(This article originally appeared on Forbes Human Resources Council.)
Even in the era of big data, job screening apps and instant, 24/7 communication, the traditional interview can still be one of the main reasons why someone gets hired. A large part of this stems from the human factor of wanting — and needing — intangibles to evaluate someone. There’s a certain sensibility to that. After all, it’s often an in-person meeting from which you can get a sense of a candidate’s teamwork abilities and communication skills, two extremely important qualities for a successful long-term employee.
At the same time, interviews introduce a natural bias into the process. We’ve all probably known someone who got hired because he or she interviews well but struggles with actual day-to-day responsibilities. Why do interviews fail to filter out people like this? Simply put, first impressions make a difference — so much so that they may sway an unqualified candidate into a position to be hired.
Thus, interviews are a necessity but also a double-edged sword. Going by a resume or pre-interview screening alone can miss other red flags or even under-qualify a candidate. The question shouldn’t be, “Should you interview?” but rather, "How do you interview?"
Structured Vs. Unstructured Interviews
Interviews come in two different forms. For years, many companies relied primarily on unstructured interviews. Unstructured doesn’t mean that it lacks any preparation by hiring managers or HR screeners. Instead, it entails a process that goes without any formal structure as dictated by HR. Any sort of preparation, quizzing, questioning or other process stems strictly from the hiring managers and current staff interviewing the candidate. This means that each discussion becomes an individualized process and that level of individuality makes it very easy for unconscious bias to come into play.
On the other hand, a structured interview is usually comprised of the following components:
Process. Using a structured interview, each candidate follows a process established by HR. This puts every candidate through the same steps, with questions prepared ahead of time and asked in the same order for every candidate. This repetition minimizes the possibility of unconscious bias that can come about when each hiring manager personalizes each interview.
Focus on skills. Because the questions are prepared ahead of time, hiring managers and HR can collaborate on highlighting the particular skill sets required, as well as the challenges the position will face. This focus will give each candidate breathing room to explain and deep-dive into their own abilities rather than possibly losing interview time to irrelevant tangents.
Cognitive ability. The Google model of tests and open-ended questions has become the norm for many corporations, particularly in the tech sector. These challenges put the candidate in a situation where some hard metrics can be tracked — length of time needed to answer, accuracy of answer, number of creative solutions, etc. These types of tests also evaluate the key cognitive abilities that tend to do the best job of predicting a candidate’s probability of success.
Data Comparisons. With a structured interview, it’s easier for hiring managers and HR staff to compare data across candidates, providing standardized metrics and values to help filter out less-qualified candidates and reach a faster consensus.
It’s important to note that just because an interview is structured doesn’t mean that it’s simply putting a candidate through the equivalent of a verbal pop quiz. Instead, the structure ensures the interview maintains a tight focus on the necessary skills and traits for the position. By establishing process and planning questions, candidates still have an opportunity to let their personality shine through — it’s just done in a way that also evaluates their skills.
Which Interview Strategy Should You Use?
In the HR world, there is a definite shift toward structured interviews. The numbers back up this decision: By implementing a predictive structure, studies have shown that bias tends to be minimized and the process produces a significantly better outcome in terms of hiring a reliable long-term employee.
There may also be some internal resistance to moving toward purely structured interviews, as some hiring managers may still want to have open discussions. In this case, an effective strategy is to have structured interviews as a first round to whittle down the quantity of candidates into a select few. Then the following round can be a little more free-form so hiring managers can assess intangible qualities and personality.
Either way, transitioning to a structured interview can be challenging. Establishing a protocol, creating the questions and skill tests for particular positions and training hiring managers on executing in these situations all take a significant amount of time and effort. However, while this may feel like a challenge during the ramp-up period, your company will experience long-lasting dividends with longer retention and smaller overall turnover.