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Be a STAR Interviewer: Behavioral-Based Questions for Employers


It should be obvious that prospective job candidates need to prepare for interviews. What might be less obvious is that it's equally important for employers to be adequately prepared.

Even though it's useful to verify information provided on a candidate's application or resume as part of an interview, employers may be better served preparing interview questions that shed light and insight beyond the applicant's professional persona as presented on paper.

"One competitive edge an employer has today is matching the right employee to their company culture and customer base. In other words, being able to hire an employee who can seamlessly take the company philosophy and policies and apply them to their day-to-day customer interactions. One way to match the best applicant to the company is using behavior-based interview questions," said Sylvia Iglesias, Paychex human resources consultant.

Since its development in the mid-1980s, competency- or behavior-based interviewing has been the standard for job screening among human resource professionals. This proven approach during the candidate selection process relies on the STAR model of interview question design.

STAR is an acronym that stands for:

  • Situation – have the candidate provide a situation where a key behavior or competency was used.
  • Task – here the interviewee needs to articulate the specific task they had to achieve within the stated situation.
  • Action – the candidate then must clearly convey the actions they took in the face of the situation and task at hand.
  • Result – finally, the individual needs to define the results or outcomes triggered by their actions within the broader context they previously outlined.

Author Sharon Armstrong writes in her book, The Essential HR Handbook, that an interviewer can drive a host of positive objectives and outcomes simply by using behavioral interview questions. A few of the valuable insights that can be learned via such questioning range from classifying the candidate's fit within the broader organization's culture, uncovering potential developmental areas, as well as pinpointing their respective strengths and overall appropriateness for the role.

An additional benefit that Armstrong cites is that behavioral interviewing provides a broader perspective of the prospect's conduct and decision making from the past, which tends to be a reliable gauge of how they might act in a future position or use their professional skills in a new job.

To elicit all four elements and the insights derived from using the STAR approach of behavioral interviewing, employers should prepare a series of questions that build on the following five types of behavioral interview question models.

  1. Tell me about a time....
  2. Give me an example of when....
  3. Walk me through....
  4. Describe for me....
  5. How have you managed, addressed, or reacted to....

Questions constructed around each of these models can easily spark a meaningful discussion that drives perspectives regarding any of the past situations, tasks, actions, and results the applicant has experienced.

"Using the adage 'the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,' a sample interview question might be: Tell me how you handled an irate customer at your last job? While this isn't your typical interview question of asking the applicant about themselves or their background, the response provided can give you a glimpse into what type of employee he or she may be. Are they innovators? Can they think outside the box? Will they go the extra mile to satisfy a customer? These are all legitimate questions we need answers to in today's competitive marketplace and can be gleaned through behavioral based interviewing," said Iglesias.

Iglesias adds that level of engagement during an interview is much more beneficial and enlightening than the dialogue derived from traditional questions that include: "What's your greatest weakness" or "Why should I hire you?"

She goes on to say it's critically important that interview questions do NOT solicit information that employers are legally barred from considering in the hiring process such as age, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, and/or disability.

In the end, employers who prepare thoughtful behavioral-based questions in advance may go a long way toward avoiding those legal pitfalls as well as helping to ensure better hiring results.


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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