How To Use Power Stories To Fuel Winning Job Interviews – Part 1

interview fuel

Ivy Exec’s Senior Resume Writer, Laura Hill shares her thoughts on using a PARs strategy to nail an interview…

In the past decade the interview process for job-seekers has changed radically, rendering many professionals who haven’t looked for a job in a while woefully unprepared.   In recent years recruiters and employers increasingly have adopted “behavioral” (also known as “competency” or “performance-based”) interview techniques. This approach holds that past performance—and the behavior that produced it—is a good predictor of future performance.

Interviewers seek specifics about what you actually did, why you did it, and how it affected people and the business.  They look for candidates who best match the competencies their companies believe are critical.  Astute interviewers don’t want promises of what you can do; they want proof of what you’ve actually done.

As Henry Ford once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”
The secret to answering the hard-nosed, underlying questions at the core of interviews— “Why should we hire you?” or “What makes you special?” . . . is simply telling stories.  One specific example is better than saying you did something 100 times.

Good interviews start with an opening statement or “elevator pitch” that puts forth your key attributes.  This provides the foundation from which you select the stories that make your case.  And in doing so, you will be able to answer behavioral interview questions such as “tell me about a time when . . . .”

You can use a systematic approach to organize and develop these vignettes.  Though seldom spotlighted in the media, it is known in the career trade by different acronyms.

We call it PAR:  Problem/Opportunity, Actions and Result.   In other words, a power story.

With PARs, you can prove the abilities you claimed in your pitch and the promise behind your personal “brand.”  PARs are effective templates that help relate examples of your experience in a way that is both easy to deliver and easy to understand.  These power stories can highlight skills that are transferable across industry boundaries.

The PAR formula works like this:

  1. Describe the problem or opportunity in two or three sentences— whatever basic background the listener needs to get the story’s key points.
  2. Then list three actions you personally took.
  3. Finally, state the results.

When preparing for an interview…

  1. First review the job description and company information you have researched.
  2. Develop a list of questions that you will ask the interviewer to get more insight into the real issues and needs.  Then,
  3. Select the two or three PARs most critical to communicate in the interview, to show how you can meet the employer’s needs.

A PAR story should be written out in conversational language, then practiced aloud until it becomes effortless.  Ideally, a PAR should be less than two minutes long, and you should have six to 10 of them ready in your arsenal.  After you’ve told your prepared story, STOP.  The interviewer then can move on to other topics, or ask more questions if he or she wants more details.

Key rule one: Don’t ramble.  Remember, PARs are not “war stories.”  They have a specific purpose.  With just a dash of drama, everything you say should help concisely explain the decisions, behavior or results that are relevant to your overall point.  If it doesn’t, then take it out.

Rule two:  Relax, and remember to listen.  PARs work best when they are relevant and seem unforced. Use them not only to respond to an interviewer’s questions, but also to volunteer examples that address issues the interviewer has mentioned.  After all, a good salesperson tries to understand the customer’s needs before launching a presentation about the product.

This is the first of two posts on PAR stories.  The second post will provide you concrete examples of  how PARs should be constructed and can be applied.  Stay tuned…

About the Author

Ivy Exec Resume Writer, Laura Hill’s experience includes an 8-year stint in banking with JP Morgan, executive search with Korn/Ferry International and Redwood Partners, 10 years as a career/outplacement coach, and heading client services for the boutique outplacement firm, Crenshaw Associates.