I have compiled several templates to help clients structure essay and interview answers. Use them well! -Vince
PAR stands for Problem-Action-Results; in other words, first you state the problem that existed in your workplace, then you describe what you did about it, and finally you point out the beneficial results.
Here’s an example: “Transformed a disorganized, inefficient warehouse into a smooth-running operation by totally redesigning the layout; this saved the company thousands of dollars in recovered stock.”
Another example: “Improved an engineering company’s obsolete filing system by developing a simple but sophisticated functional-coding system. This saved time and money by recovering valuable, previously lost, project records.”
Source for above plus other "par" related info here:
Accepted.com editor, Paul Bodine, recently sent the following "outtake" from his new book, Great Application Essays for Business School. This tip could help you structure an answer to an interview question or a short essay question.
- It sometimes goes by the fancy names “PAR” or “CAR” exercise (for Problem/Challenge—Action—Result), but what it really is a method for analyzing the achievements you choose to include and expressing them as mini-stories. You, the hero, face down a work-related dragon and through your own traits, expertise, or leadership create a happy ending that can be described in concrete terms.
- As you inventory your accomplishments ask yourself: (a) What was the obstacle, challenge, or problem that you solved in this accomplishment—a tight client deadline? A complex merger transaction? A new product launch amidst fierce competition? (b) What did you do to rise to this challenge—motivate your team to work overtime? Sell senior management on the deal’s long-term upside? Identify a marketing profile for your product that no competitor can match? (c) What facts demonstrate that your intervention created a “happy ending”—Your team submitted the project deliverables a day early despite being 20% understaffed? Your client approved the $500 million merger, the largest ever in its industry? Your new product has 20% market share after only one year?
Break down your accomplishments into these three-part mini-stories, and you’ll have the raw material for a compelling short essay or interview response.
Write Accomplishment Statements
For each accomplishment, write out not only what you did (the key skills and actions you took), but describe the problem as well as the result. Accomplishment statements can highlight one primary action and result or may contain a few lines of information that stress additional skills and specific results.
Use the Problem-Action-Result (PAR) approach for each accomplishment
State the Problem - (The challenge, need, opportunity or goal.) Aim to state the main problem/challenge in one to two sentences. This provides the context for the actions you took.
State the Key Actions Performed - (Begin each sentence with a key skill word.) This helps to target your skills to the requirements of the job.
State the Result - (Quantify the result(s) when possible.) Use percentages, numbers etc. to demonstrate the significance of your actions. If you cannot quantify the result, try to qualify the result by stating the type of improvement you observed.
Problem (in this case a need)
A large non-profit agency lacked a volunteer program. Valuable staff time was used to perform services which volunteers could do.
Action (key skills used)
Researched volunteer management theories. Interviewed volunteer coordinators. Prepared a cost/benefit analysis of hiring a coordinator to recruit and train volunteers. Drafted and submitted a proposal.
Result (quantify or qualify benefits of your actions)
The organization created a full-time position that expanded the agency services and maximized staff time.
Summarized P.A.R. for Use in Resume
Expanded agency's service and maximized staff effectiveness by researching and recommending new volunteer program with a full-time volunteer coordinator.
Incorporate your completed accomplishment statements into the body of your resume and expand upon these accomplishments in your interview to communicate the specific skills and unique benefits you bring to the position.
Variation 1: PART
- Situation: give an example of a situation you were involved in that resulted in a positive outcome
- Task: describe the tasks involved in that situation / what was your ultimate goal? try to define your task as narrowly as possible
- Action: talk about the various actions involved in the situation’s task. Show your progress in implementing your idea / trying to reach your task. This should include:
- Problems - what obstacles did you encounter that threatened your project / kept you from achieving your task? How did colleagues and/or supervisors resist your efforts?
- Solutions - specific actions and decisions you took to overcome the obstacles. How did you overcome the resistance of others?
Example of a STAR Answer
Situation: During my internship last summer, I was responsible for managing various events.
Task: I noticed that attendance at these events had dropped by 30% over the past 3 years and wanted to do something to improve these numbers.
Action: I designed a new promotional packet to go out to the local community businesses. I also included a rating sheet to collect feedback on our events and organized internal round table discussions to raise awareness of the issue with our employees.
Result: We utilized some of the wonderful ideas we received from the community, made our internal systems more efficient and visible and raised attendance by 18% the first year.
To learn more, I strongly suggest downloading a copy of MIT's excellent guide to behavioral interviews, The MIT Sloan Interview Guide,
The behavioral essay questions that MIT and Stanford ask have their origins in behavioral interviewing. “Bill Byham, CEO and founder of Development Dimensions International, originated the behavioral interviewing method in 1970.”
In fact, the STAR technique outlined in MIT’s guide was developed by Byham as THE WAY to answer behavioral questions:
Byham calls an example of past behavior a STAR, because a complete example consists of a situation or task, the specific action you took and the result of your action. The result you describe doesn't have to be positive; it could be that you learned a valuable lesson from doing something the wrong way.
In his book "Landing the Job You Want: How to Have the Best Job Interview of Your Life" (Three Rivers Press, 1997), Byham tells candidates how to identify the skills for a job; explore their own "behavioral dimensions" (the behaviors they use every day to get things done); and recognize and present a STAR with positive impact in an interview.
In addition to the MIT SLOAN Guide, I suggest also taking a look at the slightly different guide to the Star Technique that MIT Career Services provides.
The STAR technique is really the core method you need to use for answering behavioral questions in Stanford's essays. It is simply this (taken from the MIT Sloan Guide):
• Situation: define the situation or “set the stage.”
• Task: identify the task/project performed.
• Action: describe the action you took.
• Result: summarize the outcome
Just keep in mind that you need to be introspective as well, so write what you thought as well as what you did. because reading it first will maximize the value of my comments below.Don’t just present “the facts” but actively interpret your actions. There is really nothing overly complicated about this as long as you understand that you need to tell a DETAILED story. Pure abstractions disconnected from a concrete set of action steps are highly likely to result in a weak answer. Similarly, grand actions not told in any depth are also likely to be weak. Identify specific actions that contributed to the result so as to establish a clear link between cause and effect.
As when answering any kind of question, another important consideration is to think very critically about what your story selection, understanding of the task, actions taken, and results say about you. Keep in mind that the whole point of asking behavioral questions is to determine how someone acts and thinks as a basis for selecting or rejecting that person. It is obviously critical to be aware of your own message.
Use the SOAR method (Situation, Obstacle, Action and Result) to provide a structured framework to keep your answer clear and concise, while conveying how you effectively overcame the challenge.