Talent Acquisition

What Is a Structured Interview? Plus, Examples and Best Practices

Think of a structured interview as a precise formula for evaluating job candidates for the same role. Done effectively, it allows businesses to consistently assess each job seeker’s experience and fit for a role. This guide explores how structured interviews differ from unstructured ones and gives actionable advice for creating your own process.

Takeaways

  • Structured interviews provide consistency and objectivity in evaluating candidates.
  • Preparation is key to success, starting with a thorough job analysis to inform the process.
  • Different types of questions will help growing businesses elicit comprehensive responses.

What Is a Structured Interview? 

The essence of a structured interview lies in its adherence to a specific set of questions, asked in the same order for every candidate applying to a specific role.

This method ensures consistent and comparable information collection, making the hiring process as efficient and objective as possible.

The structured interview process typically occurs after the initial phone screening, which narrows down the pool of applicants.

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Structured vs. Unstructured Interviews

One of the most significant differences between structured and unstructured interviews is their approach to interview questions. 
 
Structured interviews follow a predefined set of questions. For any job opening, interviewers follow the same script, ask each candidate the same questions, and do not deviate. 

Conversely, in an unstructured interview, the interviewer likely asks different questions to each candidate. If a predefined set of questions exists, the interviewer can add or remove questions as they see fit.

In less-than-ideal scenarios, interviewers improvise their questions, collecting various responses from different candidates that can’t be compared, introducing bias to the process.

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How to Prepare a Structured Interview

Thorough preparation beforehand is the best way to reap the benefits of a structured interview. Here are five steps your organization can take.

1. Conduct a Job Analysis

The cornerstone of the structural interview is comprehensive job analysis, an essential step that empowers you to define the core competencies, technical skills, and behavioral attributes—all essential job requirements— that are vital for success in the position. 

Consider defining job requirements related to: 

  • company culture and interpersonal skills
  • technical and industry-specific skills
  • experience and education

You will also want to consider specificity. Distinguish between “must-have” and “nice-to-have” qualifications to prioritize the most essential attributes.

Remember to verify that the job requirements you set comply with employment laws and regulations and avoid discriminatory criteria. You’ll also want to ensure the requirements align with your business objectives.

Your next step is to translate these job requirements into measurable criteria to evaluate candidates consistently.

2. Establish the Evaluation Criteria

Once you have listed your job requirements, develop your evaluation criteria by defining a poor, fair, good, great, and excellent match for each job requirement.

To capture a comprehensive view of each candidate’s abilities, include qualitative criteria (i.e., ratings related to interpersonal skills) and quantitative measures (i.e., ratings related to technical skills, education, and experience).

For instance, imagine that you have identified the following as a few of the job requirements for your position: 

  • knowledge of project management software
  • adaptability and flexibility
  • supportiveness and empathy

Your criteria could mirror the Who interview method, or they might look something like this: 

Knowledge of Project Management Software (1-5 Scale)

  1. Poor: Limited understanding of project management principles and tools such as Microsoft Project, Asana, Trello, and JIRA.
  2. Fair: Basic knowledge of project management principles; familiar with tools like Microsoft Project, Asana, Trello, and JIRA but limited practical application.
  3.  Good: Solid understanding and practical application of project management principles; proficient in using Microsoft Project, Asana, Trello, and JIRA to manage tasks and timelines.
  4. Great: Extensive knowledge and effective application of advanced project management principles; highly skilled in using Microsoft Project, Asana, Trello, and JIRA for complex project tracking, resource allocation, and workflow automation.
  5. Excellent: Expert in project management; adept at using Microsoft Project, Asana, Trello, and JIRA innovatively to optimize project outcomes, streamline processes, and drive team collaboration and efficiency.

Adaptability and Flexibility (1-5 Scale)

  1. Poor: Struggles to adapt to changing circumstances; resists new approaches.
  2.  Fair: Can adapt to changes but with difficulty; occasionally resists new approaches.
  3. Good: Generally adapts well to changes; open to new approaches.
  4. Great: Adapts quickly and efficiently to changing circumstances; embraces new approaches.
  5. Excellent: Highly adaptable; thrives in dynamic environments and consistently embraces new approaches and ideas.

