job-interviewThat list of rehearsed answers to the “50 most common interview questions,” may leave you up a creek without a paddle at your next job interview. More and more managers are turning to performance-based interviewing (PBI), especially for government, professional and executive level positions. The good news is, there’s no more racking your brain with what the best answer to the question about your biggest weakness is.

PBI questions are structured to allow the potential employer to see how you handle situations and what your overall work process is. Your personality is allowed to show as you are essentially being asked to become a storyteller. An additional benefit is that every candidate is asked the same series of questions in these types of interviews which levels the playing field. The intent is to allow the employer to learn about your knowledge of industry specific tasks, your ability to take methodical and appropriate action, and your skill in achieving desired outcomes.

Here are some examples of what a PBI question will sound like:

  • Describe a creative endeavor you can take ownership for that impacted the efficiency or effectiveness of your organization.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with two very different employees that could not be treated the same way. How did you deal with each? How did you decide what you were going to do? How well did your intervention with each employee work? (see sample answer below).
  • Describe a time when you went over and above your job expectation. What motivated you to put forth the extra effort? How did you feel when the job was finished? Did others realize you had put forth the extra effort? What feedback did you get for your effort?
  • Give a specific example of a time when you had to deal with an angry customer. What was the problem and what was the outcome? What was your role in diffusing the situation?
  • Describe a time when you were able to effectively communicate a difficult or unpleasant idea to a superior. What made your communication work?
  • Tell me about a time when you did not conform to an existing policy because you thought the situation demanded a different behavior or action? What did you do?

For More Examples of PBI questions Click Here:

PBI is essentially an opportunity to brag about yourself and prove to the interviewer that you are the best candidate for the job, so don’t be modest! Self-promotion is not something a lot of us are comfortable with, so practice is key. As with any interview, it’s only natural to experience anxiety. Anxiety means that this is important to you and can be a motivating force to prepare for success.

How do I prepare for this type of interview?

  1. Make a list of every award, recognition, promotion, and accolade you have received in your current and past positions. Review your old performance reviews to remind you of your special contributions. Tell the story of how you came to achieve each one. This is crucial because these stories can be substituted to answer a multitude of questions that are designed to measure creative thinking, flexibility and adaptability, organizational stewardship, and systematic thinking. Plus- the outcome (ability section of your answer) ends with proof of success.
  2. Make a list of the optional or volunteer duties you have undertaken. These may include task force committees, filling in for a higher up in his/her absence, additional trainings/workshops/certifications, presentations you have given, mentoring new employees, or new processes you have implemented. These stories can be made to fit questions targeted at evaluating your personal mastery and organizational stewardship.
  3. Prepare four “problem stories”. One with your supervision team, one with co-workers, one with the customer/patient/client, and one problem you encountered with the organizational processes. Try to stay away from stories about personality conflicts, but instead steer towards frustrating or challenging situations that arose. What they’re looking for here is your customer service, flexibility and adaptability and interpersonal effectiveness. You want to demonstrate that you can effectively solve problems while respecting the organization’s protocol and not jumping the chain of command.
  4. Look at the company’s human resources page. Sometimes companies have a PBI question bank that interviewers pull from. This is a gold mine and will give you the upper hand. If this isn’t offered, research a list of industry specific examples (i.e. try searching Nursing performance based interview questions).

To give a complete answer to a PBI question, you need to communicate three parts.

Problem- Set the scene and be specific, but get to the point. Explain what the problem or situation was, who the key players were, and what your role was.

Action- This is the “HOW” of your answer. You are identifying your thought process and the primary steps you took to achieve what you accomplished. The goal is to convey the qualities of persistence, leadership, the ability to creatively and efficiently problem solve while meeting both the needs of the consumer and the business.

Results- These should be measurable, observable, and quantifiable. This is demonstrating your competence to perform. What was the impact of your accomplishments? How long did this impact last? Were you recognized for these results? If you are demonstrating a contrary outcome- what did you learn from this and what have you done differently since?

Keep in mind, these types of questions will take a little longer to construct answers for, especially if they are multi-faceted. Interviewers understand this and expect you to give adequate thought to your responses. Bring a note pad with you (with keywords that remind you of the stories you have prepared) and write short hand what the parts of the questions are so you can be sure to include information to hit all of the points. Don’t forget, the more you have practiced giving answers in a 3 part story format, the more confident you will feel when it comes time to rock your interview. Best of Luck!


Question: Tell me about a time when you had to deal with two very different employees that could not be treated the same way. How did you deal with each? How did you decide what you were going to do? How well did your intervention work with each employee?


Problem: I volunteered to mentor two new employees to ensure they met critical learning objectives and to assist them with their daily case management and counseling tasks. One employee has worked for many years in the field of mental health, owned his own business in the field and worked in a different division of the same corporation. The other employee is a college intern and has had no work experience in the social services field and has not completed his degree yet.

The first counselor’s personality was very confident and outgoing. He already had experience and confidence from his previous work experiences that he could provide guidance to others and set healthy boundaries. As such, he was able to jump straight into the logistics of the position.

The intern counselor lacked this same confidence and at first was nervous around patients. He would work himself up if he had a patient with a severe mental health disability. He had a tendency to become very overwhelmed with daily tasks.

Action: For both of these new counselors- I used the same materials for training to maintain the consistency of the program, but I had to use different approaches. After providing the first employee with appropriate training, shadowing, and exercises- he was ready to start to try and fly from the nest relatively quickly- using me as a tool to check his work and provide guidance with difficult cases and new situations. I would provide him with all of the information he needed and then discuss what decision he was going to make.

The intern counselor required more encouragement and direct support. Writing down processes that he was learning proved exceptionally helpful. I helped him to develop an organizational system for his caseload so that he could feel more in control and more aware of what was going on. I had him shadow all of the senior counselors in the office to be able to realize that everyone has their own style. I would staff cases prior to him meeting with the patient, and sit in with him while he would meet with patients for each type of case (entitlement interview, assessment, case management, care plan development). I would directly inquire on his input in staff meetings so that he finally realized that he can do this job effectively and he can serve patients and help them to make a difference in their lives, and also that he is a valuable member of the team.

Results: I am proud of both of my mentees as they are both very strong members of the team. They are carrying full caseloads and are on full rotation and have been since their 6 month anniversaries. I received a recognition award at our 2015 Annual Conference recognizing my role as a mentor to help in the professional development of incoming counselors.

Be a great day today folks…. and don’t forget to check out my website!