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Structured vs. Unstructured Interviews: The Verdict

Written by Michelle Silverstein

For most employers, interviews continue to be a pivotal factor in the hiring process despite mounting evidence that interviews can be incredibly unreliable for predicting job success. One study found that impressions made in the first 10 seconds of an interview could impact the interview’s outcome; another study suggested that employers hire people that they like the most on a personal level; and research has consistently demonstrated that unstructured interviews are one of the worst predictors for job performance.

Despite all this, ditching the interview altogether is probably not a good solution. The reason is the key difference between unstructured and structured interviews. Unstructured interviews lack defined questions and unfold organically through conversation. It’s easily apparent how unstructured interviews can lead to bias when the “success” of the interview is dependent on natural chemistry or common interests.

In contrast, structured interviews consist of defined, standardized questions designed to efficiently determine if the candidate is up for the job at hand. By standardizing the interview process for all candidates, structured interviews minimize bias so that employers can focus on the factors that will have a direct impact on job performance.  At face value, structured interviews are more useful for predicting job performance, and it shows in the data. Structured interviews are almost twice as predictive of job performance as unstructured interviews.

So why aren’t more people exclusively using structured interviews? One of the biggest obstacles may be how difficult it is to actually plan and write a structured interview in the first place. Constructing a format for a structured interview can be time-consuming, requiring careful thought and a little bit of trial and error. Structured interviews can also feel awkward and stiff for candidates.

While establishing a structured interview process may be a challenge, it’s still a worthy goal. The data consistently reaffirms that unstructured interviews are significantly less predictive than structured interviews. Unstructured interviews also increase your chances of introducing more bias into the process. If your goal is to hire the candidates who are most likely to succeed on the job, then structured interviews are the way to go.



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