Structured interviews that tap into a candidate’s job-relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities using a consistent, evidence-based process are far and away better predictors of future job performance, when compared with unstructured interviews that rely on information gathered by “intuition”, personal preferences, and stylistic differences among individual interviewers.
Too often, people associate the “structured” part of a pre-hire process with standardized tests of applicants’ problem-solving abilities, personality, and job-relevant knowledge and skill, while they associate interviewing with a less structured way of filling in the gaps left by these tests. Some may even choose to forego the structured components of hiring altogether, believing that a structured process completely misses the mark in assessing the unique indicators of each applicant’s readiness for a job.
Though it is true that interviews can be used to fill in the gaps left by a standardized test battery, it doesn’t follow that these gaps should be filled using an unstructured or informal interview process. Below, I highlight two of the most compelling reasons why it is critical to add structure to the interview process.
Unstructured interviews cannot be validated against job-relevant success factors
One of the problems with unstructured interviews is that, quite simply, many interviewers believe their unstructured method of filling in the gaps is working just fine—even though they have no real evidence to support this belief. To continue the point above, many interviewers believe that one of the advantages of interviewing is that it can uncover unique warning signs that a candidate will likely not succeed on the job. This search for warning signs is intuitively appealing; if an interviewer has seen tens, even hundreds, of employees fail on the job due to a certain characteristic that can be observed during the interview (take, for example, an interviewer’s belief that candidates who say negative things about a prior employer during the interview are much more likely to perform poorly), it eventually begins to make sense to the interviewer that she should refuse to hire candidates if and when they display this behavior.
If she were to dig further, however, this interviewer might uncover the directly job-relevant characteristics that are associated with making negative statements about an employer (for example, lack of professionalism, disagreeableness, poor emotional control). Focusing on job-relevant characteristics during the interview leads to more accurate hiring decisions. Returning to the example above, think about all the candidates who didn’t mention bad things about an employer, but who will probably also display a lack of professionalism, disagreeableness, and poor emotional control once on the job. By focusing on the one small indicator of these job-relevant characteristics (“if and when” it happens), the interviewer has missed an opportunity to take a more structured approach that would engage all interviewees in a conversation about job-relevant factors. Why not turn this “if and when” into a job-relevant interview question that every candidate must respond to?
Unstructured interviewing leads to a lack of control in your hiring process
Adding structure to the interview involves more than just asking every candidate the same set of interview questions; a quality structured interview should also have the entire interview process, from beginning to end, mapped out using a carefully constructed interview guide. A interview guide covers all aspects of the interview process, from (a) preparing for the interview, to (b) establishing rules for how follow-up and probing questions can be used, to (c) training interviewers to avoid common interviewing mistakes, and finally, to (d) establishing scoring rules that ensure all interviewers are rating every interview consistently—and that they are identifiable in the event that their ratings ever stray.
A structured interview does not have to mean a dry interview; there is still plenty of room within a structured process for an interviewers to let their individual characters—and more importantly, the character of your organization—shine through. In fact, evidence strongly suggests that adding structure to the interview process not only enables better decision making and ensures fairness—it also creates a more engaging candidate experience. Even the most skilled interviewer will flounder, at least from time to time, if the procedures for conducting the interview are not laid out explicitly. Why risk losing out on a quality new hire—or creating a negative impression of your organization—simply because your interviewers weren’t prepared? By adding structure to your process, you can let the interview do the job it was intended to do.