What is the difference between structured and unstructured interviews?
Approximately 85% of hiring managers rely on their gut feeling to make decisions about candidates. This is a problem at every stage of the process, from CV screening where women and People of Colour face anything from a 30 - 50% lower call-back rate.
Before we dive deeper into that, here are some basic definitions.
Unstructured interviews: the main focus is on allowing the conversation to flow. Some questions might be drawn up by recruiters ahead of the interview, but they are asked on the basis of the conversation with no concrete structure.
Structured interviews: interviewers have planned and written a set of standardized questions, the types of answers they’re looking for, and how to rate the responses given by the candidates based on predetermined criteria. All candidates receive the same set of questions, with less of an opportunity for the conversation to be spontaneous compared to unstructured interviews.
Which interview format is better? Does it matter?
Even though unstructured interviews are more commonly used across industries, there is a general consensus that structured interviews provide higher quality information about the candidate - and therefore are more likely to help recruiters to make better decisions.
Structured interviews are more effective at capturing how well the candidate will perform in the role
We tend to overestimate how good we are at instinctively assessing people Harvard Business Review found that when it came to hiring decisions, data-based hiring methods always outperformed human instincts by at least 25% - even in cases when humans had more information about the candidate.
Ease and fairness in assessing candidates
Organizational psychology researchers at Lund University, Wolgast, Björklund & Bäckström claim that differences in the kinds of questions posed to candidates can result in different types of information to be gathered - some candidates could be asked questions that allow them to demonstrate skills that are relevant to the role, while others may get questions that might highlight their shortcomings.
As each candidate is questioned differently, the interviewer cannot have an accurate bird’s eye view of interviewees - there are no baseline criteria from which to judge their responses, as no baseline has been set.
In structured interviews, since all candidates are asked the same set of questions, interviewee responses can be measured against a baseline, checked against the pre-decided criteria, and compared to each other. The problems of comparability and unfairness do not arise.
Structured interviews reduce bias
Irrelevant traits such as gender, ethnicity, weight, height, perceived attractiveness can - and do - make an impression on the interviewer - who are more often than not, totally unaware. Wolgast, Björklund & Bäckström found that people of a different ethnicity from the interviewer tend to be asked less job-relevant questions than those of the same ethnicity.
In unstructured interviews, people of different ethnicities are more likely to be asked questions about their culture or hobbies, thus not giving them the opportunity to illustrate their potential for the job. There is also evidence that unstructured interviews result in lower interview scores for applicants that are obese, pregnant, or have disabilities.
Standardizing the process allows for objective questions, and allows for less unconscious bias to derail the hiring decisions.
Improved candidate experience
When Google researched the use of structured interviews internally, they found that teams using that structured format with candidates saw an increase in candidate satisfaction in feedback scores. In fact, rejected candidates were 35% happier if they had experienced a structured interview versus those who had not.
And this has links to the growing importance of candidate experience - IBM have found that, when candidates are satisfied with their experience of the recruitment process, they were 38% more likely to accept a job offer and 80% of people were likely to apply for another position in the company.
Being transparent with candidates about the use of standardized interview questions can reassure them that they are being given the same opportunities as others. It gives you the option of providing the candidate with examples of the type of questions you will be asking them ahead of the interview, allowing them to prepare and feel more confident. This in turn can decrease nervousness, allowing them to demonstrate their work skills - rather than their performance skills.
Planning interviews well saves you time
Since unstructured interviews are similar to spontaneous conversations, they are unlikely to be the most efficient use of time: interviewers may need to double back if they realize they haven’t received enough information from the candidate - adding extra time and stress to each interview.
Knowing the answers you want might sound controlling; what it means is that, if a candidate gets stuck or doesn’t understand a question (say, if they are being interviewed in a non-native language, or they have a disability), the interviewer can reframe the question.
A structured process also provides a sound basis for providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates, as recruiters can point to what the successful candidate demonstrated, and how that was a better fit for the job.
Google’s internal research using structured interview questions found that interviewers were saving an average of 40 minutes per interview, and reported feeling more prepared when interviewing the candidate.
Now you know why you should be using structured interviews in your hiring process - but how do you go about creating them?
Create your own structured interviews, your way
Structured interviews can be one of the superpower methods in your recruitment toolbox. To help you to create your own structured interviews, we've created a free template to help you create new processes, and guide you on how to write questions that uncover soft skills.
Our 11 page guide to planning your interviews, how to write questions and plan for candidate feedback gives you everything you need! Just click below for your super-simple Google template, ready to help you get structured and find the best, most diverse and top talent.
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