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What is a Structured Interview?

It’s best to go into the hiring process with a well-formed plan of action, and a structured job interview can be a key part of that plan. What are the benefits of a structured interview? Which specific questions work best? Here are the highlights of this method of interviewing and why you should consider it for your next hire’s interview process.

Structured Interview Defined

Unlike unstructured interviews, where the hiring manager can make up questions on the fly using a more conversational feel, structured interviews require more planning. These specific questions are determined in advance. While they may be changed slightly between departments or roles, they are used in every interview to create consistency across the hiring process and to evaluate job performance on an even playing field.

Why Would You Use a Structured Interview?

Of the benefits of structured interviews, the most striking may be that it creates less stress on the interviewer. Hiring managers have enough to consider and plan for, and having a predetermined set of open-ended questions can take some of the unnecessary prep work out of the already-busy manager’s day.

The information gained from this type of interview is very quantitative, so it’s easier to make a hiring decision based on facts, experience, or skills as opposed to a general “feeling” or the personality of the candidate. When working with several or even dozens of candidates, this offers consistent data results that can be easily scored or compared.

One other notable perk is that structured interviews present the same interview experience for everyone. It doesn’t rely on the personal preferences of the interviewer, and it reduces the chance that the candidate will perceive bias. It’s more likely to follow equal opportunity hiring practices and discourage discrimination. For those who want the least legal complications, the advantages of structured interviews are hard to ignore.

What is the Difference Between A Structured and An Unstructured Interview?

While both can be used in a variety of situations, the main difference between an unstructured interview and structured interview is that the structured interview questions are written out ahead of time and asked of all candidates. Unstructured, on the other hand, asks different questions of different candidates and lets the conversation prompt what’s asked.  You can read more on what an unstructured interview is here.

How to Conduct a Structured Interview

While conducting a structured interview is like any other interview, in theory, the planning is much more detailed. Your process may look something like this:

  • Read or revise the job description for the open role
  • Divide job requirements into soft skills and hard skills
  • Create questions that address each of the skills you listed and add in general questions
  • Create a rating scale to assess each answer and the candidate’s overall qualifications
  • Train the interviewers on how to ask and score the questions, along with general interview tips
  • Interview the candidate
  • Score the answers and assess each candidate for suitability for the next phase of hiring

Sample structured interview questions

Your questions should provide a good balance between several desirable characteristics. Sample questions that indicate suitability in each area include the following.

Attention to detail

  • Are you more likely to create a strategy or make sure it gets done?
  • Share a time that you developed a new process. What did you like most about the experience?
  • What are your favorite tools for staying on task with work goals? Why do you like them?

Behavioral traits

  • Imagine a new workplace policy is being discussed in a meeting. Are you most likely to ask questions? Sit and listen? Offer feedback? Something else?
  • Tell me about a time that you were proud of meeting a goal. Why do you think it went well for you?

Coachability

  • Who was your favorite workplace mentor or manager? What did you like most about working with them?
  • How have you improved in your career since you first started?

Critical thinking

  • When was the last time you found that your specific job was difficult to do? What did you do to overcome the challenge it presented?
  • Do you ever think about better ways to complete tasks? If so, what do you do after you come up with these ideas?

Integrity

  • What would you do if you thought you couldn’t meet an obligation?
  • Have you ever felt that you could have done a better job at something in your work? What steps would you take in the future to prevent that feeling?

How to Score Structured Interviews

Creating a scoring system takes much of the interpretative work out of the hiring process. Base your scorecard on a rating scale, such as 1-10. You will also want to create a key so that everyone doing the interviews will know what makes a response a 2 versus a 6. An example of a question regarding organization may look like this:

  • Rating of 8-10: Uses checklists and planning tools to know what work needs to be one
  • Rating of 4-7: Needs direction, but will work with some planning tools when it suits them
  • Rating of 1-3: Doesn’t write down tasks to be done for the day or use available tracking systems

If you have many applicants answering the same questions, you may find it easier to rate them all at one time, question by question, comparing notes of each to determine your results. Do not leave any scoring unfinished, even if you think a candidate may not be doing well against the others. The final number of the score is important.

Limitations of Structured Interviews

While this method works very well, it’s not perfect. Some of the disadvantages of structured interviews include:

  • Not as flexible. It’s difficult to pivot to new opportunities within an interview or to dig deeper into an area of interest with follow-up questions.
  • May lose interest. Interviewers asking the same questions of dozens of candidates may not be as receptive or could appear bored or uninvolved.
  • Inappropriate for all personality types. Some candidates or candidate positions won’t tell you what you need to know from standard questions and answers. Not all behavioral issues will be apparent without further questioning.
  • Rely too much on scoring. The structured interview is only as good as how well each interviewer uses the scoring model. If used inconsistently or without care, quality candidates may slip through the cracks.

Structured interviews are the norm for professional human resource teams who value data. Remember that the candidate is human, and use a warm tone and active listening in combination with these standardized questions. This way, you can create a welcoming experience for every candidate, even if it’s the hundredth time you’ve asked the questions.

Want to learn even more about how to make your interviews better? Check out how interviewing with Comeet’s ATS can improve your hiring process from start to finish.

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Barry Lenson

Barry Lenson

Barry Lenson has spent more than 25 years writing blogs, website copy, and books on business, education, healthcare, and the arts. He has written and co-authored more than a dozen books, including the Amazon.com bestseller Good Stress, Bad Stress. Barry earned degrees from McGill and Yale.

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