A behavioural event interview asks applicants for specific examples of past behaviours that relate to the competencies required to execute a job well. The principle being that the best predictor of future performance is past performance in similar circumstances.

A good behavioural event interview feels more like a conversation rather than an interview trying to find out facts. It finds out facts through “back door” questions rather than “front door questions”.

Responses to behavioural event interview questions are much more difficult to exaggerate or distort than any other the other types of questions. If one is skilled in the art of reading body language one can tell if people are recalling information or making it up. Generally speaking, liars go left, the righteous go right.

However, interviewers with even rudimentary body language skills can tell when a person is genuinely confident about their response to the question. Good behavioural event questions make it hard to not tell the truth.

The validity of applicant’s responses may also be checked by asking applicants for the names and contact details of individuals who can verify the events.

Completing a competency analysis, even in the form of a simple competency rubric, before the event takes place allows recruiters to rate interviewees answers against the desired competency.

A competency rubric comprises a table of rows of competency headings and three columns of outcome focused descriptions which correspond to defined differentiated performance levels; for example, “Developing”, “Accomplished” and “Exemplary”.

Behavioural event interviews consist of a lead question followed by a series of probing questions. The purpose of the questions is to elicit responses containing detailed information on the behaviour of the interviewee from past job-related or personal experiences that led to an outcome.

Lead questions can be grouped under behaviour, skills and knowledge.

The most common lead question starts with, “Tell me about a time when”, although other questions are often more penetrating. I find that most interviewees have prepared for, “Tell me about a time”, questions.

The simplest probing question is, “Tell me more.” Another simple one is, “What would you do differently now?”

The object is to keep the interviewee talking about their experiences, revealing more about their genuine involvement and impact.

As an example of a behavioural event interview, some questions that I have found to be successful in interviewing for a position of breakfast supervisor at an hotel restaurant include the following.


  1. What have your detractors said about you in previous roles? Why?
    • Detractors normally concentrate on behavioural strengths. One person’s strength being a weakness in someone else’s view.
  2. What is the worst mistake you have made in a previous role? What happened? What could have prevented it?
    • We learn more from our mistakes. It is our ability to learn from them that sets good performers apart from poor ones.
  3. What kinds of people have frustrated you?
    • The mirror image of the detractor’s question. This question tells us something about the values of the interviewee.
  4. What would your previous subordinates say about you? Why? Tell me about one that really did not like you? Why? What did you do about it?
    • This question tells us something about their management style and their ability to influence. “Subordinates” may be replaced by “superiors”.


A five part series of questions to pull out both the skills the interviewee believes they possess, their strategic and tactical thinking capabilities and their self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses.

  1. What are the key results that must be delivered in a restaurant that wants to have a “five star” reputation?
  2. Tell me about your experience driving the achievement of these results in the past?
  3. What were the key risks? Why? How did you mitigate them?
  4. From your past experience, what personal skills do you have that will help you achieve the results here?
  5. From your past experience, what personal qualities do you think you might need help with?

As well as listening for content, watch body language and listen for the tone and pace of voice for genuine passion for their achievements and how they achieved it. Validation can also be achieved through checking named contacts who worked with them in the role they referenced in their response.


  1. Tell me about the restaurants you have worked in. What was good about them? What was bad about them?
    • The knowledge of what it takes to run a good or great restaurant will show through.
  2. What is your favourite restaurant? What is the best food you had there? What did you like about it? What wine did you have with it?
    • The undeniable passion of a “foodie” should shine through. Their knowledge of food, wines and combining the two should be obvious.
  3. Here is a copy of our current menu. From your previous experience, what wines would you recommend for us to stock, to complement the dishes you like the most?
    • Their level of ability to match wine with food based on ingredients and preparation will be clear.

Recruitment of staff has a major and lasting impact on an organisation. Using behavioural event interviewing techniques will help differentiate between good performers and poor performers better than typical interviews asking direct questions.