Ace Performance-Based Interview Questions by Telling Stories

By Dr. Howard Gauthier

How a person is perceived during an interview is one of the most important aspects in getting the job.  This includes how you answer interview questions.  The answers you recite need to be practiced so they become smooth and fluent.   One of the best ways to effectively answer a performance-based interview question is by telling a story.  This story might describe how you handled a problem or it could be a situation in which you excelled.  But make sure you practice telling the stories prior to entering the interview.

People enjoy hearing stories and examples.  A good rule of thumb is that a person should have five success stories they can tell during their interview session.  One of the most effective methods for telling a story is following the PAR format that Arlene Hirsch outlined in a recent article entitled Ace Behavioral Interviews By Telling Powerful Stories.  She shared that the PAR format of story telling includes describing:

1.   The Problem or situation

2.   The Action you took

3.   The Result that was attained

A person will want to start their story by describing the problem or situation that they faced, followed by describing the action that they chose, and concluding by describing the results that were achieved.  Too often, people jump right into the actions they took without completely detailing the problem or situation.  Hirsch believes that a person should spend as much time describing the problem as they do in telling the actions they performed.  Also, many people get so wrapped up in describing their actions they forget to adequately describe the results.

In telling a story, be sure to utilize all three parts – describe the problem, communicate the actions that you took, and share the results.  Since this is a job interview, make sure that the stories you tell have a positive message, and that you communicate your stories with energy, enthusiasm and confidence.  You should have a cheat sheet (notes) with you that outlines the story with bullet points.  These bullets should provide you with the main points of the story.  You will want to practice these stories until they become smooth and fluent.  The purpose of the bullet points is to help you remember the main pieces of the story, so a quick glance at a cheat sheet can keep you on track.

Remember, ultimately the job will go to the candidate who is prepared and who effectively executes the basics of the job interview process. In all you do, you will want to EXECUTE FOR SUCCESS! 


Howard Gauthier is an Associate Professor of Athletic Administration at Idaho State University.  He is a former collegiate athletic director and collegiate basketball coach.  He is also an author of 9 books.  Check out his book, Getting Hired In College Sports – 2nd Edition  at, and his most recent book, Execute for Success at


9 thoughts on “Ace Performance-Based Interview Questions by Telling Stories

  1. Aw, this was a very good post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to create a very good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and don’t manage to get anything done.

  2. Dr. G,

    I have often heard the value of telling a story, but not in an interview. A good thought for the interviewer as well here – to request a story, “Tell me about a time when…..”

    I would bet you would catch most off guard. Great food for thought in preparation I never thought about.

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