How to use STAR to answer interview questions brilliantly, Emily Bal

We’ve all been there. You’re in an interview for a job you’re really excited about. You’re nervous. Then you get the dreaded question, ‘Tell me about a time when…’

Your mind goes blank.

You can only remember what you did yesterday and absolutely nothing from the last 20 years of your successful career.

You waffle on and on and can’t stop talking because if you keep talking you might eventually answer the question. Or they might not notice.

The truth is you are their final interview of the day. They’ve heard six people waffle - not getting to the point - and the more you talk, the more that really exciting job slips through your fingers. Hey ho. Next time...

Stop right there. Let’s rewrite this story. You need STARIL in your life.

What is STARIL?

Applying for jobs and prepping for interviews takes a huge amount of time and energy and the well known STAR framework is a great way to get your skills and experience in order.

STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action and Result, and can help you prepare your interview responses - especially for the the ‘Tell me about a time…’ and ‘Give me an example of when you’ve done…’ questions.

Most people get nervous about interviews so reframe the whole process as a conversation – an opportunity to showcase your talents, tell your unique stories and most importantly, to shine!

Storytelling is what makes us human after all.

I’ve enhanced the STAR framework and added 'I' for Impact and 'L' for Learning as I think they can add more value and help you stand out as a candidate.

Once you’ve got your STARIL stories down, you can use them time and again and not just in interviews - on your CV, when networking, in presentations and speeches.

Where to start?

Scrutinise job descriptions for roles you’re interested in.

What are the essential skills and experience that they’re looking for? Consider your career highlights. What do you want a future employer to know about you? What projects are you most proud of?

Then marry up what they’re looking for with what you’ve got. You can use a table like below to help write your stories out. Be succinct and include as much hard statistical evidence as you possibly can. Here’s an example:

Competency/ Skill: Leading a team

Click here to download your own STARIL sheet to get started.

Four top tips

  1. More is less for the first draft. Just get your thoughts down. You can then edit so that your story is brief and to the point. People are most interested in outcomes, results and impacts.

  2. Mirror the recruiter’s key words – if what you call ‘account management’ they call ‘stakeholder relations’ call it stakeholder relations. They need to know you can speak their language.

  3. Make sure you practice telling these stories. Not just in your head but out loud. With a friend. In the mirror. Or to a coach. Maybe me? Click here for CV and interview coaching details.

  4. And finally, even if you’re not looking for a job at the moment, set aside some time to get your stories down. It will stand you in good stead and your future self will thank you. You can then keep adding to your list as you gain experience. I really wish someone had told me this at the beginning of my career. You can also use short versions of these stories in the skills section of your CV – you can find out more about what makes a great CV here.


Emily Bal is a confidence coach who helps midlifers realise they can create positive change in their life and career. She coaches people 1:1 and also holds CV writing clinics. You can sign up to her monthly Confidence Boost newsletter by clicking here.