Structured interviews provide consistency and fairness in the hiring process — and help businesses find the top candidates.
Here's what you need to know:
- Structured interviews feature specific questions that are asked of every candidate
- They help hiring managers ask the right questions and assure there is no bias in their hiring process.
- For structured interviews, ask questions around background requirements, qualifications, and soft skills
Unless you’re a full-time recruiter, interviews are a challenge. Pulling information from nervous candidates can be frustrating. Listening to job seekers who have too much to say about their illustrious career can be exasperating. For those whose main role isn’t gaining insight into the background and potential of a complete stranger, finding the right candidate for the job may be more a matter of luck than skill.
Hiring the right person for the job is critical, and it doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. With a bit of planning, business owners and hiring managers can develop structured interviews for every position in the company. Structured interviews guide the questioning, covering all topics relevant to the job. They provide a proven effective, consistent system to assess candidates. Structured interviews can also remove bias from the hiring process, which provides legal protection for the organization.
What are structured interviews?
Structured interviews have specific questions, created before the process begins, that are asked of every candidate. These questions cover all the pertinent topics for the position. They cover the candidate’s background and skill set to determine qualifications for the job. They request information on how a job seeker would respond to situations they’ll likely encounter on the job. In addition, they look for insight into the candidate’s work ethic and commitment.
Structured interviews ask open-ended instead of yes/no questions. When you ask a candidate, for example, if they have experience with upset customers, a yes response provides no insight. When you ask how have you managed upset customers in the past, their response lets you know if they’re customer-centric, rely on their manager to deal with the issue, or are someone you want to keep away from the front line. Open-ended questions are critical to good interview techniques.
How effective are structured interviews?
In 1998 two university researchers, Frank Schmidt and John Hunter, published their findings of 85 years of research and data to determine how well 19 different types of interview and assessment tools predicted future performance for a candidate. Their data revealed structured interviews the most effective in determining potential success.
According to their data, structured interviews predict performance 26% of the time, which is:
- Almost two times as much as unstructured interviews, at 14%
- Nearly four times as often as background checks at 7%
Even though the research is decades old, Google adopted the structured interview and has used it successfully for years. More and more companies are turning to structured interviews to help hiring managers ask the right questions, more easily assess candidates, and assure there is no bias in their hiring process.
Create interview templates
Structured interviews require planning. Sit down with the hiring manager or develop them on your own if you know the full scope of the job. Start with the topics that need to be covered:
- Background requirements
- Soft skills
For each of these, form several questions that ask the candidate to provide more details than what was listed on their resume. These discussions will offer insight into experience, qualifications, and skills relevant for your vacancy. Once you put the questions on paper you may think they’re too generic or bland. That’s actually the point. The questions are routine, it’s the answers that are important.
Plan on about 12 to 15 questions for each role in the company. For some jobs, you may have fewer, for other, more complex positions, you may have more. The key is to focus on the skills and qualifications necessary to perform the work and create questions that directly address those needs.
Depending on the complexity of the position, it may take only minutes to come up with questions. For others, you may need help from other stakeholders in the hire. Create a template with the questions, a place for the candidate’s name and contact information, and you’re ready to start interviews.
Plan on about 12 to 15 questions for each role in the company. For some jobs, you may have fewer, for other, more complex positions, you may have more.
Background requirement questions include any past experience for the position. In many cases, the resume or application has already qualified the job seeker for an interview. Ask for an overview of each position listed. This can be important to verify they are who they say they are. If they’re hesitant about discussing their degree or have to refer to their application to verify duties, dates and titles of past positions, you may rightfully suspect they’ve embellished their background somewhat.
Once they’ve provided an overview, ask for more detail:
- Tell me about an average day at this company.
- What came easiest to you in that position?
- What was the most challenging part of that job?
Ask for an educational overview, then for more detail: what challenged most in getting their degree, what coursework was the most interesting. You may uncover areas of interest well-suited to your needs; or find the candidate avoided those specifically.
Again, the resume/application may outline qualifications necessary to do the job, but look for more detailed information. Some positions require certifications: ask how/when they received that qualifier. If there are specific needs, target them directly:
- Tell me about your experience using this machine.
- Let’s discuss how extensively you’ve used Excel in the past.
Candidates that meet your requirements will be able to confidently discuss their competencies and qualifications.
For many businesses, soft skills are as much or more important than background and qualifications. You can teach someone to use a keyboard more easily than you can teach them to be customer-centric. Soft skills are interpersonal skills that help employees communicate and collaborate effectively; they include emotional intelligence and the ability to work well with and influence others.
If you’re hiring entry level talent that may not have had a job in the past, soft skills may be the only qualification you can assess. To uncover a job seekers soft skills, plan on situational questions that directly apply to the work:
- What would you do if a customer requested xyz?
- Talk about a time you failed or were disappointed.
- Have you ever had to explain something complex to someone? If so, how did you do it?
These questions reveal how the candidate may perform in the role, their level of maturity and often predict how well they’ll succeed on the job.
Create a scoring system
When all the interviews are completed, compare the scores of each candidate based on your system. The highest score should easily be your first choice for an offer.
As you create your list of questions, create an overall scoring criteria. You may rate each answer from 1 to 3 points; 1 being the lowest score based on the response, 3 the highest. Some companies use an A, B, C, D, F scoring system.
As you interview, take notes on what impressed or deterred you for each question: “trained others on POS system,” “anxious to help customers,” “doesn’t like working with Excel,” etc. Add your score as each question is answered to keep from confusing them later. When all the interviews are completed, compare the scores of each candidate based on your system. The highest score should easily be your first choice for an offer.
Stick to the script
If you’ve decided on structured interviews, make sure to use them consistently. While you may use them only for certain positions, like entry-level spots, you’ll want to use them for everyone interviewed during that round of hiring. Some organizations let candidates know they use a structured interview process. This assures they will be asked the same questions — no more or less — as everyone else who is called in to interview.
Assess the process
If this is your first time using structured interviews, a best practice might be to try them out for a position you have difficulty hiring for, or one that sees a high turnover. You may find the structured interview helps hone in more specifically on skills needed to execute and stay in the role. After hiring one or more candidates using the process, see how well they’re performing and whether you’re reducing churn. If it’s successful, consider expanding structured interviews to other recruitment efforts.
Structured interviews are used by the biggest industry players for good reason. They’re effective predictors of future performance and make it easier to conduct interviews. These types of interviews provide consistency and fairness for business and candidates. They also reduce bias — everyone is given to the same questions and has the same opportunity to shine. Structured interviews could be key to hiring success at any company.