Tell us about the time when…

Increase your impact with the S.T.A.R. structure

Job interviews are all about being able to tell a riveting story.   What’s on your CV isn’t enough in itself,  besides you have relevant experience that’s you probably haven’t even put on there.

Thank goodness you’re more than typed words on 2 sides of A4.

Now it’s time to get that across with enough impact to stand out from the competition.

Giving clear, succinct answers to challenge and achievement questions

Mixing up the personal with the professional in your interview responses  helps you be remembered more easily.   If you have a tale of transformation as a CIO,  that would tick a box but not necessarily make you stand out from the crowd.

It’s personal examples that help the interviewer realise other aspects of your character and ability,  giving you more chance to express your uniqueness.

As long as these anecdotes meet a competency,  drop them in.

To increase your impact,  use the STAR structure below to ensure that you really grab the chance to show an interviewer who you are.



Describe the background,  giving the reason for the example.

“I’d decided to raise money for charity when my grandfather lost his sight. I’m a climber so scaling up Snowdon to raise cash for the Royal National Institute of the Blind was appealing.”


The objective – what you had to do in the context, if applicable, of your team.Star

“My objective was to raise £1,000 through Kickstarter and social media campaigns.   My climbing partner, Danny and I would be doing this in winter – during the night – and abseil down at dawn.”



What I did – if there are challenges and obstacles this is an opportune time to mention them. At this point, use more ‘I’, then ‘we’.  I’m not hiring your team, just you.  If you give other too much credit, it’s their number I want, not yours:

Our campaign had also been some months in preparation as my climbing partner,  Danny,  and I hit social media and I initiated a Kickstarter campaign.

“I train regularly in the outdoors anyway so physically Danny and I were fine.  We got to Snowdon and started climbing in the freezing dark.   A sudden downfall made our tread slightly more risky but there’s nothing like bad weather to focus you.  When we eventually abseiled down the mountain,  we were exhausted and elated.



The Outcome – what did you learn or/and achieve from this experience? Are there statistics or valuable lessons that you gained? How about any insights?

“The result was that I’d aimed to raise £1,000 for the Royal Institute of the Blind, but raised £12,000 in the end. That’s 12 times more than I could have imagined.  What helped me was the fact that I had planned extremely thoroughly, wasn’t afraid to use the resources I already had and that a challenge doesn’t put off: in fact it motivates me.”


Examples of other tales, ripe for the STAR structure:

Here are some other personal examples I’ve heard in job interviews:

  1. Canoed up the Panama trekked through the rain forest and sped down to Chile: on a tractor (used for a banking candidate – shows resourcefulness,  risk-taker)
  2. Organised 2 weddings both for my sister: Catholic and Hindu including have to gain permission for a ceremonial  fire in the Café Royal London (for an engineering interviewee, demonstrates project planning,  initiative)
  3. Worked as a journalist for a university publication,  interviewing MPs,  bands,  general public  (for an IT consultant, proving confidence in communication skills).

If you want help telling your story get in touch with me directly right here.

4 steps to kick ass in 5 minutes


Hit the target in Job Interviews

You’ve researched and practised all the really important questions for your impending interview— and then, as soon as you’ve sat down, they hit you with it:

“Tell me about yourself.”

You knew you’d get that, but why prepare for it? It’s only a warm-up question.

Well, actually it’s not.

Sure, while some interviews might ask it to break the ice or because they don’t know what else to ask, most people ask it for a reason: to get a quick idea of whether or not you’re right for the job.

Really, if you get this right, the rest is just filling in time.

So, instead of regurgitating your cover letter or rambling on about your year spent trucking around Asia, or your home renovation project,  follow this four-step process to impress the interviewer in the first 5 minutes.


1. Identify the competencies you want to show

Go through the role description and jot down how you can match your experience with the required competencies.  For example:

Project Manager:

What they want (the Competency)

What I’ve got (the Experience)

1.Work to understand the customer’s point of view





2. Devising and maintaining complex project plans

  • client request to introduce completely new system in order to cut transaction process time by 30%.  Persuaded them to better use existing systems.  This decreased client spend by 20% and cut transaction process time by 40%


  •  with xxxx client, liaised with 3 teams on 2 continents to draw up client project plan, to facilitate merger affecting 10,000 staff.  Liaised closely with project team and client to keep them informed of scope, budget and timing changes.  Teams completed project to time and in budget despite client scope change throughout the project.


For each competency, you may have a few examples, maybe mixing up the personal with the professional to vary the stories you tell.


