Behavioral Event Interview (BEI)

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Behavioral Event Interview: this article describes Behavioral Event Interview (BEI), developed by David C. McClelland, in a practical way. After reading you will understand the definition and basics of this powerful Human Resources concept.

What is Behavioral Event Interview (BEI)?

Behavioral Event Interview (BEI) is a way of interviewing others in a structured form and is widely used in selection processes for new employees to identify certain behavioural aspects.

The technique is based on the assumption that predicting future behaviour should best be based on the knowledge about the candidate’s past behaviour.

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This explains why the word ‘behaviour’ plays a prominent role in the naming of BEI. Furthermore, the technique is based on the fact that knowledge and behaviour from the past play a crucial role in how someone will behave in the present as well as in the future.

The method was devised in the 1970s by American psychologist David C. McClelland.

McClelland is also the originator of the so-called iceberg model; behaviour, knowledge, and skills are just like an iceberg, they are mostly visible above water and only form the tip of the iceberg.

Those areas that affect behaviour—such as opinions, values, qualities, and driving factors—are mostly under water, just like an iceberg.

Only by asking questions can one dive underwater and find out what drives someone and why they display certain behaviour.

Behavioral Event Interview is a structured interview

The aim of Behavioral Event Interview (BEI) is to receive extremely detailed behavioural descriptions from the candidate on the other side of the table during the job interview.

It is about gaining insight into how someone performs their work and underlying reasons for their approach.

The person conducting the interview wishes to gain a clear view of the applicant and challenge them to tell a complete story, which is specifically about their behaviour, thoughts, and actions and describes current situations. Generally speaking, a Behavioral Event Interview (BEI) can take up to 60 to 90 minutes.

It is also convenient to prepare a number of questions in advance, with which sufficient information can be retrieved.

When speaking to multiple candidates, the prepared questions can help safeguard continuity and allow all candidates to profile themselves in the same way. The questions are mostly open and provide the candidate with the opportunity to describe certain situations well.

5 Main Questions Behavioral Event Interview (BEI)

In a Behavioral Event Interview (BEI), it is all about eliciting behavioural aspects from an applicant.

The candidate is asked to name approx. five important situations and subsequently describe how they reacted. It is important that they tell the interviewer what their specific tasks were. Moreover, these situations must contain approx. two highlights or major successes and two to three setbacks. The latter are also referred to as key weaknesses.

The five main questions as described below are also referred to as the STAR method. STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

In addition, a second R—referring to ‘Reflection’—may also be added, resulting in the question: ‘what are your thoughts on your own course of action?’

The five main questions according to the STAR method are as follows:

1. Situation – What was the situation?

When a selection board is looking for a commercially minded person who is particularly well versed in handling complaints, the candidate may be asked whether they already have enough experience and, if so, whether they can describe a situation that demonstrates their skills.

2. Task – Who was involved in the situation / What was your task in the situation?

By discovering the exact task of the candidate in the situation described, the interviewer finds out what perspective the candidate took on and how they felt at the time.

3. Task – What were your thoughts and emotions in this situation?

This task-oriented question is the follow-up to the second question. By asking this question, the interviewer discovers the candidate’s reasoning in and thoughts about the situation. This can be both in a positive and negative sense. The candidate’s emotions at the time (e.g. fear, self-confidence, happiness) especially provide important information.

4. Action – What did you ultimately do and say in this situation?

By asking this question, the BEI interviewer finds out what the candidate’s competencies are. In case of information of particular note, the interviewer may also ask further questions within the Behavioral Event Interview (BEI). For example, if the candidate says he carefully listened to the dissatisfied customer, then the interviewer may ask for examples. These are also referred to as ‘follow-up questions’. They are about figuring out what the candidate’s intrinsic motivations were and why he decided to take a certain action.

5. Result – What was the result of all the actions taken by the candidate?

After the candidate’s competences have been addressed in the fourth question, the interviewer may use the ‘result question’ to find out whether the desired effect had been achieved.

This is not just about the result from the perspective of the candidate, but also from other stakeholders, such as the customer, colleagues, and managers.

Once again, the interviewer may pose follow-up questions here.

Behavioral Event Interview: follow-up questions

In addition to these five main questions, follow-up questions may help explore the candidate’s behaviour in more detail.

For instance, think of questions such as:

  • How do you deal with work pressure?
  • In your opinion, what is a great challenge?
  • Have you ever failed in a similar situation. Why exactly?
  • Give an example of a decision that you later regretted. Why?
  • What do you believe are import elements in collaborating with others?
  • Have you ever disagreed with someone, and how did you deal with this situation?
  • What motivates you the most and why?
  • How do you motivate your colleagues, and do you have any concrete examples?

In contrast to traditional job interview questions, BEI questions are aimed at uncovering concrete examples of a candidate’s knowledge, skills, and experiences.

The answers are then directly linked to the vacancy for which a suitable candidate is being sought.

By asking how the candidate dealt with a certain situation, the interviewer will discover whether the vacancy will suit this particular person.

The competences that the candidate must have, have already been established in advance. In addition, team composition plays an important role; after all, a new candidate must also fit the team. Based on this information, STAR questions are prepared in advance according to the BEI method, allowing the interviewer to find the more suitable match.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Do you recognize the practical explanation of Behavioral Event Interview (BEI) or do you have more additions? What are your experiences with this technique and are there any tips you would like to share? Does HR use this technique in the selection of new employees within your organisation?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Kurian, S., Ribeiro, N., & Gomes, D. R. (2016). The Relevance of Behavioral Event Interview (BEI) in Selection Processes: A Corporate Sector Study. IUP Journal of Organizational Behavior, 15(1).
  2. McClelland, D. C. (1998). Identifying competencies with behavioral-event interviews. Psychological science, 9(5), 331-339.

How to cite this article:
Mulder, P. (2019). Behavioral Event Interview (BEI). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Originally posted on: 20/05/2019 | Last update: 01/21/2024

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Patty Mulder
Article by:

Patty Mulder

Patty Mulder is an Dutch expert on Management Skills, Personal Effectiveness and Business Communication. She is also a Content writer, Business Coach and Company Trainer and lives in the Netherlands (Europe).
Note: all her articles are written in Dutch and we translated her articles to English!


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