What is a structured interview?

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A structured interview process follows a straightforward framework. The main parties involved in the hiring process (usually the hiring manager and their partner from the talent acquisition team) begin with a kickoff meeting. During this working session, they determine the answers to three key questions:

  • Who are we trying to hire?
  • How will we evaluate the candidates?
  • What will the interview process look like?

There are several benefits to using the structured approach to interviewing. It significantly impacts your chances of making the right hire since you’ve taken the time to define what you’re looking for up front. It helps you think long-term rather than focusing on immediate needs because you’ve defined what a successful hire would accomplish during their first year in the role. It limits the role of bias in the decision-making process since you’re focusing on candidates’ skills rather than their educational background or previous companies they worked in. And it creates a better candidate experience since each interaction with a candidate has a clear purpose and structure. To learn more about the benefits of structured interviews, see this blog post.

How to conduct a structured interview

To conduct a structured interview, you’ll need to spend some time creating a holistic view of your ideal candidate. Beyond deciding the role name, department and direct manager, you’ll outline the business objectives you’re trying to meet with this role and what a successful hire will accomplish in their first 30 days and year on the job.

Once you have a clear idea of who you’re trying to hire, you can use that information to clearly define the hiring criteria for the role by listing out the required skills, personality traits and qualifications.

Now it’s time to design your interview plan, which involves mapping out each stage of the interview process and what you’d like to learn about candidates during that stage. Your goal is to get just the information you need at each stage to decide whether you want to move the candidate to the next stage in the process. You can drill down further and outline the questions or topics that will be covered at each step of the interview. For example, the recruiter might cover basic requirements and interest in the role during the initial phone screen while the hiring manager might assign and review a take-home assessment to learn more about a candidate’s specific skills that would be relevant to the job.

If you’d like more guidance on setting up your own structured interview process, this interactive workbook will walk you through each step.

Structured vs. unstructured hiring interviews

When you use a structured interview process, interviewers have clear guidelines for what to ask candidates and how to assess their answers. This means each interview has a clear purpose and gives candidates the opportunity to showcase more of their background and skills. It also creates a more consistent and equitable interview experience because all candidates answer and get assessed on the same questions.

Unstructured interviews, on the other hand, leave a lot up to chance. It might seem like you’re trusting your hiring team to take charge, but most people don’t automatically know how to interview. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced and developed. Besides the lack of training and support for interviewers, with unstructured interviews, you also run the risk of introducing hiring bias. What exactly is hiring bias? This is when people take mental shortcuts during the hiring process that can often overlook qualified candidates in favor of arbitrary factors such as which school the candidate attended – rather than their skills for the role. Relying on these mental shortcuts means hiring managers and recruiters alike are more prone to make mistakes. We need to be especially careful when making decisions about people. You can read more about overcoming hiring bias on the Greenhouse blog.

Another risk with unstructured interviews is that interviewers might all ask the same questions, resulting in some that are unrelated to the job or the candidate’s skills – or in the worst-case scenario, they might even ask questions that are illegal (even if this is not their intention). Unstructured interviews can leave candidates feeling like they’re not being respected, taken seriously or given the chance to accurately represent themselves.

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