personally like a colleague you work with closely?”
  • The candidate’s potential leadership skills. Ask questions such as “Talk about your strategy for effective delegation” or “Describe a situation when you showed leadership outside of a formal supervisory role.”
  • How well a candidate operates in challenging situations. Ask questions such as “Describe a time when you disagreed with a manager. How did you resolve the conflict?” or “How would you handle the rollout of an unpopular policy as a supervisor?”
  • Whether a candidate can effectively use independent judgment, particularly under pressure. Ask questions such as “How would you address conflicting feedback on a project?” or “Describe a time when you failed to meet a goal. What happened and why?”

Examples of STAR format answers

When a candidate uses the STAR format correctly, they use each part of the technique to answer their question. Here are a few good answers using the STAR method:

Question: Tell me about a time you overcame a challenging situation at work.

  • Situation: “At my previous job, our senior graphic designer resigned without any notice. Since she led the graphic design team, we initially didn’t know what to do in her absence.”
  • Task: “As the junior graphic designer, I decided to take it upon myself to make sure all of her work was completed on time and to the client’s standards.”
  • Action: “To do this, I met with the creative director and asked him to train me in the areas of her job I was not familiar with. Then, I worked through my lunch breaks for a week straight to get the work done. I delegated easier tasks to the interns.”
  • Result: “In the end, the client ended up loving the work. We were actually able to get the work done a day early. The creative director was so impressed by my efforts that he offered me a promotion to become the senior graphic designer.”

Question: Describe a situation when you had to work with a difficult customer.

  • Situation: “When I worked at the garden nursery, one customer was upset that we did not have her favorite tulips in stock.”
  • Task: “As the customer service representative, it was my responsibility to think of a solution to her problem. A major part of my job was to make sure the customers left the store happy.”
  • Action: “After checking our inventory, I saw that she was incorrect, so I kindly explained that we moved the tulip display. I guided her to the display. She said that we didn’t have enough for her garden, so I contacted our seller to speed deliver more of the bulbs.”
  • Result: “Since I took the time to work with this customer, she went from upset to happy during our interaction. Later that evening, I noticed that she left us a 5-star online review and mentioned my name.”

Frequently asked questions about the STAR format

The STAR format is a useful technique for candidates to prepare their responses to behavioral interview questions. Here are some common questions employers ask about the STAR format:

What are other behavioral interview questions that use the STAR format?

Here are a few common behavioral STAR method interview questions you can ask candidates during the hiring process:

  • Have you ever had to work with limited resources? What did you do to adapt?
  • Tell me about one of your greatest achievements. How did you get there?
  • Describe a situation where you made a mistake. What did you do to fix it?
  • Give me an example of when you led a team during a challenging time.

What types of roles are behavioral questions good for?

Behavioral questions are useful when interviewing for roles that require communication, problem-solving, decision-making, leadership and teamwork. They are a great way to see how candidates have used these skills to overcome a challenging situation, and they can give you insight into their thought processes when they need to make decisions at work.

How long should STAR format interview answers be?

A comprehensive, detailed answer to a behavioral interview question following the STAR format should be about two minutes long. That gives the candidate enough time to address each of the four components of a STAR format interview answer and explain how the experience relates to the available position.

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