Submitted by William Beaumo… on Mon, 05/16/2022 - 20:39

Interviews can be daunting for both the candidate and the interviewer, after all, for the candidate it’s about getting a job - a dream job in some cases and for the interviewer it’s about finding the right candidate - a dream candidate in some cases for that role. 

That’s why interviewing is a skill set by itself. Being a good interviewer however takes many years of experience and time to learn the practice. Of course, there are some things you can do to be better at interviewing and that is to take a structured approach. Rather than letting loose and not knowing what kinds of questions to ask or potentially entering a legal issue with some of your questions, a structured approach can not only mitigate the latter but it can make it easier for you to find the best candidate. 

In this guide we will take a closer look at what a structured interview is, when to use one, different types of interviews compared, advantages and disadvantages and some of the more common questions used in a structured interview. 

What is a structured interview?

As described on the Indeed website, a structured interview is “ a series of predefined standardised questions every candidate answers in the same order. The recruiters collect all candidates' answers. Then, they score these answers based on the same rating system to easily compare you to all the other candidates.”

A structured interview is one of the most systematised form or interview types you can undertake. A structured interview, as described above uses predetermined / predefined questions in a specific order. Many of the questions are typically closed-ended and that many of the questions can even be  “yes” or “no” answers. (These are also known as dichotomous questions) 

By asking predefined questions in a set order provides a more reliable basis for comparison with other candidates.

When to use a structured interview

There are some very specific circumstances which give way to using structured interviews, and because the structured interview approach has been correlated with reliability and validity - reducing the chance of a bad hire it’s better to use this method than some of the other methods which we will later feature in this guide. 

A structured interview comes in useful for the following circumstances:

  • When there is a clear understanding of what’s required - enabling interview questions to be optimally defined.
  • When time limitations dictate the need for interview efficiency.
  • Your research question depends on strong parity between participants, with environmental conditions held constant.
  • You are looking to establish non-bias criteria for specific job functions.

Different types of interviews compared

There are different types of interviews and they fall into three categories; structured, unstructured and semi structured. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages and each can be used in different circumstances to gain the information needed in order to make the necessary hiring decisions

  • Structured interviews
    • Involve asking the same questions in exactly the same order.
    • Enables objective comparison.
    • Can be yes or no questions.
    • Can feel like a tick box interview.
    • You can have your questions “leak out” to other candidates.
    • Makes it harder to get to know the character of the candidate.
    • Are more difficult to develop and expedite.
  • Unstructured interviews
    • Questions may not be prepared in advance.
    • Respond to spontaneous in-interview exchanges.
    • Great to get a read on different experience levels which can vary role to role.
    • Feels very casual putting the candidate at ease.
    • Main advantage is a personalised approach - engaging for some candidates.
    • But since candidates are not subject to the same questions - more difficult to carry out objective comparisons.
  • Semi structured interviews
    • Uses some predetermined questions - and some which are not planned.
    • They can potentially offer the advantages of both structured and unstructured.
    • But this format is less objective than the formal structured approach.

Advantages of structured interviews

We have covered some of these in the last section, but structured interviews have lots of positive notes including:

  • Standardised questions - support efficiency.
  • Using standardised questions enables objective comparisons.
  • It also allows the relevance / usefulness of questions to be continuously assessed.
  • You can easily compare multiple job candidates.
  • Reduce biassed opinions of potential candidates.
  • They are quicker to do and evaluate.
  • Can be used to pick a new line of questioning if required (moving slightly into a semi-structured format).
  • Structured interviews can be readily repeated for confirmation.
  • Structured interviews are seen to be more fair
  • They are also more legally defensible.
  • Structured interview reduce the potential for bias.
  • Structured interviews are simple, cost effective and efficient.
  • Creates less stress for the interviewer.

Disadvantages of structured interviews

Whilst there are notable advantages to the structured interviews, there are some disadvantages.

  • The interviewee can only respond to the questions asked.
  • The formality of structured interviews doesn’t allow a rapport to be developed with interviewees.
  • There is no flexibility in structured interviews.
    • No opportunity to ask any questions other than those which have been predefined.
    • No opportunity to expand on the answers or provide context.
  • Structured interview responses omit detail.
    • No opportunity to investigate an interviewee’s personality.
  • No opportunity dig deeper into questions at the time of interview.
  • Candidates are required to plan more in advance.
  • Questions need development, review, and testing to approve and implement.
  • The pre-planned set of questions is at risk of being revealed, which can help applicants game the system.
  • Can present the organisation as being more cold and formal business which can be off putting for some people.

Common structured interview questions

As mentioned in the introduction, there is a skill to asking questions and being able to conduct great interviews. This is why structured interviews have become more heard of in recent years because it allows people of all experience levels to be able to conduct interviews and also, evaluate candidates based on their responses which are easier to measure in these structured formats. 

