Interview Preparation: Problem, Action and Outcome

  • Posted by: Chaloner

I spoke recently with a top HR professional at one of our clients. He spoke about the PAO (Problem, Action and Outcome) method he uses in interviews.
Called a few different things (such as Behavioral Interviewing, Situational Interviews and Case Interviews), it’s a interviewing strategy we have long used and find particularly effective in finding the best candidates for our clients.  The answer to a PAO question, and how it’s delivered provides great insight about a candidate’s approach, attitude and personality.  It can reveal their verbal reasoning skills, their communications and presentation skills, and their business knowledge and industry awareness.

Recognizing a PAO question:
Simply put: What was a work problem you faced, what action did you take to solve it and what was the outcome? For example, an interviewer probing a candidate’s management experience might ask: “Tell me about a time when you had to edit an employee’s writing. How did you approach this? What were the results?”

Four tips for nailing your PAO responses:
1.    Be direct about the problem. Describe the problem, action and result succinctly, accurately.  The history doesn’t matter as much, (why it became a problem), a brief explanation of how it arose is all that’s needed.
2.    Discuss the action taken and if you can link it to a broader business plan that was developed (and reference the actual plan as well), that would be an even better response. It’s a great way to let the interviewer know you can see the big picture. You might include those you enlisted for help, the resources you used and any other relevant factors.
3.    Be proud of the outcome.  Whatever the outcome was, you were the driver and hopefully the champion of a favorable result.  Don’t brag, but don’t hide how your skills and experience solved the problem.
4.    Don’t make the mistake of getting lost in the details. Interviewers want to hear about results and the most important steps taken to get there.  More detailed explanations can be given during later conversation, but not in the first response.  It’s a real advantage to come across as a clear and crisp presenter who can stay on point.

There are lots of places you can find lists of PAO questions so that you can prepare to face them in an interview.