Problem (or Situation)-Action-Result formula (PAR)

When interviewing candidates, Kenneth Widelka, acting general manager of Pearson Reid London House, always asks them to provide examples of how they’ve used certain strengths. He analyzes the stories based on the PAR format, as follows:

  1. Problem
    Start by describing the problem or situation that you faced.

    “Because of the escalating price of ingredients in our products, we needed to rethink our production, pricing and marketing strategies and processes.”

  2. Action
    Describe the action that you took.

    “I took a leadership role in meeting with the purchasing, production and marketing managers – both individually and collectively—to determine whether we needed to revise our product formulas, develop new brands and open up new channels of distribution.” 

  3. Result
    Describe the results.

    “When we discovered that our product was too expensive for its original target market, I was able to work with the purchasing manager on a strategy to identify, solicit and negotiate less expensive contracts. I also worked closely with the marketing manager and the marketing team to reposition our product for a more upscale clientele. This resulted in a $200,000 decrease in expenses and $250,000 increase in net revenues.”

Don’t Skimp on the Problem

Too many candidates jump into a description of their actions without fully describing the problem or situation, says Mr. Widelka. This makes it seem as though they don’t understand the larger business picture or appreciate how their actions contribute to the firm’s business goals and strategy.

“Candidates need to spend as much time describing the situation or problem as they do describing their own actions,” he says. “Some people get so caught up in the description of their activities that they never even get to the results.”

When you advance to your actions, always recount your most significant accomplishments or contributions, advises Laurie Anderson, an organizational psychologist in Oak Park, Ill. “And talk about why it was so challenging,” she says. “If it didn’t get hard, it wasn’t a real accomplishment.”

She emphasizes the importance of recounting your behavior as a story. “Your actions always speak louder than your words. Don’t tell me who you are; tell me what you did,” she says.

How you tell your stories will say as much about your performance as what you tell. If you can’t tell a story comfortably, you probably shouldn’t be telling it at all. It’s important to know why you are using a particular example and what you want it to demonstrate. Don’t recount a story that lacks a happy ending or portrays you as ineffective.

After you tell your story, ask for feedback. Is this the kind of information that the interviewer was looking for? Or would they like you to give a different example? Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “nothing comes to mind” when you’re asked a question. You can’t invent experiences (positive or negative) that you don’t have.

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