Also known as the CAR method, the STAR method of interviewing is a simple, structured technique of answering interview questions, particularly those around competency. We explore how valuable it is and if there are better ways of determining the best candidate for the job.

STAR and CAR – useful acronyms for the recruitment process

For both recruiters creating an interview agenda and for candidates wishing to prepare answers which will demonstrate clearly and concisely their past experience in a practical real-life way, STAR and CAR are perfect aide-mémoirs.

STAR stands for:

  • Situation – the specific challenge faced and its context
  • Task – a candidate’s responsibility in the situation and what is needed to be done
  • Action – how the task was completed, the candidate’s role in this
  • Result – the outcome, what was accomplished or learned

CAR stands for:

  • Context – the situation and the task combined
  • Action – as above
  • Result – as above

When an interview is scheduled, using the STAR approach, the recruiter will look at the behaviours, competencies and skills required for the role on offer and tailor questions that will give the applicant a chance to demonstrate these. STAR interview questions will be of the sort, ‘Could you tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult client?’ or ‘Can you give me an example of how you went the extra mile for your company?’

A candidate would be well advised to look at the job description before the interview stage and determine which attributes and competencies will be required to fulfil the role. Then they can prepare a number of scenarios – STAR interview answers – which illustrate their past experiences as a way of showing that they will perform well in the new company.

Do STAR competency and behavioural questions and answers tell recruiters enough?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the STAR method when selecting new employees?

On the positive side, a key advantage of the STAR method is its simple structure which allows coherent responses to questions in a way that will be easily digestible by the interviewer. It should prevent applicants from rambling on incessantly – interviews cost time and money so brevity is important. Its formulaic approach is easy to remember and could calm jangling nerves, so a candidate will perform better on the day. The questions aren’t hypothetical, so they give the opportunity to recreate situations that have actually happened, with an idea of the context, relying on the premise that past experience will indicate future performance.

The downside and disadvantage of a STAR model interview, as with any interview, is that some people simply don’t perform well, which doesn’t preclude them from being the best applicant by miles. Then, the candidate can prepare; sometimes a good thing, but it could lead to exaggeration of accomplishments or downright lies, which sound credible and impressive. As a dialogue situation, STAR could be too structured, giving a robotic feel to answers which may not flow naturally from the line of questioning.

Most of all, STAR uses the past to determine the future. Just because an applicant produced remarkable results with a difficult colleague five years ago in a certain context, it doesn’t mean that in a different company with a different culture and different personnel, this success can be replicated. And using past experience as a benchmark for role suitability effectively discounts young applicants with no experience or highly-skilled and competent candidates who, through circumstance, aren’t able to magic up relevant examples to illustrate their expertise.

If not STAR, what are the alternative recruitment methods?

While STAR has a place in an overall recruitment strategy, a Future Resume can do so much more. In fact, it can help screen unsuitable candidates before they’re even called to interview, saving everyone time and unnecessary outlay, making the recruitment process more streamlined, effective and cost-effective.

A Future Resume is an in-depth vocational tool which looks at where a candidate’s potential lies and what their talents are – and what they can offer in the future, which is so much more valuable to know than what they’ve achieved in the past. The process of completing a Future Resume allows an applicant time for reflection and will not go against brilliant applicants who have little experience or who don’t do themselves justice at interviews. It can also be read at leisure by prospective employers or recruitment professionals.