 2. Choose stories that show your competencies

Once you’ve identified the competencies that the role requires, you’ll want to match them up to three points relating to your own experience.  To start with, pick three of the following to talk about:

  • A personal achievement
  • A professional achievement
  • A (future) professional challenge/A (future) personal challenge
    (something you will be dealing with and need to solve e.g. getting your Prince II exam; keeping cohesive communication when new partners enter the picture)
  • Hobbies and interests – you may wonder why this is relevant but remember they’re taking ‘you’ on as an individual and they want to see if culturally you are the right fit.


Mix up the personal and professional

Using examples from the both social and professional spheres helps interviewers see if you’d fit into the cultural framework of the business.

For example, with a ‘future professional challenge’, for a Business Development role, you may mention your desire to forge stronger links with local businesses both on and off-line.

For the same role, mentioning your solo hiking trips reflects resilience as you reach your goal: 15 km, 3 valleys and 2 mountains down the coastal path.

Note that many of these experiences may not be on your CV.  You are more than a couple of sheets of a resume so build in what’s not on there or embellish what is.  You’ll be on your way to standing out from the other candidates.

Example outline

So for a Project Management role, you may mention:

1)   a personal achievement – your own wedding plan

  1. what you organised
  2. timescale
  3. challenges

2)   a professional challenge – setting up a department abroad,

  1. how many people involved, timescale,
  2. extent of your responsibilities
  3. any particular obstacles e.g. lack of resource and mention solution

3)      personal interests and hobbies.

  1. Your hiking
  2. Sightseeing
  3. painting


3. Add ‘a tail’

At the end of each section of the “Tell me about yourself” question, draw out more explicitly the competencies that you’ve demonstrated with a simple sentence—a “tail” to your story.

This way, you’re making it more obvious to the interviewer how you meet the needs of the role for which you’re interviewing. Many people can feel uncomfortable with this because they think it sounds like bragging, but using the following phrases at the beginning of the ‘tail’ can help you:

  1. “So, what I learned from this was… ”
  2. “This helped me to develop… ”
  3. “What I got from the experience was… ”


Tailing in the examples I covered above could look like this:


  • “I learned how I could apply my knowledge of motivating people to real situations and ones where there was a genuine risk.”


  • “This helped me to develop the ability to plan projects in fine detail.”


This way, you’re bringing the story full circle, ticking the boxes for your interviewer and, sounding less braggy than if you’d said “I’m obviously highly resourceful and an excellent leader.”


 4. Plan the introductory sentence

I’ve put the ‘intro’ sentence as the last step because this part is generally easier to draft at the end, even though it will be your beginning.

This is the sentence (or two) that introduces the whole piece, acting as a springboard for your three stories.

A good way to come up with this is to think how you’d complete one or two of the sentences below:

“I have a background in…’; I trained at..’, ‘I’ve had several roles in..for…’

then go into your first story, marked in the example below with the last sentence:

“Since leaving college, I have had several roles in both online and offline business development for start-ups and big corporates. I think one of my greatest challenges was…”


5. In a nutshell

  1. Firstly, define the defined competencies, before picking the three areas you’ll talk about that show off these competencies.
  2. Make sure you conclude each section with the tail, so that you tick the boxes for the interviewer.
  3. Finally, then, and only then, write your ‘intro sentence’


You’ll have the interviewer eating out of your hand in the time it takes to boil an egg.



The Job Interview Translation

We’ve all been there, sat in a job interview, heart pounding, palms sweaty awaiting the impending doom of the first question.

And then it arrives…

 “How was your journey here today?”

Your chest tightens, you feel like you’re at Guantanamo Bay. What do they mean? Are they assessing your ability to navigate? Are they probing you for your capability of making small talk? Is the prostate exam next?


There is the distinct possibility that they may actually be asking you if your journey was eventful or otherwise. But we’ll gloss over that fact and translate some potentially cryptic interview questions from “interview speak” into English for humans.


When they say: “So, tell me about yourself.”


They mean: “Please take this early opportunity to destroy your chances of working here. Here’s a noose.”



When they say: “You seem to have a gap in your employment history, could you tell me about that?”


They mean: “What did you go to prison for?”



When they say: “What’s your greatest weakness?”


They mean: “I googled ‘interview questions’ 10 minutes ago when I remembered you were coming. I insist you humour me and my tortuous job title”



When they say: “Why do you want to work here?”


They mean: “Obviously the money’s great and you get a swivel chair, but I need you to put your head in my backside for a few minutes. Go ahead.”



When they say: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”


They mean: “Despite that fact that I know the outcome of this interview will change your answer, and that you’re not thinking far beyond this Friday evening, please pull out your crystal ball and answer my question.



