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Behavioral Event Interviewing

Pamela Norman
December 21, 2020

During a job interview, interviewers seek to discover how you will behave if they hire you. Good interviewers know that the best person to give them that information is you, and they often use a particular type of questioning technique to glean it from you. That technique is called Behavioral Event Interviewing or BEI.

BEI is a type of open-ended questioning that asks you to describe different events (situations) in your past, how you handled them (behavior), and what the outcomes (results) were. In past-focused scenarios, interviewers ask you, “What did you do [in the past]” in order to determine “What will you do [in the future]?” if they hire you. This strategy is based on the premise that your past behavior is the greatest predictor of your future behavior.

Let’s use a nonprofessional example to illustrate this point. Suppose a person was planning to make a bet on one of two runners who were about to begin training for an upcoming race. The person making the bet (the “bettor”) was asked to do so before the two runners began training. The bettor stood to win a large sum of money if the contestant whom he/she wagered on won the race.

Before selecting the contestant to wager on, the bettor was given the chance to talk with both contestants and to ask each of them one question. If the bettor was using the BEI technique, that question might be something like this: “Tell me about a time when you had to train for a race. What was the situation, how did you go about it (behavior), and what were the results?”

With this technique, the person placing the wager is asking the contestants to describe their behavior and results in past situations in order to predict their behavior and results in future situations. If the contestants answer well, the bettor will feel more comfortable placing a wager on their success in the upcoming race. Likewise, if the contestants do not answer well, the bettor will feel less comfortable placing a wager on their success.

Now let’s say that the first runner (a woman) answered the question by describing a time when she had trained for a triathlon. She described how she trained daily without fail and how she set and achieved a goal of finishing in the top ten participants. Let’s also suppose that the second runner (a man) described a situation when had trained for a race. He described how he intended to train daily, but that schedule conflicts often got in the way. He also said he set a goal that he did not meet, but that he was OK with that.

What kinds of perceptions did those stories create in the mind of the bettor? Given those past behaviors, what do you think the bettor surmised about each runners’ future behaviors? Based on their answers to this BEI-type question, which runner do you think the bettor would decide to place a wager on for the upcoming race?

This is exactly what happens during an interview for a professional position. Interviewers are the bettors. They are trying to decide whether or not to “bet” (place their company’s money) on you. Just as in the above example, real interviewers would be more likely to “bet” on a candidate whose behaviors create a positive perception. And who do you think creates that perception?  Yes, you do. As Goethe said, “Behavior is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image.” That is why understanding Behavioral Event Interviewing and how to answer BEI-type questions well are important to your interview success.

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