Make a Par in Your Interviews; The PAR Format for Interview Questions

PARHere’s a typical interview question: Why should we hire you? How do you answer?

Let’s talk about general preparation for the interview first. You do prepare, don’t you? You must. Here’s what to do.

  • Research the company if you didn’t to write the cover letter. If you did, check it again for news stories
  • Check LinkedIn for contacts you might have at the company
  • Send emails to your friends, former classmates, former colleagues and family asking if they know anyone in the company
  • Find a list of the most frequently asked questions on this site or the internet.

Now to composing the answer to why they should hire you.  (And you’ll use it for many other questions you’ll be asked.)

  1. Read over your resume and pick three to five strengths you showcase in your resume. Choose the ones you think this company needs.
  2. Now craft “stories” that speak to your strengths using the PAR format.  I call them stories but of course they aren’t fabrications! But like stories because they have a beginning, middle and end, they make a point, and as stories capture your interest, you want your stories to do the same for the interviewer. We’ll work with this example, “Created online training that cut new hires time to get up to speed by 30%.”

PAR is

    • Problem (Opportunity that presented itself)
    • Action (What you did to solve the problem)
    • Result (The outcome your action achieved. Use numbers when you can. If not, anecdotal evidence is fine.)

As you prepare these stories using PAR, keep in mind your goal is to let the hiring manager see you at work.

  1. Start with the P, “Problem” or need. “My manager and I were spending so much time getting new hires up to speed. I suggested my team and I prepare online training materials.” Say more about it than just my few words.
  2. Continue with “Action.”  Tell him a lot about how you went about your work. Impress him with your intelligence, tenacity, ability to work with others and more!
  3. The “Result” is the punch line, “New hires were so much more confident and overall we decreased time to full speed by 30%.”  Again, use more words. Talk about what employees said about the training. Make it real. Use colleagues’ first names. Make the interviewer feel like he sees you at work.   Smile as you talk. Give him the pleasure of seeing your true smile, your genuine smile. 
  4. Now here’s where others don’t go and where you can shine. Follow with a question or statement that gets the hiring manager talking about his challenges. “What’s your experience been with getting new hires up to speed?” You have to watch it here though. You need to have done research to not stick your foot in your mouth. For example, if you ask about their training and they are more advanced than your project, you are not going to look good.

However, if your experience doesn’t compare, instead of asking him about their training, tell him what you want him to get out of your PAR story. “While this company is quite adept at training, I am always ready and eager to learn. (You’ve told him you’ve done research and you’ve told him you like to learn.) Or, “As you can tell, I like to work with my manager to help him solve problems.” Tack on, “I imagine you value that too” to get him talking about what he’s looking for in an employee as well as how he would work with you.

Remember, you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. You may not want to work at this company if your prospective manager is a jerk. Have good follow on statements or questions. Try to make it a dialogue.

Interviewing is being prepared with stories that show you at work. Interviewing is also being a good listener and forging a bond with the manager because you show you can help him solve his problems. You do both those things and you’ll hear, “You’ve got the job!”