The Behavioral Event Interview (BEI) is a foundational component of any executive assessment process. In conjunction with other assessment methodologies (e.g., psychometric personality and leadership measures, cognitive ability tests, simulations) it creates a powerful tool for assessing the strengths and capabilities of any leader.
Over the course of my career, I've worked with many psychologists and management consultants that use the BEI. At its worst, some management consultants treat the BEI as a clinical intake interview. They delve into a candidate's childhood, upbringing, and early life experiences, and then make subjective inferences about the candidate's leadership style today. This is wrong. It leads to inferences and conclusions that are not backed by objective data.
The right way to conduct a BEI is with the Threat of the Reference Check (TORC). In this methodology, the consultant asks the candidate questions pertaining to how other people (e.g., former managers, peers, and direct reports) would speak to their leadership. The process involves the candidate completing an employment information questionnaire with names and contact information of former managers and colleagues. This sets the stage for possible reference checks following the BEI. The candidates are told this upfront before they begin the interview. Then, throughout the interview, the consultants ask the following question:
"I see that John Smith was your manager at ABC Corporation. If I was to follow-up with John after our interview, what would he say about your strengths? What would he say about your development areas? What would he tell me about your leadership style?"
This line of questioning extends throughout the BEI as the candidate takes the consultant through their work history. So, throughout the BEI, they are providing data that other colleagues would say about them with the possibility that the consultant will be doing the necessary follow-up post interview. This is a powerful way to elicit accurate, objective, and fact-based information about a candidate's work history.
Below are the five other benefits that come from the use of the TORC methodology in BEIs:
It Keeps Candidates Honest: In any BEI, there is always the possibility that the candidate will provide false information. "At company X, I was responsible for the turnaround," "I built our IT infrastructure from the ground up," "I grew our revenues by 30% over a two-year period." The TORC prevents candidates from providing misleading data. When there is a threat that the consultant will follow-up with the references listed in the employment background questionnaire, the candidates are more like to provide honest, accurate feedback. In fact, I've often conducted follow-up conversations with some of the references to ensure that the information provided by the candidate was accurate and true. So, there is always the likelihood that, as the consultant, you will have some follow-up conversations, and the candidate knows this going into the BEI.
Serves as a Guide Throughout the BEI: The process and format of the TORC methodology allows for a consistent cadence throughout the BEI. The candidates quickly understand the rhythm of the interview and it prevents any off-course tangents from taking place. It also helps the consultant to stick to the leadership and behavioral script. I've seen too many consultants make an inference and go off on a completely irrelevant path that wastes time in the BEI. Cadence and rhythm are important in BEIs. The TORC methodology allows for this to take place.
Provides Objective Data: As consultants and management psychologists, we are constantly making inferences about the candidates we meet. We make inferences from psychometric instruments like the Korn Ferry 4 Dimensions (KF4D) or the Hogan. We come up with hypotheses from 360 data (survey or interview based). The BEI is the place for fact checking and exploring some of these hypotheses. Using the TORC methodology is the best way to get as objective as we can in the interview. It creates a connection between work history and the people that the candidate has worked with (i.e, the people that can speak to their strengths, weakness, and leadership style).
Makes Assessment Reports Impactful: The TORC methodology provides consultants with the most accurate interview data for the report write-up. I've seen one too many consultants make subjective inferences in the interview, and then the report becomes more of an exercise in creative writing rather than based on concrete, fact-based data. TORC questions speak to experiences the candidate has had, and then the people who can comment on their skills and behaviors in those situations. If a BEI is conducted with the TORC properly, the report should write itself.
Allows Feedback Sessions to be In-Depth Discussions about Past Experiences: Feedback is a critical piece of the assessment process. This is especially true for the sponsors of the work. When a consultant can provide sponsors, or decision-making stakeholders, with objective work experiences backed by behaviors that took place in those experiences, strong hiring or promotion decisions can take place. For example, a sponsor may ask, "Can Tim build a team?" The consultant can quickly reference three instances where Tim has built a successful team, and the input from others on what that actually looked like. This creates a powerful feedback conversation where inferences of future performance can be determined.
The TORC methodology is the best way to conduct a BEI. It allows for objective, fact-based data to be collected and used in the assessment process. It helps consultants and management psychologists draw the best inferences from assessments with candidates.
Adam C. Bandelli, Ph.D. is an Associate Client Partner at Korn Ferry/Hay Group, the preeminent authority on leadership and talent.
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