Structured interview questions: Examples and tips for hiring | Workable
Interviews

Structured interview questions: Tips and examples for hiring

Have you decided to shift towards structured interview questions? Good call. Structured interviews are twice as effective as unstructured interviews. Granted, they can take more time to prepare for. But if you get it right once, you can boost your chances of making the right hire for every future position.

To craft structured interview questions, you design a set of questions that are connected to the job-related traits you’re looking for. Then, you ask all your candidates the same questions in the same order and rate their answers using a standardized scoring system.

Here’s a guide for writing structured interview questions:

Why structured?

The more unstructured, the less job-related. If interviewers ask questions randomly and spontaneously, they’re risking evaluating traits that don’t predict job performance. Biases could run loose; interviewers might end up evaluating based on gender, race, physical attractiveness or, most commonly, how similar a candidate is to them. Worse, they may end up asking illegal interview questions.

Structured interview questions are job-related. They’re friendlier to equal opportunity since all candidates face the same questions in the same order. Structured interviews allow for greater objectivity. They work well in team hiring environments and group interviews where individual biases are less likely to interfere. They also make it simpler to provide interview feedback to candidates you’re keeping in your talent pool.

Looking for a bonus? Companies that use structured interviews can defend themselves better in court. By showing that they ask the same job-related questions to all candidates and rate with a standardized system, they can show that they value equal opportunity.

The big picture

You can add structured interview questions to your interview process by following 8 steps:

  1. Craft the job description
  2. List requirements by category or hard/soft skills
  3. Create role-specific questions
  4. Add general interview questions
  5. Choose a rating scale
  6. Train hiring managers
  7. Conduct the interview
  8. Evaluate candidates

How do I create structured interview questions?

Structured interview questions, and semi-structured interview questions, usually fall into two categories: role-specific and general. Role specific questions explore if candidates can do the job. General questions assess whether candidates fit your company.

Role-specific interview questions

Build role-specific questions to see if candidates meet a position’s requirements.

Step 1: Review job description

A well-written job description includes all important requirements. You should craft questions to evaluate both hard skills and soft skills.

By using Workable’s interview kits you can group your questions into categories like creativity questions or people skills questions. It makes it easier to see how a candidate scores in each quality.

Step 2: Develop interview questions

Two main questions per requirement is usually enough for an average interview. Follow up (or probing) questions should also be pre-determined and scored with the same system. In the example below, questions marked in red could be probing questions:

example-of-probing-question

Hard skills interview questions often take this form:

“How have you used Venn diagrams in the past?”

You can also ask candidates to complete mini-assignments on a whiteboard or piece of paper.

Soft skills interview questions can be general or specific:

“Tell me about a time you had to explain a difficult concept to a team member”

Or

“How would you explain the term ‘capital structure’ to a non-finance manager?”

Behavioral and situational questions are good options when you want to hear longer answers and get more information about candidates. Look for situations that crop up often in their profession.

You can find a large library of questions for each job title in Workable’s interview question resources section.

General interview questions

Role-specific interview questions evaluate hard and soft skills that vary by position. These structured interview questions and answers can be used company-wide. They’re relevant to culture and shared values. Because company values are often based on abstract ideas, it can be difficult to turn them into interview questions. But, it’s possible.

Think: what qualities should all employees share?

What will help a new hire fit in? Intelligence is a given in most cases but it can be assessed through tests or assignments. What are other important values for your company? By surveying employees, you can learn what values they think the company embodies. If you don’t have time for extensive surveys, you could ask senior management. Integrity and dependability are common requirements. What are the shared qualities that employees don’t like? You can also prioritize important qualities. For example, ask: is assertiveness or teamwork more important for us?

To probe deeper, think of the leadership style in your company. Do employees have a say in their work? Or do all instructions flow from the top down? Depending on your answers, employees should either be highly resourceful and independent or be able to respect authority and follow instructions quickly and efficiently. Thinking about these kinds of cultural questions can help you avoid hiring future disengaged employees who aren’t a good fit for your work culture.

Structure interview questions so they are clear and objective. The US. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) suggests using the STAR approach (Situation-Task-Action-Result) to frame your behavioral interview questions. For example:

“Tell me about a time your failed at a project (Situation/Task). How did you try to avoid failure? (Action). What did that experience teach you? (Result).”

General guidelines for writing interview questions:

  • Use real-life situations
  • Be clear and concise
  • Avoid jargon
  • Ensure questions can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’
  • Avoid questions that point to a right answer
  • Avoid adding excessive detail
  • Don’t try to assess anything non-job related (especially protected characteristics)

Need more detailed advice on structured interview questions? Download our complete guide for free.

Here are a few general qualities that companies could evaluate for all positions:

  • Knowledge of the company
  • Preference of leadership style
  • Communication
  • Ethics
  • Dependability
  • Initiative
  • Willingness to learn

Sample structured interview questions:

For knowledge of the company, interview questions are simple:

  • Who are our competitors and what makes us different from them?
  • What’s our mission?
  • What do you know about our products/services? Have you used them before?
  • What makes you want to work here?

Same goes for leadership style preference:

  • What leadership style helps you work better?
  • Describe three qualities of your previous manager that you thought were good/bad for your work relationship
  • Tell me about a time you had to delegate. What was the result?

Other qualities are tricky. Traits like willingness to learn are abstract. You can ask a candidate what they did to improve their skills in their previous job or where they went for job-related information. But, your best bet would be to evaluate them through behavioral or situational questions. Think of situations that involve learning from mistakes or seeking new information. One common example is “Tell me about a time you failed and what you learned.”

Here are examples of interview questions for these qualities:

Communication

  • Tell me about a time you had to deliver bad news to a manager or team member. How did you do it? What was the other person’s reaction?
  • Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult colleague. What did you do to communicate properly?
  • How would you explain this industry term to someone from a different discipline?

Ethics

  • Tell me about a time you faced an ethical dilemma at work. What did you decide and what was the result?
  • If you discovered your supervisor was breaking the company’s code of conduct, what would you do?

Dependability

  • Tell me about a time you struggled with work-life balance. What did you do? Did you manage to solve the problem?
  • Imagine you’re assigned an important task but your team members keep interrupting you with questions. How do you manage?
  • If your manager asked you to complete a task you thought impossible at first, what would you do?
  • Tell me about a time you had to fill in for someone. Were you successful?

Initiative

  • Tell me about a time you took the lead in a team project. What was the project outcome?
  • Tell me about a time you went the extra mile for your job
  • Tell me about a time you had an idea that improved your company in some way. How did you make sure it was implemented?

Willingness to learn

  • Tell me about a time your failed at a project. How did you try to avoid failure? What did that experience teach you?
  • Tell me about a time someone criticized your work. How did you respond and what did you learn?
  • What was the last training you attended? How did you use your new knowledge in practice?

What rating system should I use?

Practically, any rating system you want. Surveys usually use 5-point or 7-point scales, so interviewers will probably be familiar with them. Each point’s definition might vary, e.g. unsatisfactory to satisfactory or low to high. It depends on how you’d like to evaluate candidates’ answers.

You could also evaluate answers through a pass/fail or positive/negative scorecard for simplicity. For example, if you ask a candidate “Do you know who our competitors are?” using a 5-point system might be confusing. One means “they know none of our competitors” and five means “they know all of our competitors.” But how do you define the points in-between? It’d be easier to have two options to choose from: yes, they know our competitors, or no, they don’t.

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