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Structured interview – Why they’re the best for your recruitment efforts

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Structured interview

IT talent disappears off the market quickly, and there are plenty of brands fighting for the best tech specialists. This means one thing: you have to ensure your recruitment process is quick and effective, so you can hire the A-players before your competition does.

In the following article, we’re going to discuss the various interview formats you can use along with their benefits, as well as tell you how to prepare and conduct a structured interview. Let’s dive in.

Structured interview definition

As its name indicates, a structured interview is conducted when the same set of predetermined questions is used in every single interview. They’re asked in the same order with answers rated using a standardized scoring system to ensure fairness. Structured interviews can be up to two times more effective than the unstructured ones.

According to Laszlo Bock, the former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google,  “The best predictor of how someone will perform in a job is a work sample test (29 percent) … The second-best predictors of performance are tests of general cognitive ability (26 percent) …Tied with tests of general cognitive ability are structured interviews (26 percent)”.

That being said, let’s now see how a structured interview compares to semi-structured and unstructured interviews.

Semi-structured vs structured vs unstructured interviews – a comparison

Let’s start off by taking a look at how your communication with the candidate looks like during an unstructured interview.

Unstructured interview definition and overview

An unstructured interview, also known as a non-directive interview, is a meeting for which a list of questions isn’t prearranged. Rather, it circles around a spontaneous conversation, without a predetermined agenda.

If you’re looking for a way to get a sense of who your candidate is as a person and listen as they discuss their previous experiences in an informal manner, an unstructured interview might be the right choice. It can also better convey to the candidate the atmosphere and communication style at the workplace.

Source: Unsplash

On the other hand, if you’re time-constrained, worry about accidentally revealing confidential information to the candidate, or want to avoid unconscious candidate bias, you might be better off with a more structured meeting.

There isn’t a single, correct way to conduct an unstructured interview. The important thing is to gather and record information on all topics that are of importance to you as the hiring party.

Semi-structured interview definition and overview

A semi-structured interview is a candidate meeting that has a predefined agenda. However, there isn’t any formalized list of questions.
Such candidate meetings are characterized by:

  • open-ended questions, which leads to a natural conversation with your candidate, rather than a strict question-and-answer format
  • a formalized interview process (namely, the interviewer has a general list of topics to cover but goes off-script whenever they deem it valuable for the hiring process)

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, many interviewers like semi-structured interviews because they can prepare ahead of time and “appear competent during the interview. Semi-structured interviews also allow informants the freedom to express their views in their own terms”.

Structured interviews

As mentioned before, structured interviews (also referred to as standardized interviews) are a method used to ensure that each candidate is asked the exact same questions during a meeting, in a pre-defined order.

This approach boasts several advantages for hiring businesses, most importantly:

  • they’re unbiased: hiring discrimination, either conscious or unconscious, is still a real concern. By asking each individual the same set of questions, you’ll make sure that you’ve given all prospective hires equal chances to present themselves and how they can serve your business. This is the equivalent of sending the same standardized coding test to all candidates applying for one role which happens earlier at the screening stage.
  • they save recruiters’ time: with a strict list of questions, recruiters can better evaluate how long each meeting will last.
  • they’re better at predicting candidate performance: according to researchers Will Weisner and Steven Cronshaw, structured interviews have proven to be twice as effective in predicting employee performance than unformalized interviews.
  • they offer an overall better candidate experience: while certain candidates prefer informal interviews as they relieve stress, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, structured interviews are the more favorably evaluated interview type by potential hires.
structured interview

Source: TalentLyft

That being said, if you decide on structured interviews, keep in mind that they’re not personalized. This means that it will be harder to evaluate the candidate’s personality and communication skills compared to other methods. Even more importantly, you will need to regularly update your set of questions (especially if you’re recruiting in a dynamic industry like tech).

5 steps for preparing and conducting a structured interview

We’ve given you a detailed overview of structured vs unstructured interviews. It’s time to discuss how you can prepare yourself and conduct a structured interview.

Step 1: Identify your key competencies and skills

You need to have a clear understanding of what skills you’re searching for before you start recruiting – this will dictate the type of questions you’re going to ask in the interview. For that purpose you can turn to your job description – you should be able to find the key job requirements and tasks. Based on this information you can create a list of skills and competencies that your candidate must display to successfully perform the job.

Step 2: Select the right interview questions

We’ve mentioned earlier that the best tech talent disappears off the market quickly, therefore you have to ensure your recruitment process isn’t overly long. Part of it is selecting the most appropriate interview questions that will let you verify the candidate’s skills and competencies quickly and accurately. There are two types of questions you can ask in the soft skills interview:

  • behavioral – require the candidates to describe their previous experience, with the assumption that past behavior is a great predictor of future performance. For instance:

Describe a situation in which you met a major obstacle in order to complete a project. How did you deal with it? What steps did you take?

Recommended reading: 45 sample behavioral interview questions for software developers

  • and situational questions – present candidates with situational scenarios, to check how they would behave in job-specific situations, for example, tell me about a time you had to collaborate with a coworker who was difficult to work with.

For better recruitment accuracy, we recommend conducting both soft skills and technical interviews if you’re hiring for tech roles.

Recommended reading: Best situational interview questions

If you need inspiration, here is a list of questions which you can draw from.

Step 3: Create a rating scale

To ensure fairness and transparency you need to come up with a system for ranking your candidates. It will allow you to quickly compare different candidates with one another. It’s up to you which rating scale you’ll use, but a five-point scale is the most common one when it comes to structured interviews. However, what you must keep in mind is that each rating should be explained in detail. Provide illustrative examples to demonstrate what a poor, average and excellent answers look like – this will help you avoid any misunderstandings and better manage expectations.

Employee rating system

Source: Slideteam

Step 4: Conduct the interview

Remember to stick to your questions – it’s the whole point of conducting structured interviews; ask the same questions in the same order. Make sure the atmosphere is nice and relaxed, take notes, and at the end of the interview ask the candidate if they have any questions. This will provide a nice closure and leave a good impression, which might be a decisive factor in recruiting the best talent.

structured interview

Source: Unsplash

Step 5: Evaluate the answers

Rate and evaluate the answers of each candidate according to your rating scale. After marking each candidate, you’ll end up with a list of your best picks. Here is a little tip for you. To make sure you’re only interviewing suitable candidates, preselect them with technical screening interviews. This way, the quality of your candidates will be much higher and you’ll get better results with fewer interviews.


Using structured interviews as part of your recruitment is the best way to ensure you get the most suitable candidates on board. Not only do they allow for fairness as all candidates are asked the same set of questions, but they also facilitate quick performance comparison and help save recruiters’ time. Out of all three interview types, they’ve also proven to offer the best candidate experience and legal compliance.

When you decide to introduce structured interviews into your recruitment process, make sure that your questions revolve around the key competencies and skills a candidate should possess to successfully perform the job.

If you want to cut your recruitment time, then it’s worth to preselect your candidates with technical screening interviews or by running automated skills assessment tests. This way you’ll ensure you only focus on meeting the most qualified candidates. Good luck with your recruitment efforts!

Image credit: Unsplash

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