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Behavioral Interview - Principles

What is a Behavioral Event Interview (BEI)?

A Behavioral Event Interview (BEI) is a structured interview that is used to collect information about past behavior. It is an interview technique based on the premise that the best predictor of future behavior is the past behavior 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.

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 behaviors, thoughts, and actions the interviewee has shown in actual situations.

Standard Steps involved in a BEI

Generally a BEI conducted for Role Assessment contains five steps. The steps are as follows:

Introduction and Explanation

The purpose of this step in the BEI is to establish a sense of mutual trust and good will between interviewer and the interviewee so that he or she is relaxed, open, and ready to talk.

Job Description (Roles & Responsibilities and Accountabilities)

- The purpose of this step in the BEI is to get the interviewee to describe his or her most important job tasks, responsibilities and desired output.

- Use questions like what are your major tasks or responsibilities? What do you actually do? What do you do in a given day, week, or month?”

- Listen for possible incidents when the interviewee is describing his/her responsibilities as this may lead you to critical incidents. Use the interviewee’s description of job tasks and responsibilities to provide a “natural” transition to describing a critical incident.

- Not more than 5 to 10 minutes should be spent on this part of the interview

Behavioural Events

- The purpose of this step in the BEI is to get the interviewee to describe complete stories of critical incidents. This section should take up the bulk of the interview time and should provide specific details.

- Tactically get multiple Behavioural Events. Make the transition to the next incident by reinforcing the person for the story he or she has just told. You can say, “That’s exactly the kind of incident I’m looking for.... Can you think of another time or situation on the job when things went particularly well or were particularly difficult?” When the interviewee comes up with a specific event, you should try to get the complete story using key probes.

- Always be on the lookout for themes and Patterns in the stories. As the interviewee tells you additional incidents, you are learning about his or her actions. You should ask questions that will verify or double-check inferences you are beginning to draw about his or her competencies.

Key points – Do’s:

· Begin BEI with a Positive Event - Most people find it easier to speak about their high points or successes - times they felt they were most effective.

· Narration of Incidents in a time Sequence - Try to get the interviewee to begin the story at the beginning and take you through the story as it unfolded. If the story is not going in a sequence, fill in all the gaps in the narrative by asking for the data you need to get a complete story. When the interviewee identifies a critical sub incident, continue by asking the BEI questions: “What led up to that situation...” and so on.

· Discuss Actual Situation - Focus the interviewee on real past occurrences rather than on hypothetical responses, philosophising or espoused behaviours. Always probe espoused and hypothetical responses by asking for a specific example.

· Use Probes for specifics - In doing a BEI, be an investigative reporter, continuously probing for facts. Keep your probes short - not more than 6 to 10 words - and in the past tense and emphasise on Who, Where, How, What of a situation. Try to zero-in on to “I” as far as possible rather than on “we” by asking “Who, specifically?”

· Use Probes to uncover covert actions, motives and intentions - Probe for thought processes and feelings in technical problem solving, pattern recognition, strategic planning etc.

· Manage Interviewee’s emotions - Be appreciative of good incidents. Some people need a lot of encouragement and stimulation to really get into the process of telling a good story. You can nod and simile, continually say, “um, hum” or “That’s exactly the kind of incident or detail I’m looking for”. Talking about critical successes - and particularly failures – may arouse strong feelings in a person. If the person is becoming emotionally involved, you may need to stop probing and sympathize with or just listen respectfully until the interviewee calms down.

Key points – Don’ts:

· Don’t use Questions that lead to Abstractions - Hypothetical responses, philosophising, and espoused theories do not serve the purpose of the BEI.

· Present, future, and conditional tense questions are particularly dangerous. For example:

- Present tense: Why do you do that?

Change it to: What was going through your mind when you did that?

- Hypothetical: What could you have done?

Change it to: What did you do?

- Espoused: What do you usually do?

Change it to: What did you actually do? Kindly give me details of the situation with actual examples.

· Don’t Use Leading Questions - Don’t put words or thoughts into the interviewee’s mind. Your leading probe may bias the interview data by introducing a competency the interviewee doesn’t really have. Similarly, don’t jump to a conclusion. Sticks to facts. When in doubt probe!

· Don’t jump from one situation to another without finishing one at a time. Don’t let the interviewee change the topic or go on to a new incident until you have a complete the present behavioural event

· Don’t Probe with narrow questions - In Job Competency Assessment such as in this case where the BEI is used to identify competencies important to doing a job, it is better to cast the widest net possible. Whether what an interviewee considers “critical” is actually “critical” - is an important clue to their competencies. Often superior and average interviewees’ choice of critical incidents is very different.

Possible problems and dealing with them

The interviewee can’t think of a Specific Event.

To deal with this, narrate an experience of your own in behavioural event story to illustrate the kind of material you want. Give an example of a good behavioural event from someone else you have interviewed but be careful not to lead the interviewee.

The interviewee’s answers are vague

To deal with this, you must shift the interviewee out of abstraction and get him or her to focus on and tell you about a concrete event with specificity of situation, time, people involved, incidents, etc.

The interviewee is concerned about Confidentiality

To deal with this, reassure the interviewee and provide him or her with a way to continue telling the incident without loss of crucial details but also without violating confidentiality concerns. You may ask him or her that you don’t need any names but you are only interested in what basically happened and his or her part in it.

The Interviewee starts dominating and directing the Interview

To deal with this, interrupt the interviewee. Be very direct about what you want. Keep interrupting (politely) until the interviewee focuses on a single incident.

The Interviewee asks you for Advice

Don’t get moved. Try to turn the interviewee’s question back into another incident.

Characteristics needed to do the Job

- The purpose of this step in the BEI is to get additional critical incidents in areas that may have been overlooked by asking interviewees what characteristics, knowledge, skills, or abilities they think are needed to do their job. If they were hiring or training someone to do their job, what would they look for?

- While this question may appear very hypothetical (something that the BEI method tries to avoid) in fact, it helps in getting additional critical incidents that may shed light on some of the organisation’s espoused values.

· If the Interviewee can’t think of any knowledge or skill characteristics needed to do the job and the interviewer has enough incidents, terminate the interview at this point. If not, continue to probe by encouraging the interviewee.

Conclusion and Summary

- Conclude the interview by thanking the interviewee for his or her time and the “valuable information”. If required, you may need to “cool out” the interviewee by sympathising with his or her situation.

· After the interview is over it is a good idea to immediately note and summarize the observations. Observations should be recorded in the given format and an attempt is to be made on your part to make sure that nothing has been left out.

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