What is a Structured Interview?  

For decades, structured interviews have been considered one of the most accurate predictors of future job performance. One recent study found that these highly structured interviews are in fact the best predictor of job success, beating out personality, cognitive ability, and a variety of other factors. With this discovery, it’s even more important for organizations to understand the key elements of a structured interview to maximize the value of interviews in the selection process. 

So let’s get a handle on those basics and dive into what structured interviews are, why they’re useful, and how they differ from their less predictive relative: the unstructured interview.  

What is a Structured Interview?

Generally speaking, a structured interview is one in which all candidates are asked the same job-related questions in the same order by the same interviewer(s).  Each answer is then evaluated using an anchored rating scale. To better understand what this means, let’s break down the elements of a structured interview into two categories: content and evaluation. 

Structured Interview Content

The content of an interview refers (mainly) to the questions candidates are asked. In addition to ensuring that all candidates receive the same questions in the same order, there are a number of other strategies that are routinely used to enhance the structure and predictiveness of the interview: 

  1. Base questions on a thorough job analysis. All interview questions should be job-related. Conducting a job analysis allows for specific job-related knowledge, skills, and abilities to surface. These KSAs can then be used to create targeted interview questions. 
  2. Use situational and past-behavior questions. The types of questions being asked matter! Situational questions are hypothetical (e.g., “What would you do if…”) and tend to measure job knowledge. Past-behavior questions elicit specific examples (e.g., “Tell me about a time…”) and tend to measure job experience. Combining these two types of questions can help capture multiple dimensions of the job. 
  3. Control off-topic information. In order to minimize bias and keep the interview focused on job-related factors, an effort should be made to limit small talk, prompting, and follow-up questions. Candidates should be allowed to ask questions only after the main interview questions have been completed. 

Structured Interview Evaluation

A structured interview process doesn’t end with the interview questions themselves – it extends to how candidates are evaluated. Creating structure in an evaluation means that interviewers rely on a rating scale to score the response for each interview question. A good rating scale has at least five points, with a written definition for each point on the scale. For example, if we are asking an interview question to measure leadership, a “5 out of 5” response might carry the following description: 

“Candidate’s response indicates they have experience gathering employee feedback, understanding the needs and skills of specific team members, and successfully leading a team to carry out broader organizational goals.” 

In addition to using anchored rating scales, there are some practical considerations that can add validity to the evaluation process, such as taking detailed notes and scoring each response prior to moving on to the next question. If possible, multiple interviewers should be used, and it is important for the same interviewer(s) to evaluate every candidate.  

Another consideration when using multiple interviewers is to make sure each interviewer completes their ratings independently prior to discussing any of the candidates. Even an innocent comment like, “She did great!” can inadvertently cause other interviewers to provide a higher score than they normally would have.  

Finally, interviewers should be trained on the elements of a structured interview. Trainings might include an awareness of various forms of bias as well as common rating errors (e.g., don’t score every response a “3”). 

The Case Against Conversational Interviews

A common objection among hiring managers is that structured interviews are too formal and restrictive. Managers might prefer a more unstructured and conversational style, by which they attempt to get to know a candidate and make a gut decision on whether that candidate would be a good fit for the job. Unfortunately, the benefits of a more socially enjoyable interview are far outweighed by the loss in predictive value.  

Unstructured interviews create more opportunities for bias, tend to be less job-related, are evaluated less reliably, and overall are more than two times less predictive than structured interviews in gauging future job performance. For managers that are tempted to “wing it,” these facts should be enough to give it a second thought. 

Nor does structured interviewing diminish the importance of the manager in the selection process. Rather, it gives the manager additional data points (via an anchored rating scale) to make an informed decision. Given the time and cost that goes into recruiting, shouldn’t we be striving to extract as much value as possible from each step? 

The Power of Structured Interviews

By changing your interview strategy to one that is tightly structured, you’ll be able to improve your hiring success rate and find the top-performers in your candidate pool. Structured interviews are incredibly valuable, as they make your hiring process both more fair to candidates and more accurate at identifying candidates who are most likely to succeed.  

The consensus among researchers and practitioners is that structured interviews are here to stay. Organizations that understand what they are and how to use them will put themselves in a strong position to compete for the best talent going forward.