December 1, 2022

How to evaluate candidates' answers: STAR Method

An interview is a key part of figuring out how well a candidate can think critically, make decisions, and work with other people. Basically, it's a chance to learn more about a candidate's potential, and the STAR interview method is your shovel.

interview, STAR method
An interview is a key part of figuring out how well a candidate can think critically, make decisions, and work with other people. Basically, it's a chance to learn more about a candidate's potential, and the STAR interview method is your shovel.
Linda Saleri
Recruitment Specialist

How to evaluate candidates' answers: STAR Method

STAR Method: Situation, Task, Action, and Results are the words that make up the STAR method.

With this type of interview, employers can find out how a candidate would act on the job in certain situations based on what they have done in the past. In their answers, candidates would describe a situation, the task that had to be done, the action they chose, and the result of that action.
To give each candidate a fair evaluation, you'll need to ask them questions about how they'd do in the job. The STAR method is a type of behavioral interviewing that can be used to get these kinds of information.
With STAR questions, candidates are asked to tell a story in a logical order. From this story, interviewers can learn about the candidate's sense of judgment in a way that might not be clear from skill-based questions.

How should a STAR Answer be
Here's a bit more information about how a candidate's "STAR" answer should sound.

  • S: Situation
    The first part of an answer to a STAR question should describe a problem or dilemma that the candidate had to solve. People who are interviewed can talk about what happened and who was involved.
  • T: Task
    In the "Task" part of a STAR answer, the candidate explains what their role is in this situation. What did he or she have to do to deal with the situation? Who came up with this job? What did you want to happen when you did this task?
  • A: Action
    In a STAR answer, the "Action" part shows how the candidate actually did the task and what steps they took to solve the problem they described in the "Situation" part.
  • R: Results
    "Results" in a STAR answer should explain what happened because of what the candidate did. Was the problem from before solved? How did the candidate's results not match up with what was expected?

The STAR method basically asks a candidate to tell a story about a work situation they've been in before and describe the tasks they had to do, the steps they took to complete those tasks, and the results of the situation.

Normal questions for STAR interviews

Here is a list of 10 questions that are often asked at STAR interviews. You should change them to fit the job and candidate, but you can use these as a starting point.

These questions can help you figure out how good a candidate's judgment is and how they decide what to do in hard situations.

  • Tell me about a hard choice you had to make in the last 12 months.
  • Tell me about a time when you aimed too high (or too low).
  • Tell me about a time when you had to finish more than one important project and how you chose which one to do first. Can you think of a time when you got feedback on a project that was contradictory? How did you respond to this criticism?
  • Tell me about a time when a close colleague made a project fail or suffer, and how you told the project manager about it.

With these questions, you can find out how well a candidate handles different kinds of stress.

  • Tell me about a decision you made that wasn't well received and how you dealt with it.
  • Tell me about a stressful situation you had to deal with at work and how you did it.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a customer who was very upset.
  • Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a boss and how it was resolved.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to quickly learn something you didn't know.

These questions can help you find out if a candidate has the potential to be a leader, if they are confident, and if they are willing to take the lead on projects when they don't have much or any direction to begin with.

  • You said on your resume that one of your strengths is being a leader. Tell me about a time when you used your leadership skills.
  • Tell me about a time when you gave someone else a task and they did it well. Can you think of a time when you had to tell a coworker something bad? How did you say this comment?
  • Tell me about a time when you took the lead and showed initiative. Tell me about a time when you were in charge of a direct report or a team and people were hired to work on other projects without your permission.

Self-Awareness: These questions can show how well a candidate knows his or her strengths and, more importantly, how well he or she knows his or her weaknesses.

  • Tell me about a time when you were able to deal with a coworker who may not have liked you very much (or vice versa).
  • Tell me about a time when you tried to do something but didn't succeed.
  • Tell me about a time when you did something wrong and were told or criticized about it.
  • Tell me about a project that wasn't going to be done on time and how you dealt with the consequences or tried to make them less bad.
  • Tell me about a time when you didn't feel like you were being heard and how you let your coworkers know you were there and what you thought.

How to set up an interview using the STAR method

There are four steps you need to take if you want to use STAR questions effectively in an interview.

  • Make a list of STAR questions for each role
    Start by making a list of questions that are relevant to the candidate's past experiences, skills, and traits. You can use the list of questions above as a general starting point, but to really find out about a candidate's background and how it fits with the role, you'll need to tailor your questions.
    For example, "Tell me about a time when you delegated a project" is a vague question that could lead the candidate to talk about a work situation from five years ago when you really wanted to hear about a data-related marketing project from her last job alone. Make your point clear and mention a specific item on your resume: "I'd like to hear more about your time as a Sr. Digital Marketing Manager at Company X. Could you tell me about a time in that role when you gave a project to someone else and they did a good job with it?"
    Using the STAR interview method, ask questions that need answers that are specific to the situation. For example, if you want to know how flexible a candidate is, you could ask: "Tell me about a time when you put your own needs aside to help a coworker understand a task. What did you do to help them?".
  • Tell the candidates what you want them to say
    Not everyone thinks this step is necessary. Some recruiters don't like to say that they want answers that are specific to the situation because they want to see how the candidate handles being able to answer the question in any way she wants. Some hiring managers think that being vague is a good thing because, at the very least, you'll get an honest answer from the candidate. But other experts, like Todd Lombardi, a college relations specialist at Kulicke & Soffa Industries Inc., think it's important to explain what he's looking for before asking a candidate any behavioral interview questions.
    When Lombardi starts a behavioral interview, he explains the process and tells the candidate that he wants specific examples, names of people, dates, and results.
    Lombardi asks candidates about the projects they've worked on, how their roles have changed, how they've dealt with tight deadlines or unexpected situations, and how they've handled problems in the past. "Everyone has that kind of experience," he says, which is why he asks these questions.
    If you don't tell the candidate right away what you want, you might get an incomplete answer or confuse the candidate. If the candidate doesn't answer well enough, you might want to give her a chance to change her answer. Say, "I'm looking for more information about a specific example. You've described the situation and tasks, but I'd like to know what steps you took to finish the tasks and what the results were."
  • Know what you want to find
    STAR interview questions are especially helpful for figuring out what your candidate's most important traits are or for getting more information about problems you might see on their resume.
    Say, for example, you ask, "Give me an example of a time when you were able to convince your boss or professor of something. How did you get them to agree? How did it turn out?"
    When you ask a candidate a STAR question, you should know what you want to hear from them.
    Take note of how the candidate showed or didn't show those traits, no matter how they answer. They're more important than what happened in the situation.
    If you're not sure what you're looking for when you ask STAR questions of a candidate, think about what's missing from their resume. If the candidate's resume shows skills related to analytics, but you're worried they might not be creative enough for the job, ask a question about innovation.
  • Keep your mind open
    Each candidate has lived and worked in a very different way, which makes their answers to STAR behavioral interview questions unique and sometimes surprising.
    It is important to keep your mind open. You want to build a team with people who have different ideas and backgrounds. If a candidate answers differently than you thought they would, that doesn't mean they gave the wrong answer.

Remember that you shouldn't ask ten of these STAR interview questions in a row. This will only confuse you and your candidate. Instead, you should ask a mix of standard and behavioral questions, especially in the first round of interviews. Before asking STAR behavioral questions, let the candidate warm up with a few standard questions.

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