Supportiveness and Empathy (1-5 Scale)

  1. Poor: Rarely offers support or empathy to team members; may seem indifferent to colleagues’ challenges or needs.
  2. Fair: Sometimes demonstrates supportiveness and empathy but may struggle to provide meaningful assistance or understanding.
  3. Good: Generally supportive and empathetic towards team members, occasionally overlooking opportunities to offer help or encouragement.
  4. Great: Offers consistent support and empathy to colleagues, providing assistance and encouragement to help overcome challenges.
  5. Excellent: Exceptionally supportive and empathetic; actively listens to colleagues’ concerns, offers valuable assistance, and fosters a caring and inclusive team environment.

Remember, developing clear and objective criteria for evaluating candidates’ responses ensures that assessments are fair and consistent across all interviews, regardless of who asks the question.

3. Create Questions that Align with Your Criteria

The best-structured interview questions are designed to draw out information that allows the interviewer to evaluate the candidate.  

For instance, to create a question to elicit information about a candidate’s supportiveness and empathy, you can revisit your evaluation criteria and note that an excellent candidate “actively listens to colleagues’ concerns, offers valuable assistance, and fosters a caring and inclusive team environment.”

With this information in mind, you might craft a question similar to the following: 

“Describe a situation where a colleague approached you with a concern or problem. How did you actively listen to their concerns, and what steps did you take to offer assistance or support? Please provide specific examples of how you fostered a caring and inclusive team environment during this interaction.”

4. Train Interviewers

You can ensure everyone receives the exact instructions about the structured interview process by training all interviewers simultaneously. Interviewers will feel more confident when they are familiar with the following:

  • Conducting interviews effectively
  • Understanding the interview questions
  • Applying the evaluation criteria
  • Implementing best practices for structured interviews
  • Utilizing active listening skills

Also, if your company has diversity, equity, and inclusion training, this is a great time to refresh your knowledge on avoiding biases.

5. Send Welcoming Email Invitations

Because structured interviews can feel rigid, incorporating a welcoming interview invitation email sets a positive tone and ensures the candidates feel valued and prepared. 

This preliminary communication informs candidates about the upcoming interview, providing them with essential details such as date, time, and location while expressing enthusiasm for their candidacy.

By extending a courteous invitation that can include some details about the structure and process for the interview, employers not only demonstrate professionalism but also give candidates a chance to prepare and present their best selves during the interview.

Best Practices for Creating Structured Interview Questions

The success of a structured interview hinges on the quality of its questions, so let’s review five types you might consider adding to your bank of interview questions. Remember, using a mix of question types will give you a deeper understanding of each candidate.

1. Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions enable candidates to provide detailed, qualitative responses, revealing their thought processes, problem-solving abilities, and experiences. 

For example, asking, “Can you describe a time when you had to manage a project with a tight deadline?” allows the candidate to elaborate on their approach, challenges faced, and solutions implemented, giving you deeper insights into their project management capabilities.

2. Yes/No Questions

On the other hand, yes/no questions help quickly determine whether a candidate meets specific requirements or possesses essential skills. 

For instance, asking, “Are you proficient in using Microsoft Project for scheduling and tracking project progress?” provides a clear, straightforward answer about their familiarity with critical project management tools. 

3. Job-Specific Interview Questions

Job-specific questions focus on the candidate’s qualifications and experience related to the role’s requirements. Examples include inquiries about technical skills, industry knowledge, and relevant experience.

For instance, a job-specific question for a project manager might be:

“Can you walk me through your experience using Agile methodologies for software development projects? Specifically, how have you used tools like Jira or Trello to manage tasks and ensure timely delivery?” 

This question focuses on the candidate’s technical skills, industry knowledge, and relevant experience in using specific project management tools and methodologies, providing a clear picture of their qualifications for the role.

4. Situational Interview Questions

Situational questions present hypothetical scenarios to evaluate candidates’ problem-solving abilities and decision-making skills. These questions assess how candidates would respond to challenges or opportunities they may encounter in the role.

In any case, carefully considering the wording of the questions will help you elicit specific information from candidates.

