How To Prepare
BEFORE THE Performance Based Interview (PBI)
HOW TO PREPARE
Interviews are opportunities to learn and to share information. Performance-Based interviews are not difficult, but unless you are prepared, they can prove to be quite unsettling. In helping you get ready, here are a few tips to follow.
- Learn about the Department of Veterans Affairs and its mission, vision, and organizational structure. A good place to start is the VA web site. As you read about VA’s mission and strategic plan, think about how you could contribute. Also, learn about the administration or office within VA where you will be working. Make a note of any questions that you may want to ask during the interview. Don’t neglect to learn about our client, the veteran. The veteran is the focus of everything that we do at VA.
- Analyze the job and the type of position for which you are applying. Learn as much as you can about the position. If possible, review the Qualification Standards Handbook and obtain a copy of the actual position description. Contact other professionals currently working in the field within the organization or another agency. Conduct Internet and newspaper searches to aid in your research. Read current periodicals and trade journals to learn about current trends in the field. Be able to articulate why you are interested in the field and your long-term goals.
- Review the duties listed in the vacancy announcement and review your work history and how it relates to the position for which you are applying. Analyze the match between your skills and the job. Specific qualifications for the position are outlined in the Rating Factors of the vacancy announcement. Determine which of your skills best suits the requirements of the position.
- Identify examples from past experiences that demonstrate those skills. Be able to "tell a story" of how you used those skills. Use examples from past work experiences, internships, classes, activities, team involvement and community services.
- Try to provide recent examples, as the interviewer may want to ask you about specific details. It's much easier to provide details for a recent experience.
- Be prepared to give an example of a time when you experienced a contrary outcome. Explain a situation that did not turn out as you planned. Highlight what you learned from the situation and things you might have done differently.
- Identify a few (2-3) of your best qualities and decide how you will convey these during the interview. Be sure to have examples (tell a story) that demonstrate these attributes.
- Prepare two or three thoughtful job-related questions for the interviewer.
- Practice your interviewing skills well before you are called for an interview. Try watching yourself in a mirror and/or use a tape recorder. An excellent way to develop you interviewing skills is to conduct a "mock interview" with a family member, friend, and/or co-worker.
- Look professional. Professional appearance is an important part of the interviewing process. Conservative attire creates a positive first impression.
- Think positive. Feeling positive projects confidence and enthusiasm.
- Be sure you have the correct time and clear directions to the interview. Obtain the interviewer’s name and title and a phone number in case of emergency.
- Arrive early. Allow plenty of time for traveling, parking, and going through security. For most government buildings, you will have to show identification with a picture and your belongings will be scanned. Arrive no more than 10 minutes early to interviewer’s office.
- Be certain to bring several copies of your résumé, a notepad, and something to write with to all interviews. You may also want to bring some supporting materials with you, such as copies of printed articles, a portfolio that demonstrates your work, or a list of references.
- If you must carry a cell phone, be sure that it is off prior to going into the interview.
DURING THE INTERVIEW
Important screening questions about your overall background may be asked. For example, you may be asked about your authorization to work in the United States, your educational history, your willingness to relocate or travel, or other basic information. However, the bulk of the interview will be spent asking questions about your background and experiences. Consider that not only are the interviewers interested in your answers, but they are also interested in your process for coming up with your answers. Keep in mind that some behavioral questions will take you a few moments to construct your answers. The interviewer will expect you to give adequate thought to your responses. However, if you have practiced your interviewing techniques well in advance, you will be more focused and in a better position to answer questions that you had not anticipated. Do not speak too quickly as the interviewer may have difficulty understanding you. Pausing briefly will give both you and the interviewer time to think and reflect. Do not be afraid of silence.
Remember that you must project a positive impression and demonstrate that you are the best candidate for the job.
As with any interview, it is only natural to experience anxiety. With PBI, the interviewer will expect you to talk about yourself by describing specific examples of how you applied knowledge, skills, and abilities to work situations. The expectation for specific instances can bring on a sense of apprehension. You can prepare for a PBI by thinking about the job you are interviewing for and identifying what areas you think are important for success. Then, think about your accomplishments that match the job criteria and how you can describe what you did, how you did it, and the outcome. Speak in concise terms about relevant experience.
