PARADE Method

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The PARADE Method (tm) is an approach to answering resume-oriented job interview questions. It is an approach I developed that is tailored for answering these questions in job interviews for management consulting, as well as interviews for senior executive positions in industry.

It can be used by candidates to prepare concise and powerful answers to commonly asked consulting resume questions. It can also be used by interviewers to remind candidates to identify all the key information needed to assess a candidate's career experiences.

For the purposes of this article, I will describe the PARADE method from the perspective of the job-seeker.

PARADE is an acronym that stands for:

P roblem
A nticipated Consequence
R ole
A ction
D ecision-Making Rationale
E nd-Result

Let me explain what each of these 6 factors mean:

1) PROBLEM -- What is the problem you or your organization faced?  Since the business of consulting (and executive management) is that of solving problems, anytime you explain a career experience, extra-curricular activity, or academic experience, frame the experience as a problem.

2) ANTICIPATED CONSEQUENCE -- What consequence did you or your organization face if this problem continued without resolution?

3) ROLE -- What was your role in resolving this problem? Interviewers want to know what you did... not what "we" did. A source of irritation for many interviewers is when the candidate says, "We faced a $10 million drop in sales, and we fixed this by landing three new clients for $3.3 million each."

The savvy interviewer will immediately ask, "I see... and what specifically was your role in this situation?" Did you find and close all $10 million in sales? Did you just show up at the sales meeting? Did you cheer the sales team on from the sidelines?

Save the interviewer the trouble and pro-actively explain what your role was in solving the problem.

4) ACTION -- What action did YOU take? What did you do? Be specific. Say, "I did three things: a) I did X; b) I did Y; c) I did Z."

5) DECISION-MAKING RATIONALE - Explain why you decided to take the action that you did. What other options did you consider? Why didn't you choose the other options? Why this specific decision? What quantitative data did you consider? What qualitative data did you consider?

Especially in consulting interviews, it is important that your decision-making rationale include analytical factors ("I analyzed X, and determined Y was the better choice for Z reasons"). It is also important to consider inter-personal factors in your rationale.

"Option A was the best logical option, but it was also a tough sell, given the culture of the organization. Option B was 80% as good as Option A, but had no cultural resistance. Given the political environment, I chose Option B."

6) END-RESULT -- After you took the action that you did, what happened?  What was the outcome? Be specific -- when possible, cite a quantitativelymeasurable outcome.

Let me provide two examples so you can see the PARADE Method in action.

EXAMPLE #1:

The date was November 22, 2000 for XYZ company -- one of the leading start companies in the eCommerce software services market.

At the time, I was the CEO's "Chief of Staff" and had stepped in as interim Chief Information Officer. The company was on pace to grow sales by 600% for the year.

1) Problem:

In doing a walk-by evaluation of our server racks for the first time, I noticed that our servers were at 85% of capacity.

Traditionally, the Christmas retail season kicks off on November 26th (the U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday) and runs until News Year's Day -- driving roughly 25% of all U.S. retail sales in only 30 days. Many brick and mortar retailers see a 100% - 200% growth in monthly sales during the peak season.

2) Anticipated Consequence:

Given the Year 2000, this was the industry's very first E-Christmas... and the big season was only four days away.  I realized our systems did not have the capacity to serve our high-profile clients, which included the eCommerce divisions of over a dozen Fortune 500 retailers.

We were at serious risk of letting down our highly visible clients on their most important month in their online histories.

In addition, we had an IPO scheduled for Q1, and if the company failed to deliver, our IPO would be in jeopardy. The company had $250 million at stake to solve this problem in the next 48 hours.

3) Role:

As interim CIO, it was my role to solve this problem using any means possible... and to do it fast.

4) Action:

* I immediately had our procurement manager contact all of our suppliers to try and buy new servers. The servers we wanted had a two-week turnaround time. The lower-end servers still had a ten-day window until we could get them. We also had no spares in stock.

* In asking my staff for suggestions, I discovered we had an old data center with some older servers still sitting there. They were not perfect, but they would hopefully buy us 7 - 10 days of time to get the higher capacity servers installed.

* I took one of my managers down to the data center to bring three of the servers back up. Upon attempting to exit the building, we discovered that our controller had a billing dispute with the data center company, and they were holding our equipment hostage in retaliation.

* I decided that despite the security guards in the lobby, we would make a "run" for it.  I grabbed one server under my arm. I instructed my colleague to do the same, and we ran while security tried to stop us.

* We ran down Canal Street in the nearby China Town of New York City, carrying three servers amongst us with security on our tail, but ultimately were able to make it back to the office.

5) Decision Making Process:

* We did place orders for permanent equipment -- which I determined was the best medium-term solution, but we still had a two-week gap to cover.

