Behavioral Event Interview: Overview and Technique

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Kumar, Ajay/August 2004

Behavioural Event Interview: Overview and Technique

Ajay Kumar


Kumar, Ajay/August 2004

What is a Behavioural Event Interview (BEI)?
A Behavioural Event Interview (BEI) is a structured interview that is used to collect information about past behaviour. It is an interview technique based on the premise that the best predictor of future behaviour is the past behaviour thus a BEI attempts to uncover the past performance by asking open-ended questions that require the interviewee to describe in detail past experiences which demonstrate their ability to perform the job. Each question helps the interviewer learn about interviewee’s past performance in a key competency area that is critical to success in the position. The interview is conducted face-to-face as far as possible. The hypothesis of BEI is that superior performers demonstrate more of the characteristic than do average performers and/or that average performers demonstrate more of the characteristic than do poor performers.

The Behavioural Event Interview is the heart of the Job Competency Assessment process. BEI data are the richest source of hypotheses about competencies that predict superior or effective job performance. The basic principle why it is used for competency assessment is that what people think or say about their motives or skills is not credible. Only what they actually do, in the most critical incidents they have faced, is to be believed. The purpose of the BEI method is to get behind what people say they do to find out what they really do. This is accomplished by asking people to describe how they actually behaved in specific incidents.

BEI when conducted with an objective to identify the competencies required for a position, it is much like Critical Incidents Technique which is used to systematically identifying very detailed behavioural descriptions that contribute to success or failure of individuals in specific situations encountered in performing the job. In BEI the respondent is asked to describe three incidents in which he or she felt effective in the job and three incidents in which he or she felt ineffective in the job. The format for the interview is similar to a journalistic inquiry. The interviewer attempts to obtain as accurate an account of the incident as possible by asking probing yet nondirective questions and requesting specificity, clarification, and examples whenever possible. The interviewer’s job is to keep pushing for complete stories that describe the specific behaviours, thoughts, and actions the interviewee has shown in actual situations. Most interviewers have been using traditional approaches in interviewing and when asked to conduct BEI it may be very difficult as interviewing habits can be hard to break.


Kumar, Ajay/August 2004

Behavioural vs. Traditional Interviews:
Traditional Interviews is the most common type of interview. The interview consists of a series of questions that may or may not be standardized. In addition to responding to questions, interviewer would be expected to ask articulate, well-formed questions. Traditional interviewing methods do not work well to identify competencies primarily for two reasons: First, most people don’t know what their competencies, strengths and weaknesses, really are. Harvard psychologist Chris Argyris has shown that people’s “espoused theories of action” (what they say they do) bear no relation to their “theories in use” (what they actually do). Second, people may not reveal their real motives and abilities. Most interview questions are “leading” and most people can give the “socially desirable” answer: what they think the interviewer wants to hear. As a result, people’s self-reports of background, strengths, and preferences do not provide reliable information about their competencies. Behavioural interview is quite different in several ways from traditional interviewing techniques and are one of the most effective...
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