Do not be modest in describing your qualifications or you can eliminate yourself from further consideration. PBI is an opportunity to brag about yourself to prove to the interviewer you are the best person for the job. However, be honest about your accomplishments. The interviewer may want to check with others to confirm that you’ve done what you’ve said.
With PBI, you are afforded the opportunity to highlight your skills, abilities, personal qualities and enthusiasm for the position. For the prospective employer, the interview is an opportunity to gather information about a candidate’s experiences that were especially challenging and required a great deal of perseverance. More importantly, PBI gives both you and the interviewer the advantage of judging whether there is a match between your qualifications and the employer's needs.
A benefit of PBI is that the interview sessions are consistent. Each candidate is asked the same series of questions. The questions are targeted to the work history and behaviors in various settings to elicit information about real-life situations and are specifically related to the job. By structuring the interviews in this method, the applicants are fairly and consistently evaluated and judged in their responses to the same questions.
PBI questions focus on learning about a particular performance situation or task, the action taken on your part, and the outcomes of your action. Here are several examples of what you should expect:
- Describe a situation in which you had to use your communication skills in presenting complex information. How did you determine whether your message was received? (With the original question you are assuming the person did understand.)
- Share with me an example of an important personal goal that you set, and explain how you accomplished it.
- Lead me through a decision-making process on a major project you’ve completed.
- Have you ever had many different tasks given to you at the same time? How did you manage these?
- Give an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision.
Now that you have an idea of what kinds of questions to expect, the next step is how to answer them. To give a complete answer to a behavior-based question, you must, first, reflect on specific situations that you faced while working (include any volunteering or internships), then, describe the specific action you took, and, finally, the outcome as a result of your actions. The interviewer will be looking for concrete examples not generalities. A helpful hint would be to remember the initials "PAR" for "Problem, Action, and Results" such as "PAR for the Course." Here's an example:
Problem: Local newspaper subscriptions were declining for the area residents and large numbers of long-term subscribers were not renewing contracts. With the majority of the newspaper's revenue generated from subscriptions, this reduction in renewals would have an enormous affect on the future of the paper, especially employment.
Action: Evaluated original subscription rates and designed a new promotional package that offered special rates for all renewal subscriptions.
Results: Increased renewal subscription by 25 percent over the same period last year. This promotional package not only increased renewal subscriptions and maintains job security for the staff, but also enabled the office to replace a badly needed piece of equipment that could no longer be serviced.
The intent is for you (the interviewee) to tell a story (with a beginning, middle and an end) that conveys how you applied a practical skill. When answering interview questions, be brief and succinct and try not to ramble.
NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Messages are conveyed during the interview not only by what you say but by how you say it. Positive nonverbal communication will reinforce your verbal message.
- Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and introduce yourself.
- Always be positive; avoid negative words and phrases as much as possible.
- Maintain good eye contact at all times.
- A good interviewer will make a serious attempt to build a positive rapport with you, usually through small talk about weather, current events, sports, etc. at the beginning of the interview. Be certain that you participate in the conversation; don’t just smile and nod.
- Be enthusiastic about the position, the organization, your skills, and how you can contribute to the organization’s success.
- Smile! A pleasant and relaxed smile will keep both you and the interviewer at ease.
- Try to minimize:
- Irritating Habits – such as tapping your pen, twirling your hair, looking away from the interviewer, moving your legs, or drumming your fingers.
- Filler Words – such as “ummm,” “like,” y’know”
- Sit comfortably, maintain good body posture.
OTHER TIPS FOR SUCESSFUL INTERVIEWING
Always listen carefully to the question, ask for clarification if necessary and make sure you answer the question completely.
- Remember that it is impossible to control all aspects of an interview. If you encounter a question you are unprepared for, do your best and then move on.
- View the interview as a give-and-take, two-way conversation where you are gathering valuable information to help you make the best career choice possible.
- Don’t try to dominate the interview. Let the interviewer guide the questions. View each interview as an opportunity to learn and refine your interview skills.
- Do not expect to receive a job offer during the interview. A decision will not be made until all candidates have been interviewed and a second interview with a higher level official may be necessary. Generally, you will be contacted by Human Resources.
- You will be given the opportunity to ask the interviewer a few questions, and should use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of and interest in the organization and position.
- You may have the opportunity to make closing remarks in your interview. Touch on qualifications that you did not have a chance to discuss, and inquire about the next stage in the process. Restate your enthusiasm for the organization and position, and thank the interviewer for his or her time.