How to conduct a structured interview

Nikoletta Bika | |

A structured interview is a systematic approach to interviewing where you ask the same predetermined questions to all candidates in the same order and you rate them with a standardized scoring system. This method is almost twice as effective as the traditional interview.

Think about your usual interview process for a moment. Do you have a list of common interview questions from which you choose a few examples on the spot (in other words a semi-structured interview)? Or do you prefer the unstructured interview, doing no preparation at all? Without a pre-determined scoring system, your interpretation of the candidate’s answer may often be based on intuition. The loose flow can even pose litigation risks as spontaneous questions won’t have been assessed for legality in advance.

A structured interview works differently. Here, we provide a step by step guide to transform informal discussions with candidates into reliable, structured processes:

What makes a structured interview?

During a structured interview, the predetermined questions you ask are all correlated to important job competencies derived from a detailed job description. The questions can be either behavioral or situational. They’re rated with a specific scoring system with a range of acceptable answers. When there is more than one interviewer, the team should reach a consensus on the order of questions and the interpretation of answers.

This process has shown greater reliability and validity than the unstructured interview, reducing the likelihood of a bad hire. It still doesn’t predict future job performance like work samples or cognitive tests do, but it has the added benefit of face-to-face contact. Structured interviews also ensure that you can reduce discrimination issues since all candidates are treated fairly and given the same opportunities to showcase their abilities. Yes, it takes a little more time and expense but its benefits far outweigh its costs.

How do you conduct a structured interview?

Step 1: Job analysis

For each position, you have to use job analysis to match skills to job tasks. Information from this process is essential to design a structured interview. It can help you develop a professional and informative job ad, structured interview questions as well as salary ranges. Apart from selection, it can also help towards your training and organizational needs.

Tip: Results of a job analysis may be already in place. If not, you can do it using a variety of methods like interviews, questionnaires and observation. Common job descriptions may help you identify duties and qualifications that fit your own requirements.

Step 2: Define requirements

Now that you have a list of requirements needed for the position, you need to provide a full definition for each one. For example, what are communication skills? We all understand it in the abstract but you need to indicate what this means for a specific role. This will be a great help for later when you’ll have to develop a grading scale or behavioral examples.

Tip: Depending on the position, you can even divide competencies in core and secondary and place different weight on each one.

Step 3: Develop lead and probing questions

Interview questions should be developed with great care, preferably with the help of an expert. Assuming you’ll have to evaluate around six core attributes, you can develop a set of 12 structured interview questions. The number is largely up to you though, you can ask less or more if you have time.

Both situational and behavioral questions are job-related. You can choose great questions from existing lists and categorize them according to the requirements you want to assess. If you have situations that are expected to happen frequently to a position, you can include them in the process. Take care, though, to link them to specific attributes that have been indicated from the job analysis and have experts test them if possible.

Probing questions aim to clarify points or gain more information about the candidate’s answers and should also be predetermined. The following structured interview example comes from the US. Department of Personnel Management (OPM) and uses the STAR method (Situation/Task, Action and Result) to ask probing questions:

Competency: Interpersonal Skills — Shows understanding, friendliness, courtesy, tact, empathy, concern, and politeness to others; develops and maintains effective relationships [..].

Initial Question: A very angry client walks up to your desk. She says she was told your office had sent her an overdue check 5 days ago. She claims she has not received the check. She says she has bills to pay and no one will help her. How would you handle this situation?

Probing questions: Why do you believe this situation occurred? (Situation/Task), What factors would affect your course of action? (Action), How do you think your action would be received? (Result).

Step 4: Determine grading scale

The presence of a scoring system is very important to ensure objective decisions. You can choose the common scale of five or seven points ranging from low to high. The key here is to accurately define the scoring levels.

According to the abovementioned example from the OPM for interpersonal skills, the grading scale can look like this:

Level 1- Low: Handles interpersonal situations involving little or no tension or discomfort and requires close guidance

Level 3- Average: Handles interpersonal situations involving a moderate degree of tension or discomfort and requires occasional guidance

Level 5- Outstanding: Handles interpersonal situations involving a high degree of tension or discomfort and advises others

It’s also helpful to develop examples of behaviors for each grading level specific to the position. The distinction between them will be more apparent this way.

Want more detail on how to anchor your rating scales? Download our free structured interviews guide.

Tip: Test the reliability and validity of the grading scale along with interview questions with the help of subject matter experts.

Step 5: Conduct the interview

Structured interviews may be challenging for an interviewer. It’s best if there’s a guide that hiring managers can use as a reference to understand and follow the process. Some training may be necessary for those unfamiliar with the structured model.

Being friendly, respectful and avoiding mistakes that put off candidates are a matter of importance in all interview forms.

Tip: Take clear and concise notes to help you remember answers. Avoid writing down your assessment of the answer but do write the answer’s main points. Resist the temptation to evaluate attributes that aren’t job-related and not included in your planning.

Disadvantages and limitations

The disadvantages of structured interviews reflect the benefits of the unstructured interview. The latter proceeds more like a conversation and allows for a personal connection between interviewer and interviewee. Conversely, the structured interview may appear cold and impersonal without allowing participants to digress from the established interview process. The interviewer can still be friendly and help the candidate to relax but the lack of spontaneity makes the environment stricter and doesn’t permit exploration of interesting tangents that may come up.

Moreover, the structured interview, for all its preparation and standardization, is still not immune to interviewer biases. The existence of a panel of interviewers may moderate their effect, but it doesn’t help to make the process any more comfortable for the candidate.

Nevertheless, for more senior roles or positions of responsibility, it’s a good idea to use a structured interview that can mitigate the risk of a bad hire. Keep in mind though, that selection should include different types of assessments. Leave the interview as a final stage and include work samples, tests and other methods to craft a complete, reliable hiring process.

How to structure interviews with Workable

Workable’s interview kits and scorecards can help you structure an interview process. Create templates for use company-wide or per-department, include customized questions per job, automatically share scorecards and easily aggregate your team’s feedback.

Looking for an all-in-one recruiting solution? Workable can improve candidate sourcing, interviewing and applicant tracking for a streamlined hiring process. Sign up for our 15-day free trial today.

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Nikoletta Bika

Nikoletta Bika is a senior writer at Workable and holds an MSc in HR. She writes about all things HR and recruiting, with a particular interest in bias, data, technology and the future of work. She hates meaningless jargon and dreams about space travel. She tweets @Nikoletta_Bika.

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