In an economy with so many people applying for so few positions, the pressure is really on in interviews as the chances are whatever experience you have, there’s somebody else who has been doing it longer and knew how to polish their shoes better than you.

Going into an interview with some coaching can put the odds in your favour as being prepared can make you feel confident and collected, two qualities that can make even the most unlikely candidates look appealing.

How not to leak when you speak

‘How not to leak when you speak’ isn’t  about waterworks – yours, or anyone else’s you’ll be relieved to know – but how we unintentionally make certain gestures that unwittingly betray our messages.

Watch this 3 minute clip to find out what gestures you may make and how to overcome the seepage/leakage.

Either way it sounds disgusting. It’s not, though – you’ll see what I mean…


Want to add something on how we can seem more convincing and confident when communicating?  Drop your comment right down there:

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‘You’re a fake: you’ll go far’

Stress levels and power poses


Strike that pose!


Amy Cuddy a social psychologist lecturing at Harvard Business School, has proven that you can fake it until you become it.  In experiments conducted with Dana Carney, she proved that striking ‘power poses’ for just 2 minutes before an interview, can increase the projection of self-confidence and the chances of being hired.  This is basically how the experiment went:

1)    Subjects had to prepare a 5 minute presentation about their dream job before a job interview, in which they were to be evaluated, filmed and hired on the strength of how they appeared on camera.  At this point, some people develop shingles…

2)    They then had to convince 2 evaluators why they thought they were suited to this dream job without lying or misrepresentation.  If you think this is stressful, hold on, it gets worse.

3)    The evaluators were trained to show no non-verbal expression.  This would usually spike the stress hormone, cortisol.  For many, this is like sinking in ‘social quicksand’;

4)    The interview was filmed and watched by two further evaluators who assessed the performance of the interviewees, or masochists, whichever term you find more accurate.

Interviewee Preparation:

5)    Apart from the requirement of remaining conscious throughout, the interviewees prepared the speech and were then split into two groups.  There was the control group and one that performed 2 minute ‘power posing exercises’, holding 2 such postures for a total of 180 seconds.

All exercises were performed before the interview, rather so that interviewees weren’t labelled insane…


Those that were chosen by the evaluators, who were totally unaware of the interviewee preparation and control group, were those that stuck the power poses before the meeting.  Now, that doesn’t mean that the power posers walked in like cowboys or Wonderwomen.  What happened was that they simply manifested a comfort in their own skin, and real zest.

It is these latter two factors, that further research has shown, that are the sole qualities that can win pitches.  Content matters of course, but it pales into less significance in the presence of a lack of awkwardness and the presence of enthusiasm.

What this means for your Pitches, Presentations and Interviews:

Preparing for even 2 minutes before a pitch, presentation or interview can change your behaviour.  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Before an interview: stand up in the waiting room.  Moving around will help with the nerves and when you’re being fetched, you’re not peering over your I-Phone, hunched and looking up like an abandoned puppy, but you are literally and metaphorically on the same level as your interviewer, from the start.
  2. Ensuring that you do a posture check, checking that you’re shoulder are low, back straight, eyes straight ahead and torso open will make you feel more confident than when you’re hunched and looking down.
  3. Space, power and status are related:a)  in a presentation, you can control your nerves rather than have them control you simply by moving around.  This releases energy, ridding you of shaky voice, hands and legs, as well as projecting an appearance of self-assurance.  Weirdly enough, you start to feel that self-assurance.b)  in an interview, pressing yourself against the desk like in the picture below can make you feel like you’re in combat with the interviewer.

    It can also give your the appearance of a school child hauled up in front of the head teacher.   Your breathing will also more likely to be around the chest area, which generates adrenalin, making it more difficult to control nerves and shakiness in the voice and body:

    The position below will help you to breath deeper, giving you a steadiness and confidence:officechairanddesk2You’ll also have the room to be more physically expressive, avoiding whacking the desk when you need to use gesture.  For panel interviews, simply move the chair back further from the table for the same reason and so that you don’t have to turn your head 180 degrees like some horror film puppet in order to address the panel. And lastly….

  4. Smile.  Even a fake smile, such as the one you make when you hold a pencil between your teeth, will generate serotonin, the feel-good hormone.  It also gives your voice a lift when speaking so you sound more upbeat as well.  Instant feedback to which you and others will react.


These small tweaks will create big changes in your behaviour, which in turn, will create different outcomes, so your body language can, in the most subtle of ways, change your life.

For more information and illustrations of power poses, see Amy Cuddy’s 17 minute video below.  At 11:11 mins, she talks about the interview experiment.