Everyone should be using structured interviews — here’s why

Structured interviews

Everyone should be using structured interviews — here’s why

1080 565 Simon Desjardins

Interviews are often less predictive of on-the-job performance than we imagine, a problem we wrote about here. Yet despite their ubiquity, unstructured interviews — where we ask candidates different questions in different sequences that may or may not be tied to job requirements — have actually been universally debunked as an effective predictive technique.

The interview process is, of course, vital to the hiring process, so how can we get better at it?

Structured interview 101

Decades of research tells us that using a “structured interview” is more than twice as effective than its unstructured counterpart in predicting on-the-job performance, and even more so when combined with competency-based assessments. The evidence is clear, and yet it’s extremely rare to see structured interviews employed in practice.

The idea behind a structured interview is underpinned by the objective of keeping the interviewer focused on questions that can predict performance and reducing the variance of scoring that exists when different interviewers prioritise different attributes in a candidate. They are best suited to interviews for junior and mid-level roles involving multiple interviewers.

Anatomy of a structured interview

  • Candidates are asked the same questions, in the same order, by every interviewer.
  • Questions are explicitly linked to key competencies required to do the job.
  • A standard rating scale is used by interviewers to grade candidate answers.
  • Interviewers agree in advance what they are looking for in a good answer.

When used correctly, the structured interview reduces the risk of bias affecting the interview outcome, increases consistency in ranking candidates, and minimises the interview time.

The key to using this concept effectively is crafting predictive questions and understanding that you’ll only have time to ask a few. Forcing ourselves to prioritise which two or three competencies actually drive 80 percent of the performance in a given role is a good place to start.

Reducing the time we spend on the interview process

We often hear hesitancy to adopt structured interviews because they can be perceived to take more time. “We have to hire 50 people this month. We don’t have time to implement a new structure,” is a common justification. Some may be surprised to learn that adopting a structured interview process actually reduces average interviewing time, particularly when more than one interviewer is involved. This is achieved both by reducing the pre-interview preparation period (because the questions are already prepared and optimized for an efficient interview) and by reducing the time to make a final hiring decision (because interviewers are clear about what they’re looking for).

Pathway to building a predictive question bank

Ultimately, building discipline around data collection throughout the interview process will help move beyond improving just our “hire rate” to something far more valuable: improving the rate at which high performers are selected. Hasty bullets written in our notebooks from 6 months ago are all but impossible to link to the ultimate performance of a candidate down the line (“What did we ask her again?”). If we have consistent interview data — meaning which questions were asked and what the responses were — we can baseline those questions with their teams to identify which interview questions and corresponding answers are most predictive of identifying high performers. We’ll also be able to pinpoint which questions are ultimately uncorrelated and can be dropped in the future.

Why are structured interviews so rarely used?

The ultimate benefits of a structured interview process can take months to materialise. Responsibilities are spread across multiple people on the team. Half a year may have passed by the time the candidate has been onboarded and we’ve had a chance to evaluate performance. The original interview seems like a distant memory at this point. Taking a decision to adopt a structured interview process will probably require a push from senior management along with commitment to enforce the practice.

We often have a related challenge of convincing hiring manager colleagues to change their interviewing practices, particularly when our colleagues don’t necessarily perceive interviewing to be a process in need of fixing in the first place.

At Shortlist, we have worked with clients ranging from start-ups to large multinationals. We also design competency-based assessments to further enhance screening outcomes before a candidate even reaches the interview stage.

Not all organisations will transition off of the unstructured interview as a screening tool, but the evidence to do so is clear. It’s time to implement a better way to interview.

About Shortlist Insights

Shortlist Insights helps companies build capacity to improve how they recruit and manage talent. We combine best practices from industry experts, research, and our experience to deliver practical and tested solutions and thought leadership. Ultimately, we help our clients build a competitive people advantage.