This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
A structured interview is a set, repeatable interview process that provides each candidate with the same questions, in the same order. Using this process allows for less subjectivity when reviewing applicants, hopefully leading to hiring the best and most qualified person.
The central piece of a structured interview is the preplanned questions you ask every candidate. Keep your list of questions to about a dozen. Include questions about skills, job duties, and cultural connections. Having a list ensures you ask the same questions of each candidate and can evaluate them fairly. It also ensures you don’t get off-topic and waste valuable and limited time.
Following a Structured Process
Creating a structured interview process takes more time and effort than just winging the interviews. But it will give you better results because you’re asking the same questions of each candidate, making grading them easier and eventually leading you to the right hiring decision.
While you want to follow a process, don’t be so rigid that you come off as interrogating a candidate instead of having a conversation with them. A two-way conversation often prompts a more fruitful discussion.
Begin With Pleasantries
Whether you’re interviewing someone in person or on video chat, say hi, ask how their day is going. Take two minutes to greet each other, build rapport, and make the candidate feel comfortable. When candidates feel comfortable, they’re more likely to be open and honest with their answers, giving you greater insight into their abilities.
Ask Your Questions (& Avoid Illegal Ones)
For the most structured interviews, ask each question in the same order for every candidate. Some companies even put the questions on paper or in a video chat text box for the candidates to read instead of having the interviewer verbally ask the question. This attempts to take all bias out of the equation.
Using your prepared list of questions will also keep your company from treading into regulatory issues. Questions regarding age, sex, gender, race, religion, disability, or nationality cannot be asked. Avoiding even the appearance of illegal interview questions is the best way to conduct interviews.
Don’t be afraid to follow up. While you don’t want to go down a rabbit hole and discuss topics unrelated to the job, asking pointed follow-up questions can help you gauge a candidate’s level of skill and interest. If you think they’re giving you vague answers, probe more and ask for more detail. It’s important that you get a complete understanding of the person’s ability to do the job; if you’re not getting adequate answers, that’s telling.
To accomplish this, however, you must listen attentively and participate in the conversation. You can’t simply ask your questions, then put your head down and write down as much as possible. Listen, process, and take quick notes.
Take Notes During & After the Interview
Take brief notes during the interview. These can be simple words or phrases that you can come back to after the interview and expand on.
You will not remember everything that was said and discussed during multiple interviews, so write it down while it is happening, but keep it brief. After every interview, take the time to review your notes and add relevant details about the candidate.
Stay on Time
Make sure you’re constantly aware of the time. You’d be surprised how quickly time can pass, even when you only ask a handful or two of questions. Most people will expand on their answers, giving you lots of information, which can be helpful to make your hiring decision. If the time is dragging and getting answers from a candidate is like pulling teeth, that can be a sign they may not be a good fit for your organization.
If you have 10 structured interview questions, give yourself about five minutes per question for an hourlong interview. You’ll have more time at the start to say a few pleasantries and at the end to allow the candidate to ask a question or two.
Let Candidates Ask Questions of You
You don’t need to save much time for this—five minutes is usually enough. During the earlier parts of the interview, you will naturally respond to some of their questions, but this also gives you time to address any additional questions they may have about the position or your company. It’s possible for you to determine how much research they did and their interest in the job through their questions, two indicators of what they’ll be like as an employee.
Use a Candidate Rating System
Structured interviews often use a rating system to make it easier to compare candidates at a glance. Most candidate rating systems evaluate each answer on a five-point scale, making it imperative that every question is asked of every candidate.
Some companies like to have interviewers rate each question during the interview before moving on to the next question. We recommend waiting until the interview is over and you’ve had a chance to review your notes taken during the interview and add details, then give a score on each question.
You can get an overall evaluation of each candidate by rating their response to each question. If you had one candidate score a 4.7 and the rest scored below a 4, then you clearly have one standout candidate. More likely, candidate scores will be grouped closely together, some better than others. That helps you eliminate certain candidates who score too low.
Download our free interview evaluation form and scorecard to make the process easier.
Creating Structured Interview Questions
Before you sit down to interview candidates, you need to prepare your questions. You may even want to have your list of questions prepared when you write the job description, especially if several interviewers will be involved.
Having your list of questions to ask every interview candidate ensures you evaluate all the applicants on responses to similar questions and hypothetical situations. While some companies prefer to hold unstructured interviews and allow interviewers to ask whatever questions they deem relevant, we recommend structured interview questions. Here’s a brief breakdown of the differences.
Structured Interview Questions
Unstructured Interview Questions
Keep you focused on core duties of the job
Wandering topics unrelated to the job
Easier to evaluate multiple candidates on answers to the same questions
Difficult to compare candidates when asking different questions in each interview
Objectively reach the best hiring decision
May lead to a poor hiring decision
Avoid illegal interview questions
Could stumble into prohibited topics
Provides more consistent results
More prone to errors in hiring
Most of your structured interview questions will be focused on the job and the candidate’s skills. To prepare these questions, you’ll need to review the job description in detail, highlighting certain skills and qualifications the best candidates will need.
Once you determine the top skills necessary for the job, write the questions to ask each candidate. Here are a few examples:
- How did you use [software, equipment, tool, skill] in your previous job?
- Explain how your current job duties align with our position.
- What do you think are the most important skills someone needs to be successful in this role?
- How do you keep your skills up to date and advancing?
- If you’re unable to finish a project or task on time, what do you do?
- What are your key professional strengths and how do they relate to this job?
- Tell me how you would handle [common difficult situations].
- If you’re selected, what do you think would be your biggest challenge on Day One in this job?
You can tweak these questions to fit many of your open positions. The key is to tailor the questions to the specifics of the job, paying special attention to the skills you need someone to bring.
These are questions you can recycle for each job interview, since they’re more focused on your company than on the specific role. You’ll probably only need to ask a couple of cultural questions. Here are some examples:
- How do you handle a disagreement with a supervisor or colleague?
- Why did you choose to apply for this position with our company?
- How do you prefer to be managed?
Check out our list of best interview questions for more questions to choose from.
Many interviewers think there’s no middle ground on interviews—they either have to be completely rigid (structured) or totally fluid (unstructured). The truth and the best approach is in the middle. Make a list of structured interview questions that you ask all candidates, but listen to their answers and ask follow-up questions to help guide your conversation and hiring decision. The use of a structured interview not only keeps you out of regulatory hot water, but also streamlines the hiring process.