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Structured or Unstructured Interviews - Which Provides Better Results?

iconRecruiting icon5 min read
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When selecting new talent for their company, an employer must first interview all the prospective candidates in order to get to know more about them and find out if they are a good fit for the job. Job interviews can contain different types of questions - open-ended and close-ended, brief or descriptive. Structured job interview have a framework that is the same for each applicant. Unstructured interviews are a guided conversation. Depending on the job description and the company’s policies, specific questions are chosen for the interview process and both structured and unstructured interviews can be conducted by the employer. 

What’s the Difference?

Once common, unstructured interviews are being replaced with more standard practices that provide further insight to how an individual will actually perform on the job, and rightfully so. It is no secret that you want to like the person you’ll be working with, but asking questions about what a candidate likes to do in their spare time, or where they enjoy vacationing, isn’t doing your organization any favors.  

Unstructured Interviews

These types of interviews are the most traditional and most used tools for assessing job applicants. Unstructured interviews are sometimes referred to as “discovery interviews” or “informal interviews” and are more of a guided conversation rather than a structured interview. Unstructured interviews mostly consist of open-ended questions that can be asked in any order. These questions may change based on what and how the applicant responds. Even though there may be a list of questions prepared for the interview, there is no need to follow them. Because of their nature, unstructured interviews are more conversational and can cover a variety of topics. During an unstructured interview, the interviewer lets the conversation flow freely and asks questions that make the interviewee think and analyze a particular situation.

Structured Interviews

These are also known as “directive interviews” or “formal interviews”. In structured interviews, questions are asked in a specific order and remain the same for every applicant. This is done in order to ensure fairness and avoid biased questions. The questions are close-ended, not flexible, and the interviewer should not deviate from the schedule or expand on the answers he or she receives. The questions should be straightforward and allow the conversation to be easily controlled. Structured interviews tend to focus on past experiences and assets the candidate can bring to the company.

The Trouble With Unstructured Interviews

When you lack structure in your interviews, you can end up asking different candidates different questions. For example, let’s assume you really click with candidate 1. You start talking about your favorite movies, places you’ve traveled, and taste in music. You have a candidate (candidate 2) come in right after them, but you simply ask the questions you have written down and that's it. Chances are you will pick candidate 1 over candidate 2, just because you got to know them a bit better and may have already established a connection. Does this mean they will do a better job than candidate 2? Well, no, it just means you know they could be a better cultural fit than candidate 2 because you actually took the time to get to know them beyond their resume. Studies show that when we do unstructured interviews, we are much more likely to hire those who remind us of ourselves. 

Sticking to a structured interview is much more reliable in terms of skill fit because you’re giving the same set of questions for every candidate. This leaves little-to-no room for deviation and to play favorites, so to speak. This isn’t to say that you would ask the same questions when hiring a Sales Development Rep as you would when hiring a Trainer, of course. When you’re looking to fill a specific position, you should ask the same questions when interviewing to fill that position. Go beyond using the same questions and make sure to ask them in the same order. This will help you stay focused and give each candidate a fair chance. 

Do More Than Just Interview

Conducting a structured interview is a great place to start, but it should not be the only factor considered when looking to fill your open position. As much as we try our best to be unbiased when interviewing, we can still favor those who we picture ourselves working well with, even if we have a structured process in place. A great way to further eliminate bias from your candidate selection is to have them take different tests to see how they would perform on the job. If you’re hiring for a Sales Representative, it would be wise to have them complete a sales assessment test to see their selling style before extending the job offer. 

Having another method of evaluation to consider aside from the interview will give further insight into how your candidate will perform in the actual role. This would be known as a job analysis test, and it is designed to be an objective measurement of job knowledge and skills. This would be a useful tool in situations where you are looking to get a more immediate return on your investment with a new hire. Other tests would be personality tests, drug tests, background check, and so on. Each test has its own purpose, but realize some may be more important than others in different job scenarios. Overall, the idea is to use these assessments to make the best hiring decision based on past experiences and other objective factors. 

Reexamine Your Interview Dynamics

I, myself, have taken part in dual interviews and thought nothing more of it. Me and another team member would divide questions and interview a candidate together only to compare thoughts at the close of the interview. More and more we are seeing that it is more beneficial to do separate, one-on-one style interviews. This is because you can rate your candidate and gather your own thoughts before comparing notes with others. Sometimes we see that dual-interviews can cloud judgment and not allow each interviewer to come to their own conclusion. 

Having a scale to rate your job candidates is particularly helpful in this situation because it allows you and your peers to compare ratings and talk over what you liked and disliked about the candidates. I would suggest submitting your scores for each candidate before you meet with your peers to discuss this so your scores will reflect your thoughts without the influence of others. 

Alongside with this, you should try to make sure you have the right members of your team in the interviews. Start with a phone screening from your HR department, then move on to the manager or supervisor of the department hiring. After that, have the candidate meet with one of your key executives. If your organization likes to stray on the side of more interviews, have a team member from the hiring department in between the phone screen and the interview with the manager. The more points of view you can get, the better. 

Be Open-Minded

It goes without saying that there is no perfect formula to follow when hiring. It’s a mix of the candidate’s experience, personality, knowledge, and overall culture fit. While we can’t necessarily be 100% unbiased during the hiring process, it is important to make sure you’re putting the proper checks and balances in place to make an informed hiring decision that will be mutually beneficial for the organization and the new hire. 

Assuming the responsibility of hiring a new person is exciting, rewarding, and slightly terrifying, all at the same time. In the current job market, there is so much more to do than study a resume and conduct an interview. 


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