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Three Steps to Creating a Great Interview Structure

employees brainstorming an interview structure

A proper interview structure can help solve a timeless problem: One where hiring managers love hiring talent, but the process surrounding making that hire can be onerous and time-consuming. An amazing interview structure can be the key – let us explain the what, why and how…

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What is an Interview Structure?

An interview structure is a prepared format of discussion, used to assess multiple candidates fairly and accurately. Interview structures are pre-planned to remove bias, improve interviewee preparedness and find the best person for the job.

Rather than relying on ad-hoc conversations, structuring an interview can help interviewees gather and compare multiple candidates' skills and experience. The right interview structure can also help you dig deeper: to understand how well a candidate really meets the job requirements.

In contrast to an unstructured or semi-structured interview, a structured interview typically doesn’t allow lots of follow-up questions and off-topic discussions.

For talkative candidates, a structured interview can sometimes be limiting – unless carefully managed by the interviewer. In other instances, it’s beneficial.

Why is Having an Interview Structure Important?

A structured interview helps remove uncertainty in the interview process. This is true for both candidates and employers alike. Conducting a structured interview helps:

  • Keep the interview on track and keep both parties focused on specific subjects.

  • Force interviewees to consider specific job requirements, and how candidates meet them, rather than make judgement calls based on how much they like the candidate.

  • Encourage the interviewer to prepare themes and questions in advance.

  • Ensure interviews are a fair and unbiased evaluation.

  • Make sure all candidates are asked the same questions.

  • Keep the conversation productive.

  • Stick to the allocated interview time.

  • Allow you to reflect, accurately and with clarity, on how candidates answered the questions and compare them, based on their answers.

  • And ultimately, provide a valuable tool to choose the best, most qualified, or most suitable person for the job.

When done right, an optimal interview structure might help you fill positions more quickly, since gaining consistent answers to questions may reduce the need for additional interviews.

However, experts caution against using interviews inconsistently, as they can be prone to bias. Typical recommendations include planning, consistency, scoring and limiting judgements to be job-related only, as a way of overcoming bias.

A structured interview may also help overcome typical biases such as the self-fulfilling prophesy, stereotyping, halo and horns, contrast, similar-to-me and personal liking effects that Anderson and Shackleton have observed based on a range of research.

The Benefits of Conducting Structured Interviews

One of the biggest enemies of performance is stress. Having an interview structure can reduce stress for both candidates and interviewers, making it simpler, more effective and easier to compare candidates.

If you’re conducting multiple interviews with the same candidate, which is often recommended, you might want to ask a peer of theirs, as well as their future boss, someone from HR and potentially their boss’s boss to interview them – all using the same structure.

Then, you may want to formally compare and contrast their responses (hint: this is much easier if you’re using a hiring framework or even an applicant tracking software to help you).

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How Do You Create a Great Interview Structure?

Let’s think about in terms of three key phases: before the interview, on the day, and following. Here’s a deep dive into the steps involved in each…

Before the Interview: Preparation

  • Take a look at the job description.

  • Deeply reflect on the skills and duties for the role.

  • Think about how the required skills translate into the responsibilities of the job.

  • Create questions that encourage candidates to answer fully, giving examples.

  • Sharing the topics you’ll be discussing, so a candidate can prepare in advance, to reduce stress and get the best out of them at the time.

  • Let them choose a time that suits them.

On the Day: Implementation

  • Allow time and space to break the ice.

  • Your goal is to make them as comfortable as possible.

  • Assess their potential, as well as their current skills. Healthy organisations assess recruits for their career progression abilities, as well as what they can do today.

  • Ask the questions in the order you’ve prepared them.

  • Allow them enough time to answer the question.

  • If you have a scoring system, mark their answers as they progress through the questions.

  • When the interview is over, thank them and tell them when to expect to hear from you with any next steps.

Afterwards: Follow Up

  • Compare the results of the interviews. How did candidates perform? Are there areas where they were strong and can lead others, or weak, and may need support or training? Use your scoring system, if you have one.

  • Also compare feedback from different interviewers. Hiring someone based on a single person’s perspective can be risky.

  • But if lots of different people think they’re right for the job, your chances are pretty good.

  • Make a decision as quickly as possible (candidates hate waiting, and the good ones may not wait for long, especially if they get other offers.)

  • Tell candidates the outcomes as soon as you can.

Four Interview Structure Examples to Consider

A lot of job interviews use competency-based questions to get a deep understanding of whether a candidate can solve a problem, how they have done it in the past and, sometimes even more importantly, how they would try to find a solution if they haven’t done it before.

The three typical types of questions used in a structured interview are: ask job-specific questions, behavioural questions and situational questions. Let’s see how these play out based on three roles you might be hiring for…

Example 1: Hiring a Developer

Unless you’re hiring a junior, it’s fair to expect developers to know, understand and be able to assess code. You could ask them to write a piece of code during the interview, or spot the errors in a sample piece of code you show them. Or you can set a test before the interview and ask them to go through how they did it during the interview.

A situational question might be: what steps did you go through to turn our requirements into code?

Example 2: Hiring a Marketer

A senior marketer can tell you about the various Ps of marketing, what their SEO and PPC experience is and how they measure customer satisfaction. But the best way of seeing if they can do the job is to ask them how they have managed campaigns in the past.

A behavioural question might be: what marketing campaign or initiative are you most proud of?

Example 3: Hiring a Receptionist

Receptionists are often multi-taskers: able to handle systems, direct people and answer phones. But they also need to be organised, personable and welcoming. After all, first impressions count. They are the first person your employees and candidates will see when they arrive.

A job-specific question might be: how familiar are you with this telephone or appointment system?

Example 4: Hiring Someone in HR

Possibly more than in any other role, someone working in HR must identify with your company values. To get an honest answer, ask them to provide examples of where they have lived up to these values in the past.

A situational question could be: what would you do if a co-worker came to you with a problem? In the context of HR, this is also a job-specific and potentially behavioural question.

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Best Practices for an Ideal Interview Structure

Some interview structure best practices include:

  • Balance situational, behavioural and job-specific questions.

  • Consciously be on the lookout for cultural fit, but don’t get too hung up on it.

  • Allow enough time for them to share real-life examples in answer to your questions.

  • Sell the job.

  • Reassure them as much as possible.

  • Consider using the STARR model (situation, task, action, result, reflection) to get more information from them.

  • Make sure you’re rating candidates consistently (ideally, using a system).

  • Prepare your interviewees, so they’re clear on their responsibilities, including their role in the hiring, process, when and how to provide feedback, and what happens next.

How Much Structure Should an Interview Have?

The simple answer to this question is, ‘It depends’. A structured interview must allow candidates enough time to answer the question while giving them space to elaborate as needed.

Your structure should probably include the basics like introductions, reference to their CV, profile or application and why they applied to work with your company. However, the majority of the interview structure should focus on asking questions to assess their skills, cultural fit, relevant experience and attitude.

Make sure you share the salary (if you haven’t done so already), and leave time for them to ask questions, too.

Should You Structure Every Step of Your Interview Process?

Whether you use a structured interview format or not, it’s critical to keep track of the entire interview process.

Fortunately, cloud-based recruiting software like Personio helps reduce recruitment effort and costs, so you can manage vacancies more effectively, reach more candidates, show off your employer branding and invest in recruitment resources wisely (to avoid advertising for roles in unnecessary places).

Find out more about recruiting with Personio by watching this short video. And when you’re ready to make recruitment easier, book a Personio demo with an expert today.

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