What is Structured Interviewing?

Structured Interviewing Overview

A structured interview is a systematic approach to hiring where interviewers ask the same predetermined questions to all candidates in the same order and rate them with a standardized scoring system. Additionally, questions are developed by subject matter experts and utilized by a trained group of interview panelists.

Upon reading this description, it might seem evident that structured interviewing is a more predictive and fair practice; however, many organizations take a more informal approach. While there could be many drivers of an unstructured process, it often is due to an overestimation of the effectiveness of unstructured interviewing or because structured interviewing requires more up-front effort. At FirstWho, we consider unstructured interviewing the most straightforward approach to hiring an unqualified candidate.

Nonetheless, many companies of all sizes take hiring very seriously and practice structured interviewing, which has been studied and proven to be the most effective and fair approach to hiring.

Why is Structured Interviewing So Important?

Successful organizations achieve their objectives through the activities of the people they hire. As such, hiring is the primary driver of any organization’s ability to achieve its mission. Anything other than hiring that you might attribute to a company’s success gets acted upon by a person who was first attracted, assessed, and hired before their ability to leverage timing, strategic thinking, unique skills, or any individual contribution.

Since hiring is crucial, hiring methods must be valid, reliable, fair, and practical.

  1. Validity is the extent to which a concept is accurately measured in an interview or research. For example, sometimes, questions get asked in an interview that need more correlation to required competencies. Even when a candidate scores high on such questions, it is misleading as a question like this needs to be more valid to predict who will do well on the job accurately.
  2. Reliability relates to the consistency of a measure. A reliable question produces consistently useful indications across many candidates.
  3. Fairness probably doesn’t need to be spelled out, but structured interviewing treats all candidates more consistently than any other approach. Conversely, in an unstructured approach, unconscious bias can create scenarios where well-intentioned interviewers provide vastly different interview experiences just by “going with the flow.”
  4. Practicality, in this sense, means that the hiring process needs to be feasible within the real-world constraints of organizations, hiring managers, interviewers, and candidates. For example, if an organization could spend more time evaluating candidates, just increased familiarity would probably lead to better hiring decisions, but in practice, you can’t spend weeks getting to know every candidate; you get a few hours.

Lastly, the costs of a “bad hire” are high. The financial costs are well documented. For example, Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos, once calculated that poor hiring decisions cost that business well over $100 million. But there is also lost productivity, diminished morale, and damage to reputation that are harder to calculate but potentially can lead to the failure of an entire organization.

Relationship to Job Analysis

At its heart, structured interviewing provides all candidates with a consistent interview experience while also applying consistency in rating candidate responses. As an organization, if you are going to go to the trouble of predetermining what questions to ask and how to assess them, you might as well go the extra mile and ensure you are asking the right questions. The right questions differentiate between a candidate who will thrive and a candidate who may struggle in the role. In general, this requires the engagement of subject matter experts who deeply understand job-related competencies.

If you haven’t read the section on Job Analysis, please do so. Essentially, you want questions that illuminate “must-have” competencies; but even “must-have” competencies can be hard to determine—the most accessible way to get to “must-have” competencies is through a task inventory.