Structured interviews are great at assessing hard and soft skills:

  • Job specific, measurable attributes - E.g.
    • writing, reading, translation, drawing, data analytics, Java programming, accounting…
  • Soft skills such as:
    • initiative, resilience, diligence, creative problem-solving, ability to take criticism, team-working…

Here are some examples of structured interview questions that you can use for your own organisation.

Job specific

Job specific structured interview questions helps recruiters to understand if you have the experience and correct hard skills required for the role. The questions can be general or specific in nature. Some questions to reveal the skills include:

  • What is your experience in a customer-focused role?
  • In your opinion, what's your best skill for lead generation?
  • What are the pros and cons of the drawing software you used in your last job?
  • How do you take and remember large orders?
  • What software do you use to edit imagery? 
  • Can you tell us about your experience in a marketing role?

Behavioural questions

Behavioural questions are designed to use your work experience as a predictor for future behaviour. They are asking you a problem and you’re designed to find a solution in the answer. A lot of behavioural questions are designed to look at your soft skills. 

  • Have you ever experienced a situation with no apparent solution? How did you solve it?
  • Have you ever missed a deadline? How did you deal with that?
  • How do you check your work quality?
  • Have you ever felt disappointed in yourself? How did you cope with this problem?
  • How did you handle a negotiation with a supplier who was focused just on pricing?
  • Can you tell me about times you had to impress demanding clients? What did you do to please them?
  • What is your favourite thing about designing websites for estate agents?

Situational questions

Situational questions are designed to test problem solving and critical thinking skills, interviewers think of specific questions about challenging situations and how you would overcome them. 

  • Give me an example of a time you had to sell a product that wasn’t doing so well. .
  • Talk about how you would handle a difficult supplier of materials.
  • Some of your team members are complaining about the tight deadline and refuse to collaborate. What do you do?
  • You have competing projects with the same deadline. How do you prioritise them?
  • You have almost completed the website development, and two days before the deadline, the client asks you to change some important features? How do you handle this situation?

You can use probing questions that might be predefined and used to gain additional insight. Naturally you want to have some structure to this but if you are finding that a strict structure in the other questions has not allowed you to get to understand or know the candidate any better, then you can use these kind of questions to help give you a better idea:

  • What was your role in the new project?
  • What assistance did your supervisor give you on this?
  • You told me you have staff management experience. How do you manage poor employees' performance?
  • How many full-stack developers did you manage?
  • Did you design the campaign alone?
  • Did you write the business plan alone?

How to conduct a structured interview

Naturally, you can better prepare a structured interview than doing one which is completely flying from the seat of your pants. This involves a series of steps which include: 

  • Carry out a job analysis 

For every position in the business, you have to use  job analysis to match skills to job tasks. 

The information you gather from this process is essential to design a structured interview. It can help you develop a professional and informative job ad, structured interview questions as well as salary ranges. Apart from selection, it can also help towards your training and organisational needs.

  • From the job analysis - identify candidate requirements

Because you have the list of requirements from your needed position, you need to give a full definition for each one. For example, what are programming skills? We all understand it in the abstract but you need to indicate what this means for a specific role. This will be a great help for later when you’ll have to develop a grading scale or behavioural examples.

  • Develop interview questions based on what’s required

You can use a variety of situational and behavioural questions related directly to the role but these should be developed with an expert to give a better rounded answer and experience to the process. 

Both situational and behavioural questions are job-related. You can choose great questions from existing lists and categorise them according to the requirements you want to assess.

You can use additional probing questions to gain more information or clarification but they must be predetermined like the other questions. 

  • Determine and define the scoring criteria

You need to use a scoring system to ensure objective decisions. You can choose the common scale of five or seven points ranging from low to high. The key here is to accurately define the scoring levels.

Your grading scale can look something like this:

Level 1 - Low: Handles interpersonal situations involving little or no tension or discomfort and requires close guidance

Level 3 - Average: Handles interpersonal situations involving a moderate degree of tension or discomfort and requires occasional guidance

Level 5 - Outstanding: Handles interpersonal situations involving a high degree of tension or discomfort and advises others

  • Finally, conduct the interview

You now need to conduct the interviews based on this criteria that you have laid out. Refine the process if you notice any issues or haven’t gotten the information you wanted or required to make the best hiring decision. 

Conclusion

Being a good interviewer takes many years of experience and time to learn the practice. Of course, there are some things you can do to be better at interviewing and that is to take a structured approach. From being able to assess candidates in a fair an unbiased way to avoiding any legal disputes from the interview process, you can use the structured method to give you more information and insight based on skills and experience - and then build on that information with some additional, more open questions. 

Of course, there will be downsides to structured interviews but overall, if you’re trying to assess skills and are limited on time in your search for employees, this is a great method to use. 

The Thomas Recruitment Platform gives you control over your interview process and selection criteria. Hiring managers can use the platform to input the answers from these structured interviews and create a rounded picture of suitable candidates.

If you would like to find out more, please speak to one of our team.