This question, for instance, evaluates the candidate’s problem-solving abilities, decision-making skills, and capacity to manage client relationships under pressure: 

“Imagine you are leading a project falling behind schedule due to unforeseen technical issues. The client is becoming increasingly concerned about meeting the deadline. How would you address this situation to ensure the project stays on track and maintains the client’s confidence?”

5. Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioral questions explore past behaviors and experiences to assess how candidates have responded to various situations in the workplace. 

Here is an example of a question that helps an interviewer assess the candidate’s ability to handle changes, adapt to new requirements, and manage challenges effectively in their project management role: 

“Can you describe a time when you faced a significant scope change in a project? What was the situation, how did you manage the change, what actions did you take, and what was the outcome?” 

Both situational and behavioral questions often follow the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) framework, a structured approach to asking interview questions.

In essence, candidates are prompted to describe a specific Situation or context, outline the Task they needed to accomplish, detail the Actions they took to address the situation, and finally, discuss the Results or outcomes of their actions. 

This framework allows candidates to provide comprehensive and organized responses, offering interviewers insight into their problem-solving abilities, decision-making skills, and past behaviors in relevant situations.

Putting It All Together: Structured Interview Example

This simplified table shows how you can organize information.

Job ResponsibilityEvaluation CriteriaInterview QuestionQuestion Type
Communication and sharingExcellent communicatorCan you provide an example of a project or initiative where you took the lead in facilitating open dialogue?Open-ended, job-specific interview question
Problem-solvingGreat ability to identify and address project-related issuesDescribe a situation from a past project where you encountered a significant obstacle or challenge.Open-ended, behavioral interview question
Knowledge of Asana Good working knowledgeHave you worked with the project management software Asana in your previous roles?Yes/No interview question

Evaluating Candidates During a Structured Interview

Adhering to best practices ensures consistency and fairness in candidate evaluation during a structured job interview.

Panel Interviews

Panel interviews can enhance the objectivity of the evaluation process. Having multiple interviewers assess each candidate reduces individual biases and provides a more rounded perspective. 

Listening with Curiosity

Interviewers can practice active listening to gather enough information to make informed evaluations. If a candidate provides an incomplete answer to a question, the interviewer can politely prompt them to provide more detail or clarification. 

While it’s important to stick to the interview script to maintain consistency, flexibility is also important. Deviating slightly from the script to encourage a more comprehensive response can help ensure a fair evaluation of the candidate’s qualifications.

Evaluation Rubric

During the structured interview, each interviewer will rate the candidate using a rubric based on the established evaluation criteria. 

The rubric should include space for note-taking. Taking detailed notes on candidates’ responses will aid in making objective comparisons. 

After the interview, interviewers can compare their notes and ratings against the evaluation rubric. This step ensures that the assessment is based on how well candidates meet the predefined competencies rather than subjective impressions.

Pros and Cons of Structured Interviews

The choice between structured and unstructured interviews depends on the specific needs of the hiring process.  

Pros

  • Structured interviews minimize bias and evaluate all candidates based on the same criteria.
  • Structured interviews produce more reliable and valid results using standardized questions.
  • Structured interviews focus on job-related competencies and skills, making assessing candidates’ suitability easier.

Cons

  • Planning and conducting structured interviews can be time-consuming and require significant upfront preparation.
  • Standardizing questions may limit interviewer flexibility and spontaneity.
  • Standardizing questions may create an overly formal conversation, leading to less authentic interactions.

Wize Words

When executed well, structured interviews help build strong, skilled teams by ensuring objective and reliable candidate evaluations. This enables companies to make well-informed hiring decisions, contributing to organizational success. Continuously refining your approach will establish the best practices that work for growing your business.

Author

  • Jocelyn Baker

    Jocelyn Baker is a freelance writer, an editor, and a former political reporter who specializes in business management. She has written thousands of articles and edited dozens of books about recruitment, leadership, and governance. She focuses on simplifying complex topics into implementable strategies.

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The article was reviewed by Deirdre Sullivan

Jocelyn Baker

Jocelyn Baker is a freelance writer, an editor, and a former political reporter who specializes in business management. She has written thousands of articles and edited dozens of books about recruitment, leadership, and governance. She focuses on simplifying complex topics into implementable strategies.

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