Employee Selection

February 4, 2020

Danielle Braff

The Structured Interview: How and Why

The Structured Interview: How and Why
Danielle Braff
A structured interview ensures that all candidates are evaluated on the same criteria.

You’ve got a group of candidates interested in a position at your company. You’re one step away from having a wonderful group of new employees – you just need to ace this interview process.

Yes, you need to ace this interview process. Surprised? Sometimes, the interview process can be just as difficult for the employer as it is for the candidate. So we’re here to help you create a hiring process that works for your company using the structured interview method. It’s so popular because it can be used again and again for all your candidates- it’s versatile! Plus, a structured interview process can be applied to phone and panel interviews, and those conducted by multiple people in HR, with the same results. 

Pros and cons of the structured interview

Also known as the standardized interview, the structured interview is a list of questions offered to every applicant for a single position. All the applicants are asked identical questions in the same order. The idea is that it’s easier to compare the interviewees because they’re all on the same scale, although the questions are typically open-ended- meaning you’ll get different answers. A lot of interviewers opt to use a standardized scoring system for the interview as well, so they’re able to rate each candidate by question and narrow their candidate choices from there.

A structured interview ensures that all candidates are evaluated on the same criteria, and eliminates the possibility of asking illegal interview questions. How? All questions are determined ahead of time, and vetted by the appropriate individuals within the organization. This streamlines the process and gives potential employers the ability to objectively evaluate answers regardless of race, gender, and age. 

It’s very easy to determine who’s the most prepared for the interview if you use this method. You can easily compare responses, even if different people are asking the questions in various sessions. It’s also easy to prepare yourself for this interview, as you only have to create one set of questions.

The biggest limitation to the structured interview is its lack of flexibility. Since you’re supposed to stick to the list of questions, you can’t ask follow-up or impromptu questions based on the candidate’s responses. Therefore, this interview style may lack some of the details that other types may be able to withdraw. For example, you may learn that the prospective employee studied computer science in college, but if the question about what led them to choose that major isn’t on the list of questions, then you may miss out on an important part of their background. 

Also, while a benefit to the structured method is the ease with which you can conduct an interview (after you’ve created a list of questions), it’s important to note that your list of questions will be different depending on the position you’re hiring for. In other words, someone interviewing for a managerial position will need a different set of questions than someone interviewing for a sales position. It’s fairly straightforward, but worth mentioning nonetheless. 

Creating a structured interview

Before you even think about writing anything down, you need to determine the skills that are needed for your open position. To do this, look at past skill requirements for similar jobs, and ask the department head or supervisor their preferred list of expertise for the open position.

The requirements of the position can be hard skills (educational experience, certain degrees and certificates, experience levels, or years of experience in a certain field) or soft skills (aka interpersonal skills or people skills, like communication and the ability to learn). You may also want to ask about your candidate’s prior experience in working on a team, or if they have any that involves leading a department.

Once you create your set of questions, the structured interview can be used as a template for all future interviews, for any open positions in your organization as long as they’re for the same specific job. This helps ensure that your interviews are consistent and legal (don’t ask anything related to the candidate’s age, gender, sexual preference, race, country of national origin, marital status, or religion) while reducing interview prep-time for your hiring managers.

So what are some good interview questions to ask?

First, figure out what’s most important to the position. Are there skills the applicant needs to know? Is there a company culture that’s essential to the teamwork mentality? You may want to ask how he works with others, or what skills she has related to the job. You also want to know whether their prior experiences will help them in their potential new role. 

Write questions that are specifically related to the job and its functions. If you’re hiring for a customer service position, explain a scenario where the potential employee encounters an irate customer. Ask the candidate to explain how he or she would deal with that situation. You can create several scenario questions for different aspects of the job and different situations the candidate will probably encounter.

Make sure all your interviewers know what they’re doing.

Between each question, include a scale or checkboxes to indicate how well the interviewee liked or disliked the candidate’s answers.There should also be a space to write down a summary of what the candidate said for later review. Your scale can be any designation you wish- just remember to include your reasoning behind the rating you gave your candidate’s answers.

The other key component to your rating system is that everybody involved with interviewing candidates knows exactly what they’re doing. It’s important to make sure that all your interviewers have a copy of the interview questions prior to the interview days. That way, you’re getting ahead of any questions they might have. 

You should also establish ground rules for how to conduct candidate interviews. Since structured interviews rely on every candidate having the same interview questions, make sure the interviewers know not to ask questions that aren’t on the sheets- unless they’re trying to get a more clear explanation. If additional questions were asked to get a more complete answer, that should be noted on the question sheet.

Once everyone is onboard with the questions and interview process, it’s time for candidates to be called. From here, interviews will be conducted, and a meeting will follow so that either the candidates can be evaluated separately, or one clear choice is hired. Use that meeting to decide whether a second round of interviews is necessary (and if it is, you’ll have to create a new question sheet). 

Through the process of asking standard questions, you’re ensuring that your hiring process is combating bias. You’re opening up your options to all qualified applicants, and making an effort to keep everyone on a level playing field. By giving everyone a fair chance, you’re allowing yourself to hire the best people for the job. 

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