A quick and easy guide to structured interview questions

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3 mins, 32 secs read time

Would you ever bake a cake without a recipe? It’s a risky endeavor, and you are very likely to end up with something other than the outcome you were hoping for. Similarly, interviewing a candidate without a list of structured interview questions can be a recipe for disaster.

Sure, having a freeform conversation might be more fun and create a casual atmosphere, but it also means that the interviewer is likely to repeat questions other interviewers have already covered, look for common ground with interviewees (increasing the likelihood of succumbing to the “similar to me” bias) or accidentally ask questions they shouldn’t be asking about a candidate’s background. That’s why creating a structured hiring plan is the key to interviewing candidates consistently while reducing various types of bias from the hiring process.

What Is a structured interview?

We’ve all experienced an unstructured interview – the type of free-flowing conversation where an interviewer asks whatever questions they want. A structured interview, in contrast, is carefully designed to best assess a candidate against the criteria for a specific job. Following a structured interview format means that the hiring team has defined a clear purpose for each interview, outlined specific questions for interviewers to ask in each portion and provided a rubric to help interviewers know how to assess different answers. Following a structured interview format means the hiring team can take a data-driven approach to hiring decisions instead of relying on their instincts and feelings.

Why use structured interviews?

By focusing on the skills and qualities a candidate will need to be successful in a role through a structured interview, the hiring team is taking a more objective approach to the hiring process, which benefits both candidates and your company.

Structured interviews are beneficial to candidates because they:

  • demonstrate a company’s commitment to an intentional and fair approach to hiring
  • respect candidates’ time and don’t ask them to repeat the same answers over and over again
  • assess candidates on the skills and qualities they’ll need to succeed on the job

Structured interviews are beneficial to employers because they:

  • help reduce bias in the interview process
  • take the burden off interviewers to come up with good questions on the spot
  • improve the likelihood of finding a candidate who’s a great fit for the role

What are some examples of structured interview questions?

The first step to writing solid structured interview questions is defining the skills and qualities a candidate will need to be successful in the role. Once your hiring team has zeroed in on the requirements for the role, you can plan which questions will best elicit this information from candidates.

Generally, you can break questions into four categories: verification questions, behavioral questions, situational questions and skills tests. Let’s look at each one in more detail.

Verification questions

You can use verification questions to determine whether a candidate has specific qualifications. These are generally yes/no questions that occur in the early stages of the interview process.

Example: Have you ever managed a distributed team?

Behavioral questions

Behavioral questions or prompts allow you to learn about how someone has performed in the past. By asking someone to share a story of how they’ve done something before, you can get a good sense of their traits and skills.

Example: Tell me about a time when you helped one of your direct reports grow professionally.

Situational questions

The purpose of situational questions is to draw out analytical or problem-solving skills. Situational questions are most effective when used within a structured problem-solving session and you ask the candidate to walk you through their thought process.

Example: Tell me how you would handle [specific job challenge].

Skills test

A skills test isn’t necessarily a specific question, it’s generally a task or assignment that allows the candidate to create something. It helps the hiring team to assess whether the candidate can meet deadlines, follow instructions and produce work that’s aligned with the hiring manager’s expectations.

Example: [For a customer success role] Choose a favorite app or software feature. Write a short description (fewer than 500 words) teaching someone how to use it.

You now have all the essential ingredients for preparing a perfect structured interview. Ready to give it a go?

To learn more about structured interviewing – and get support with each step of planning structured interviews at your company – download a copy of Structured Hiring 101.

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Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno

is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.