A structured interview is a method involving a collection of practices that enhance the quality and fairness of interviewing outcomes. While structured interviews can be used in multiple arenas such as in marketing or scientific research, they they have a unique meaning and application in the context of hiring.
Scientific researchers have been studying the benefits of structured interviews in the hiring context for decades. Findings show that structured interviews dramatically increase the likelihood of identifying candidates who will exhibit high on-the-job performance and excel in their roles. The evidence also shows that structured interviews reduce human bias in hiring decisions, making hiring outcomes more fair and equitable.
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What is a Structured Interview?
Instead of an interview being either ‘structured’ or ‘unstructured,’ interviews are more or less structured depending on the number of structured practices that are followed. As such, structure is not a binary distinction but instead varies along a continuum.
Research on structured interviews has identified fifteen different practices that contribute to improved interviewing outcomes. Each of the fifteen practices either adds structure to the ‘content’ of an interview or to the way the interview is ‘evaluated.’ In general, the more structured practices you follow, the higher quality your interviewing outcomes will be.
Of the fifteen structured interview practices, however, there are a few that will give you the largest return on investment with respect to helping you make fairer and more accurate hiring decisions. These include planning a set of job-related questions in advance and asking all candidates the same questions in a standardized order. By asking all candidates the same predetermined questions, you elicit a set of responses that can be directly compared when considering which candidate is the best fit for the job (think ‘apples to apples’ versus ‘apples to oranges’). These practices help you build a high quality dataset of interview responses which you can reference as evidence to make more valid and reliable hiring decisions.
It is also worth noting that the terms ‘unstructured’ and ‘semi-structured’ tend to be referenced when discussing structured interviews. To clarify, an unstructured interview is one that follows zero of the fifteen practices identified by scientific research. When at least one of these fifteen practices are followed, the interview becomes structured. The extent to which an interview is structured increases as more practices are followed. A semi-structured interview is distinct in that it is a specific style of research interview where a researcher decides on a set of questions in advance to cover a predetermined set of themes or theoretical frameworks. The conversations between research participants vary depending on the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of each individual.
It is also worth noting that the structured interview method is neither inherently qualitative or quantitative. The nature in which the interview data is coded and analyzed determines whether the method is being used in a quantitative or qualitative fashion.
Advantages of Structured Interviews
Less Biased and Fairer Hiring Decisions
One of the most significant advantages of using structured interview practices is that they make hiring outcomes more equitable by reducing the extent to which human bias influences hiring decisions. This approach tackles bias by ‘changing the systems’ versus ‘changing the person. Research shows that attempting to ‘change the person’ has less effective impacts on addressing fairness and diversity outcomes.
Each of the fifteen structured interview practices reduces bias in a different way. Asking all candidates the same questions elicits information that is more directly comparable. This way, interviewers rely less on their heuristics (i.e., mental shortcuts) for what ‘good’ looks like. These heuristics are often where bias seeps in. By generating high quality candidate data through asking the same questions, reliance on heuristics is minimized and, subsequently, so is bias. Instead, interview decisions are based more on which candidate is the best fit for the job versus which candidate is ‘liked’ the most by an interviewer.
Involving multiple team members to assess candidates is another structured interview practice that has a substantial effect in reducing bias. When one interviewer rates a candidate on a particular performance dimension (e.g., job-related skill), that rating inherently contains the interviewer’s idiosyncratic bias. By having multiple interviewers rate the same candidate on a particular performance dimension and averaging the ratings across interviewers, the average minimizes each interviewer’s idiosyncratic bias. This practice results in a rating that is a more accurate reflection of the candidate’s ability to perform on the job. When doing this for all candidates, idiosyncratic bias is systematically reduced, resulting in more equitable hiring outcomes.
More Effective and Accurate Decisions
The second major benefit of using structured interviewing practices is that they help interviewers make more accurate hiring decisions. They increase the chances that the best person for the job is identified and hired from a given candidate pool. Ultimately, this contributes to business success by creating an organization that consists of high-performing and highly qualified talent.
Asking interview questions that predict how candidates will perform on-the-job is one structured interviewing practice that contributes to more accurate hiring decisions. Certain types of questions have been shown to do a better job at predicting job performance than others. Behavioral and situational questions, for example, have both been found to predict job performance across multiple research studies (more on these below). Each of these questions elicit job-related responses from candidates which can then be assessed to determine their relative fit for the role.
Easily Compare Candidates
Using a standardized scoring approach for questions is another practice that enhances efficiency and accuracy in decision making. This involves scoring all candidates on the same criteria using a predetermined method (e.g., 1-5 rating scales). By scoring candidates as they are interviewed, you create a numeric dataset of each candidate’s interview performance. When it comes time to make your hiring decision, you can directly compare each candidate’s ratings on the job-related criteria. The candidate with the highest score is the one who is best fit for the role, helping you evaluate candidates more effectively and making your hiring decisions more data-driven and efficient.
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