Ask STAR Questions In Your Interview


by Ashlene Doherty

24th April 2019

Whether an interview is conducted face-to-face, on the phone or via video its purpose remains the same and that's to evaluate the candidate, to understand whether they have the skills and attitude for the job vacancy you are trying to fill.

One very valuable technique from the recruiter's toolkit is to introduce competency based (or behavioural) questions to the interview. It is a simple tactic that sounds more complicated than it really is!

Competency based interview questions dig down into how a person handled, or behaved, in previous work situations.

To ask competency based questions most effectively we recommend using the STAR method.

STAR is an acronym that stands for a process of questioning that encourages the candidate to elaborate, sharing anecdotes and more detailed information. Here's what STAR stands for:

Situation

Setting the scene, explaining the problem, challenge or objective.

Task

Describing the purpose of the task, in what way the task tackled the situation.

Action

What actions were taken, what was actually done.

Result

What the outcome was, and the impact the actions had on the final outcome.

OK, so we've shared an interviewing secret weapon, but used in the wrong hands it can backfire. For the rest of this blog we'll provide guidance on preparing to ask great competency questions using the STAR method.

Preparing To Lead A STAR Interview

1. Think About The Skills And Attributes You Are Hiring For

It's important that the questions you ask relate to the qualities you are looking for – decision making, adaptability, creativity, problem solving, team working the list could go on. STAR questions can be particularly effective in revealing candidates who "underplay" their attributes on their CV, but by answering your competency question, much more detail is revealed in the conversation.

2. Take Time To Draft Your Questions

To help write your behavioural questions start with:

  • Tell me about a time when…
  • Share an example of …..
  • What do you do when …..
  • Describe a way in which you …..

Keep in the front of your mind that this approach is all about asking questions that focus on specific work-related situations. From the candidate's CV and agency recruiter notes make a list of questions that target the reported skills, experiences and attributes.

Here's a couple of examples:

The CV states that the applicant has strong communication skills and has worked within a small team of infrastructure engineers with responsibilities for support and project management. You are searching for a team leader to manage a small IT team with diverse skills.

You could ask:

What is your management style?

But a better question, that enables a STAR response is:

Give an example of a time when you worked closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours and explain how that impacted how you worked together.

Another interview question could be:

How do you manage a heavy workload and shifting priorities?

But if you are going for a STAR question, try something like this:

Sometimes to-do lists just don't get any shorter! Describe a time when your responsibilities became overwhelming. What did you do?

3. Be Clear About Your Purpose

Competency questions are not meant to be perceived as trick questions. Make this clear at the start of the interview to help settle the candidate's nerves or dispel any apprehension. The questions may seem daunting because they are thorough and thought provoking. Explain too that a STAR response is not a short yes or no answer, nor is it a reason to ramble. That it provides a simple framework for the candidate to follow, to share meaningful stories about previous work experiences.

4. Listen Carefully

There is no point in crafting great behavioural questions if you don't listen carefully to the answers. Everyone has different experiences and the stories you hear will be diverse and interesting. They should reveal information you don't know already, enable a good conversation and develop rapport. We started off by saying you should know what you are looking for. It still remains the priority – but don't be too prescriptive, you may hear something in a STAR answer that you didn't even know you were looking for until you heard it!

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