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Conducting the Behavioral Event Interview (BEI)

Newsletter • volume 1 • number 13

One method of developing the competencies described by D. C. McClelland (see Competency-based Interviewing) is by conducting Behavioral Event Interviews. The objective of a Behavioral Event Interview (BEI) is to get very detailed behavioral descriptions of how a person goes about doing his or her work. The interviewer's job is to elicit complete stories that describe the interviewee's specific behaviors, thoughts, and actions in actual situations.

BEIs are very focused, clinical-type, recorded interviews which can take from 2-2 1/2 hours to complete. They require working with a candidate to develop a series of "behavioral events." After each interview, the recording is analyzed for evidence of competencies. The total process of recording the interview, creating transcripts and analyzing them for competencies can take up to six hours per interview.

The major step in the BEI interview is to elicit behavioral events. The interviewee is asked to describe, in detail, the five or six most important situations he or she has experienced in a specific job. The situations should include two or three high points, or major successes, and two or three low points, or key failures. The candidate is asked to answer five key questions.

"What was the situation? What events led up to it?"

"Who was involved?"

"What did you (the interviewee) think, feel, or want to do in the situation?"

Here the person conducting the behavioral event interviewing process should be particularly interested in the person's perceptions and feelings about the situation and people involved in it. Follow up questions should include:

How was the person thinking about others (e.g., positively or negatively) or about the situation (e.g., problem-solving thoughts)?

What was the person feeling (e.g., scared, confident, excited)?

What did the person want to do - what motivated him or her in the situation (e.g., to do something better, to impress the boss)?

"What did you actually do or say?" Here you are interested in the skills that the person showed.

"What was the outcome? What happened?"

Trained specialists analyze the BEI transcripts to identify competencies that appear in the Behavioral Events. If the goal is to build a competency model, the process must be repeated with 8-12 "star" performers and 8-12 average performers, each providing five or six events. This means that 80-144 events must be generated and analyzed for each job. In today's busy, lean organizations, few interviewers have the time or resources for the level of individual analysis of each candidate using the Behavioral Event Interviewing methodology.