Behavioral event interviewing is a style of job interview in which you are asked seemingly general questions about what you have done in the past. The idea behind BEI is to gain information about how you behave in given situations, so that the interviewer can learn more about you than asking any specific question. While it's not always possible to know what the interviewer is looking for when she asks a BEI question, following the STAR -- situation, task, action, result -- technique can increase the likelihood that you will give a complete and satisfactory answer.
The STAR Technique
The STAR technique is designed to give you an easy way to remember how to fully answer a BEI question. After you receive the question, start by describing the exact situation that the interviewer wants to learn about. Next, drill down to the actual task that you needed to complete. Continue by describing the actions that you took to complete the task, and finish by describing the results you achieved. The interviewer may not say a great deal to prompt you, so you will need to remember to complete the STAR without prompting.
A Successful Project
A STAR response to a question asking about a successful project you worked on might go as follows. Each point of the STAR is in its own sentence: "Last year, my company competed against two larger competitors to land XXX as a client. It was my responsibility to get as much information as possible about the decision maker's preferences so that we could tailor our presentation to her. I used social networking sites to find two former assistants and a former vice president that, for the cost of a couple of lunches, gave me detailed information on the decision-makers' priorities and preferences. Based on what I uncovered, our sales team went into the presentation focusing on our high level of service while our competitors talked about the advanced technology in their products and, because of this, we won the business."
A Failed Project
Some interviewers will ask you about failed projects to see how you handle adversity, both in terms of trying to solve the problem and learning from it. An answer using the STAR technique might go as follows: "A few years ago, our company decided to roll out a single mobile platform to replace our old cell phone devices. After researching all of the options, I recommended that we use phones from Palm due to their physical keyboards, small size and cutting-edge technology. As you probably know, Palm failed due to poorly built phones with a buggy operating system and our company had to swallow millions of dollars in cost. I attempted to fix the problem by working directly with developers from Palm and getting my company access to pre-release operating system updates which alleviated the problem somewhat. Ultimately, though, we scrapped the phones. I recommended going to a BYOD (bring your own device) policy which saved the company from having to provide employees with cell phones. In the long run, the change in policy saved millions of dollars."
Typical BEI Questions
Most BEI questions are structured to get you to tell a story about something you did in the past. Some, like "give me an example of a successful project," or "tell me when you used logic to solve a problem" are very positive. Others, like "describe a time time you had to deal with a non-performing team member" or "tell me about when you dealt with an angry customer" are trying to see how you handle challenging situations. A BEI question is phrased differently from a more traditional question like "are you good at dealing with angry customers." When you hear the BEI phrasing, be prepared to give an answer in the STAR format.
Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the "Minnesota Real Estate Journal" and "Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate." Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.