* I decided re-purposing existing equipment would be the fastest way to get some kind of capacity improvement quickly.

* I decided that it would be unlikely for us to be arrested for "stealing" equipment that already belonged to us... so actually running out the door probably posed little legal risk... and I had a problem to solve.

6) End Result:

* My staff was able to install and re-configure those servers by 1am that night. By 8am the next morning, the system had a 100% increase in capacity.

* The company ended the year booking a 600% increase in sales for the year.

* Our systems had no downtime during the industry's first big eChristmas season.

* Four months later, the IPO was successful and the company had a market valuation of $250 million.

(Incidentally, this is a true story.  It is probably a better example for use in the senior executive position that I interviewed for following my McKinsey days... and was intended to convey a "I will do whatever it takes to get the job done... including getting my hands dirty," which was a point I wanted to convey at the time.

Hopefully you can see the template provides a simple way to provide a concise and precise answer.  For consulting jobs in particular, a better example would be one involving more inter-personal dynamics, cultural factors, bruised egos, major disagreement and controversy.).

EXAMPLE #2:

(This example is from my college experience, and is intended to show how the PARADE Method (tm) can be applied to extra-curricular experiences for college students.)

As a freshman at Stanford, I was the Finance Director for the Stanford Solar Car project.

1) Problem:

Upon joining the organization, I discovered that our #1 corporate sponsor canceled their sponsorship this year, and we had a 50% budget shortfall.

2) Anticipated Consequence:

This was the first time in the five-year history of the student group to have a shortfall this large.

Without an alternative source of funding, the group would for the first time be unable to compete in Australia for the annual global collegiate solar car competition against MIT, Cal Tech, UC Berkeley, and others.

3) Role:

Since I was the finance director, it was my responsibility and mine alone to find a solution.

4 & 5) Action + Decision Making Process: (I often find it easier to combine these two sections.)

a) I analyzed the expense budget to see how much we would actually have to raise to close the financing gap. The amount was $15,000.

b) I looked at the amount donated by our other sponsors, and while we had many material donations, the largest cash donation was only $1,500 -- 90% less than what we were looking for.

c) I concluded that getting corporate cash contributions, while possible, would not be easy. I decided to look for alternative means of fundraising.

d) I researched how the other student organizations raised money. Even though I had been on campus for only 30 days, I observed that many student organizations existed, and I figured they must have been getting their funding from somewhere.

e) In speaking with the finance directors of other student groups, I discovered that there was an annual election for students to allocate a portion of their annual student fees to various student groups... with $600,000 to be allocated.

f) I proposed to the Solar Car group leaders that we participate in this year's election. The leadership team was hesitant, as they were concerned about losing control of the group.

In researching their concerns, I learned that other than keeping accurate financial records, there were no other on-going restrictions. I argued that since this is an activity we should be doing anyway (group members consisted entirely of engineers, and I was the first business person to join the group in the group's history), the current leadership could maintain control of the group while still getting funding.

g) I registered the Solar Car Project in the election and mounted an advertising campaign to encourage students to vote to fund the project. Given the election was timed to be near our school's annual "big game" rivalry with UC Berkeley, I opted to piggyback on this school spirit by saying that without this funding, "Cal" (UC Berkeley) would likely compete against us this year, and we would lose by default.

6) End Result:

We won the election.  The group got its funding for the rest of the academic year and was able to compete in Australia -- placing in 3rd place globally.

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Hopefully through these examples, you can see how the PARADE method is able to efficiently communicate not just WHAT you did, but WHY you did it, HOW you did it... and the IMPACT of your actions.

As it applies to consulting, the nature of the examples you choose will vary, depending on your experience level.

If you are an experienced hire, it would be expected that you have more examples leading initiatives in a corporate setting, company politics, controversial business decisions.

If you are an APD or PhD candidate, perhaps the conflict resolutions you'll be describing will be in regards to conflicts in your lab or with colleagues.

If you are an undergrad, more of your experiences will likely be extra-curricular driven rather than corporate experiences.

The thing to keep in mind is you will implicitly be compared to other candidates from a similar background.  So to some extent there is a relative standard that you are trying to meet or exceed.

So regardless of which peer group you will be compared against, you want to convey that you can "lead," "take charge," yet still "work with others" even in awkward, highly-conflicted-type situations.

A final thought -- if you do not follow the PARADE method in your answers, it is entirely possible the interviewer will elicit that information from you anyways by interrupting you with specific questions.

So if you hear the interviewer interrupt you by asking, "And what was your specific role in this situation?" then you know why the interviewer is asking.

You won't get penalized for omitting this information, but you will lose time.

It is better to pro-actively state this information to avoid minimizing how many times the interviewer interrupts you to ask a clarifying question.

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