Standing out from the other exceptional people

Smart-casual dressed people sat in a line of chairs

What Models are good for you?

I’m Martin Cunningham and I qualified as a competency-based interview assessor over 25 years ago and have taught, coached and mentored throughout that time.

I have been approached by many to support them in their career development, with special focus on Interview preparation. Witnessing my clients’ successes, I decided that this is a great way to involve myself in helping others achieve their dream roles through career coaching, executive coaching and interview preparation.

Some of you will have seen my blog on competency-based interviews. I am often asked what I think about models for answering questions and I address this and other techniques in greater detail with my clients. Which is why I decided to share some insights regarding models for answering questions in interviews.

The first insight: Become comfortable with whichever model it is that you are going to use. All too often I have witnessed people attempting a model they have just heard about, they end up worrying so much about the structure, they forget to answer the question and end up failing to deliver as a result.

If you are going to use a model, make it the way you approach all questions asked of you between now and the interview. Tell your friends, family and colleagues you will be doing this and ask them for their support and feedback. Why would you do this? 

The simple answer is: When put under pressure human beings revert to type, if your type is someone who puts structure to your answers then, when nervous and under pressure you will revert to type, thereby providing a comprehensive, focused answer, evidencing to the panel how well you might fit within the team and in the position applied for, even when nervous or under pressure.

As outlined in a previous blog, interview skills are an eroding skill set, practice some of these models and maybe you will find one that is comfortable for you. If not find something that is.


In my coaching sessions I deal with these and try to ensure we match the style to the client and the audience. For example, some in the UN prefer the CAR model, some in the OSCE and EU prefer STAR, when applying to become a barrister one might want to focus on evidencing persuasion. 

That said, most assessors prefer the models they know best. Knowing your audience is a good place to start, as is understanding your personal style.

Most models are similar in their approach, each model provides you a framework to assist in presenting to the panel, the situation or circumstance, (the bigger picture), and the reason the organisation, mission or role exist, or why you were faced with a particular problem. Following that the models help you establish through your answer, what your role was and what you did, together with the result. Remember you are stating what you did, it is your behaviour the panel are assessing.

Many people look at elements of these in their answers, however the better candidates establish the reason, then what was done and provide a bit of breadth and depth to what their personal involvement in the success was, as well as the result. If you cannot do this you have the wrong example.

Finally, the best candidates often include what they, their team and/or the organisation learnt and how any better working practices and procedures were disseminated for the future.

Here are some models for you to practice:


STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. (L) stands for learning, add this wherever you can, especially when asked about a success, a failure or a mistake. It is a great behaviour trait and it sets you apart from the majority of candidates who need to be asked.

Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description.

Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.

Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it. What specific steps did you take and what was your particular contribution, keep the focus on YOU! I can’t say this enough!

Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved. Don’t be modest here, be honest but not modest, sell yourself, evidence why should this panel should conclude that you would be a good fit? Take credit for your behaviour, remember they are looking at your past behaviour as a predictor of your potential in their organisation.


CAR stands for Context, Actions, Results, and again I add learning.

When structuring your answers start with providing a brief context, followed by actions that were attributable to you as the individual not part of the team (you could say in the context that your team was given the overall task of…., but the actions are what you were personally responsible for. The next part is where the majority of candidates shine or fall. DO NOT FORGET THIS! You need to state the result, outcome, impact of YOUR actions. (How did you make a difference? why do we want to employ you?)

Again: Take credit for your behaviour, remember they are looking at your past behaviour as a predictor of your potential in their organisation.

Then really shine by sharing the learning from the experience.

Decision Making, Written Tasks:

When being asked to provide a document or where time is short or being interviewed by someone who wants the successful candidate to be transactional, you could consider the BLUF model. Use it sparingly and only if you are very accomplished at it and can equally evidence your transformational leadership style through out other elements of the assessment.

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front)

Basically, your conclusions and recommendations are placed at the beginning of the text or answer, thereby ensuring the answer is clear. In questions where they are testing decision making it can be a strong tactic, but I caution you that it is a calculated risk, remember that assessors are human too and yours is not the only interview they are listening too. When assessors are tired you have to help them listen to your answer. Ensure you then offer your arguments and considerations of facts. Also, if time allows repeat your recommendation.

I would not advise using this in interview unless you are well versed in its use, it will set you apart from the other candidates but if it does not resonate well with the panel you may not be successful.


For those of you considering how to demonstrate persuasion for the legal profession or a job where advocacy of your position needs to be more persuasive, rather than negotiating or influencing, try these:


C     Clear Position

 State your position clearly and confidently

A     A Specific Audience

You need to know who you are talking to and adapt the communication style and arguments to meet the needs of the audience.

R     Convincing Reasons

 Speak to the points to prove, stated cases etc…

R     Rebuttal to your Argument

Expose faulty reasoning for any rebuttal, have some in your back pocket also

L     learning;

For you this could include Mitigating Circumstances and Remorse for the client or organisational learning and improvement for the Team, the Set, Yourself.


S     Say it Once

S     Say it Well

S     Sit Down/Stop

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *