A Behavioral Event Interview is a 1 to 1½ hour interview, in which the interviewee is asked to provide highly detailed accounts of how he/she approached 4-7 important accomplishments or other key events from the past year or two in the job. The interviewer uses a probing strategy to get the interviewee to walk through the sequence of what he/she did, said and thought at key points during each accomplishment or event.

The Behavioral Event Interview is usually conducted with superior performers. The assumption underlying the interview is that studying the interviewee’s actions, thoughts and words in these key situations will reveal underlying competencies responsible for superior performance.

For the analysis, each interview is tape recorded and transcribed. An analyst carefully reads each transcript and notes passages evidencing effective behaviors or thought patterns. These passages are noted on index cards or a spreadsheet template, along with the interviewee’s initials and the transcript page and line number. The analysts classify the themes by using a conceptual framework of generic competencies and behavioral indicators. The analysts then meet to review the evidence from their individual analysis and to identify competencies and behavioral indicators for the competency model. This process usually demonstrates that the superior performers used certain generic competencies and behavioral indicators from the conceptual framework used to classify the themes. But the process often reveals new behavioral indicators and competencies that were not part of the original conceptual framework.

Typical Structure of a Behavioral Event Interview

  • Introduction explaining the purpose of the project and of the format and purpose of the interview
  • Brief section on interviewee’s main responsibilities to provide orientation for the interviewer
  • “Event” questions asking the interviewee to provide detailed accounts how he/she approached key accomplishments and other work experiences
  • Follow-up probing of the interviewee’s response to each “event” question, to:
  • A closing question asking for the interviewee’s views about the personal characteristics needed for effectiveness in the job
  • Follow-up probing for examples from the interviewee’s experience

Advantages of Behavioral Event Interviews

  • Provide specific, high-quality behavioral data describing what superior performers do to achieve superior results
  • Surface non-obvious effective behaviors that job incumbents and their bosses may be unaware of or unable to articulate
  • Provide strong evidence for a competency model’s validity – evidence that is especially important if the model will be used for external selection
  • Provide excellent case material that can be adapted for use in developing training materials

Disadvantages of Behavioral Event Interviews

  • Are time consuming to conduct
  • Require extensive interview training and practice to ensure that high-quality data will be obtained
  • Are time consuming to analyze
  • Require training and practice to ensure the quality of the analysis

Structured Event Interviews

The Structured Event Interview is a simplified type of Behavioral Event Interview developed by Workitect to provide many of the benefits of Behavioral Event Interview, while significantly reducing the time and cost required to conduct and analyze the interview. This interview takes about one hour to conduct and focuses on three accomplishments, each of which is related to performance of a different main responsibility. The Structured Event Interview Protocol includes both “event” questions and specified follow-up questions that guide the interviewer through the process of probing each accomplishment. The protocol includes spaces to capture key information in response to each specified question.

This interview is taught in Workitect’s Building Competency Models workshop.

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