Secrets of a Brighter Workplace


Tips on how to understand, recruit and keep the best people for your business


How to be a STAR interviewer

The purpose of an interview is to find out whether a candidate has the skills

The purpose of an interview is to find out whether a candidate has the skills, behaviour and attitude to be the perfect new recruit for your business.

But sometimes, the search for the facts can be arduous. How can you identify whether the candidate will deal with your customers in the right way, sell your products successfully or manage a team effectively?

I recommend thinking like a STAR

Let me explain.

The classic approach to interviewing is to ask candidates to tell you about their previous experience. But often their response obscures more than it reveals.

Recognise this scene?

You’ve asked a candidate to tell you about their experience of dealing with customers. They think for a moment and then proceed to describe their everyday routine.

They say, for example, “generally what I’ll do is greet the customer and make them a cup of tea while they’re waiting for their appointment.”

There are no specifics, it’s all very broad brushstroke and vague. You’re left unsatisfied, and without a clear understanding of precisely how they would deal with a difficult customer or how they might respond to a large volume of customer queries.

The problem is the question itself is too generic

By being more specific – tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer, you can start to prompt a more detailed and helpful answer.

But that can have a knock-on effect. Recognise this scene?

When asked a specific question, some candidates will immediately dive into the heart of the action. They’ll tell you all about something they did for a difficult customer, but there’s no context or explanation. When they’re done, you’re no better off. You’re left bewildered and no closer to understanding what happened and what part they played in it.

What they – and you – need is structure

Questioning in a structured way means you can guide candidates into giving you the context, their role and the outcomes. All of which is valuable information when it comes to determining whether they’re the right candidate for you.

Introducing the STAR approach to structured interviews

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Results. It’s a way to prompt candidates into giving you the information you need in a logical way.

Think of it like watching a film

When the film starts there’s the title, then an opening scene. You might even see some wording on the screen giving you a location and/or timeframe – e.g. Budapest 2001. All of which gives you some clues as to the Situation the characters find themselves in.

In response to your question then, the candidate needs first to give you some context around the example she’s going to give you. Where and when was this example? What sort of business? What sort of customers?

In the film, our main character – let’s say it’s James Bond – has a specific job to do. He needs to recover the secret nuclear weapon launch codes from a gang of baddies. This is his Task.

So, ask the candidate to describe the task in hand – what was the problem that needed to be solved?

Back in the cinema, Bond is taking a number of steps to achieve his goal. He’s tapping phones and involving other colleagues to help him track down the baddies. These are his Actions.

So what did your candidate do to solve the problem? What steps did they take and why did they take them?

The film’s drawing to a close. Has Bond managed to defeat the baddies and restore good to the world? Spoiler alert: of course he has! This is the Result.

Ask the candidate to tell you what happened as a result of their actions. Was the customer satisfied with the service they received?

It’s like a funnel

You start off with the big picture, then hone down further and further into the detail.

By using this structure, you can manage the interview more effectively and gather the information you need to make the right decision.

You can even use this approach yourself if you’re an interviewee!

Try it in your next interview – and let me know how you get on. And watch out for those baddies!

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