5/28/2014 | Rob Carey

For critical positions that need to be filled, a middle market firm does not have much room for error. Any hire that doesn't work out, even if that person is on the job for just a few months, sets the firm back considerably, both in terms of wasted compensation and wasted opportunity. Furthermore, it indicates that there are deficiencies in the firm's hiring process.

The STAR method uses situations from the past to determine how job applicants might behave under similar circumstances in the future

The most important element of the hiring process — interviewing — has undergone an evolution in recent years. Behavioral interviewing has gained traction in the realm of candidate assessments, with the STAR method at the center of this movement. The STAR method — an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result — is a structured approach to asking and answering behavioral interview questions, following the assertion that "the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation."

The STAR method is a deep, adaptable interviewing process that can be catered to the specific needs of different departments and is thus among the more effective methods that a hiring team can use to identify the candidate whose skills, personality, and perspective are the best fit for a given role. That said, there is much preparation that hiring teams must do in order to make the STAR method work as well as it should.

Here are six ways to ensure that you and your hiring influencers get the most out of the STAR method while interviewing job candidates:

  1. For the unfilled position, create a job description that is detailed enough so that the firm gets applicants who are a strong match, both to the duties and to the hard and soft skills required. By making this effort up front, the STAR process will yield focused answers from candidates, which will be far more helpful to the hiring team for their assessments.
  2. Have at least two members of the hiring team in each interview session with candidates so they can compare notes on their interpretations of candidates' answers. As we all know from experience, miscommunication can happen rather easily between a speaker and a listener — especially when the two are not familiar with each other. With a third person present, the chance of a complete misinterpretation goes down considerably.
  3. Members of the hiring team should be communicative in order to coordinate the different questions that they're asking. If interviewees are going to meet with multiple groups on the hiring team, make sure that the questions vary between each group. Also, consider having each interviewer group ask candidates a couple of the same questions to gauge the consistency of their responses.
  4. Ask a situational or behavioral question for each competency that is deemed essential to the job, emphasizing that the candidates should refer back to similar situations from their past jobs (or perhaps use examples from any volunteer endeavors or other life experiences). Also, ask questions that will address candidates' personal desire for the job, along with motivations that relate to their long-term careers. Other questions should determine the cultural fit of candidates, especially regarding interpersonal situations that you ask them to address, again with references to past experience.
  5. Ask not only about situations where their actions resulted in success but also about situations where they were forced to "make the best of it." Even asking about a failed situation that required a reassessment of their hard and/or soft skills would be revealing. Again, up-front legwork by the hiring team should map out the specific situations, actions taken, and results achieved that the hiring team will be looking for in the answers of the candidates.
  6. Be ready to prompt any candidates who give incomplete answers so that you get the information you want. If a candidate requires such prompting too often, it might tell the hiring team something critical about that candidate's potential inability to fit into the role the firm seeks to fill.

Are there any prominent drawbacks to the STAR method? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Rob Carey is an NCMM contributor and a features writer who has focused on the business-to-business niche since 1992. He spent his first 15 years at Nielsen Business Media, rising from editorial intern to editorial director. Since then, he has been the principal of New York-based Meetings & Hospitality Insight, working with large hospitality brands in addition to various media outlets. Circle him on Google+.