Behavioral Interviewing—Find Your STAR

by Teresa Whitacre

One of the newer trends in interviewing job candidates is to use behavioral interviewing techniques. When I was first exposed to behavioral interviewing, I was unsure and skeptical.

I have since had the opportunity to experience behavioral interviewing as both the candidate and the interviewer and find it to be challenging but rewarding.

As an Interviewer

Behavioral interviewing, often conducted by a team, reminds me a little of going through a process audit. The questions cover work knowledge and behavioral competencies:

  • Work knowledge: Does the candidate understand our computer system? Is there sufficient product knowledge or history? Is the candidate able to understand our processes?
  • Behavioral competencies: In what kind of situations does the candidate shine? What is the candidate’s general attitude and work ethic? What kind of psychological values or traits does he or she demonstrate?

This type of interviewing also uses the Pareto principle, in which the strongest candidate accentuates the vital few traits that are needed.

Many candidates whom I have interviewed are not familiar with behavioral interviewing techniques and questioning. Therefore, the vital few—those who can best demonstrate their competence and behavioral style—will make the short list.

Look for the STAR

A good combination of well-selected behavioral competency questions can lead me to a STAR candidate. The STAR candidate, in terms of behavioral interviewing, can be determined by the answers to open-ended questions that fall into categories that make up the STAR acronym.

  • Situational/Task questions: What circumstances surrounded your decision? Why did you come to that conclusion? Can you describe a situation in which you had to make an unpopular decision?
  • Action questions: What did you do first, second and third during a process? Can you walk through all the steps you took during a problem solving process? Can you describe your role in the cost saving project you mentioned in your application?
  • Results questions: What feedback did you get from this project? What problems did you encounter? What successes did you experience?

An interviewer can develop many types of competency, behavioral and job specific questions to fit each of these STAR points. The level of position, specific job duties and culture of the organization will dictate how in-depth the questions should be.

After you have interviewed all the candidates and are reviewing the results, how do you decide which one is your STAR? Think about using problem solving techniques to rate each behavior.

One example would be the check sheet shown in Figure 1. Rate each competency, answer or situation. The candidate with the highest overall score will be the selected STAR.

As a Candidate

Going through behavioral interviewing as a candidate the first time was very stressful. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the technique and unprepared with this style of questioning. I felt physically and mentally exhausted both during and after the interview.

In retrospect, I can understand why behavioral interviewing was so important for the role for which I was interviewing. The competencies and fit of the selected candidate would make or break the department. The company had spent many resources—both time and money—in keeping the department going while the search went on and had to treat filling this vacancy as if it were a million dollar spending decision.

How can you best prepare for a STAR interview? Write down three situations or tasks that you were actively involved in, describing in detail what you did. Write down three specific results you achieved in your current profession.

For example, if asked to describe a time when you handled a complex problem or task in your department, your answer might be, “I was charged with figuring out how to cut the costs of inspection by 5% annually. I looked over the inspection data to determine acceptance history of the parts. We had some products that we had never rejected in three years years. I determined how much each inspection cost for those parts and demonstrated that we could eliminate inspection of those products and save money without compromising quality.”

You have thus described the situation you were in, the actions you took and the results achieved. You formed a perfect STAR and would rate higher if I were interviewing you.

Having been on both sides of behavioral interviews, I will think of future ones as extremely detailed and thorough processes of understanding myself and my professional and life experiences.


Development Dimensions International Inc. “Hire the Best” managerial program, www.ddiworld.com, and Respi-ronics Inc., www.respironics.com.

TERESA WHITACRE is a quality supervisor with Respironics Inc., a respiratory device manufacturer and distributor in Youngwood, PA. She is a senior member of ASQ and a certified quality manager, technician, auditor and engineer. Whitacre authored a quality technology text used by the ASQ Pittsburgh Section for certified mechanical inspector and certified quality technician courses and has instructed training courses for both.

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