Job Interviewing

Structured interviews: Unlock your hiring potential with this interview method

Use this handy how-to guide to structure your job interviews with candidates.

Structured interviews: Unlock your hiring potential with this interview method
Listen to this article. Audio recording by
Alessia Musso

A structured interview is the best interview method you’ve never heard of.

It’s a more methodological and thorough approach to job interviews with candidates. And the ultimate aim of a structured interview process is to help you more fairly, accurately and consistently assess candidates before you welcome them to your team.

Without further ado, let’s get into it and explore what structured interviews are all about, how they can unlock your hiring success and how to get started conducting structured interviews at your company. 🔓

Jump to:

  • <a href="#compare">Structured vs unstructured interviews</a>
  • <a href="#conduct-interview">How to conduct a structured interview and build the process</a>
  • <a href="#limitations">The limitations of structured interviews</a>
  • <a href="#faqs">FAQs on structured interviews</a>

What is a structured interview?

A structured interview is a precise approach to conducting job interviews where you ask each candidate the same interview questions, with the same standardized scoring system. Most of these interview questions would come from the skills and traits you’ve defined in the job description.

Questions are typically centered around job-related competencies and can be framed through a behavioral or hypothetical lens. So, if you’re hiring a Software Engineer, you can ask specific questions about their past experiences and how they behaved in these scenarios, which help you understand their engineering skillset.

❤️ #1 reason to embrace the structured interview: It’s a reliable and anti-hiring bias interview method. With a standardized interview approach, recruiters and hiring managers can approach candidates more fairly and objectively.

If you ask different candidates different questions, it makes candidate evaluations difficult. It’s like comparing apples to oranges — you want to make sure you’re comparing oranges to oranges. 🍊 It also creates an interview environment where candidates can show-off their knowledge and potential.

📣 How to send an interview invitation to candidates

<div id="compare">Structured interviews vs. unstructured interviews</div>

At its core, a structured interview isn’t that dissimilar to an unstructured interview. The job interviewer (that’s you) still asks a job candidate engaging and enlightening questions. And the job candidate still gets to ask their questions.

But the main difference?

The interview preparation and then the execution of the interview itself.

Structured interviews (even semi-structured interviews) need pre-interview planning and commitment to a specific interview process. It creates a standard and repeatable hiring process for hiring managers and recruiters. Hiring teams create a set of structured interview questions to ask each candidate in advance, create a list of traits and skills to look out for and “score” the candidates based on a set of criteria. Structured interviews are suitable for both in-person and virtual interviews, along with a collaborative recruitment process.

Unstructured interviews are more off-the-cuff and free-flowing — they can feel more like conversations. There’s often no roadmap for how the interview can progress. The interviewer may jump from topic to topic, creating more of a back-and-forth. This interview style can help you get to know the candidate. But when it’s time to dig into their job performance, you may not get all the information you need to make a sound hiring decision.

⚖️ Our verdict Structured interviews win. They keep interviewers organized and focused on finding an outstanding candidate. Plus, they make your hiring process more fair, combatting hiring biases and creating a people-first hiring process for candidates. And the results will speak for themselves. We believe a structured interview process increases the likelihood of finding the right hire for your team.

<div id="conduct-interview">How to conduct a structured interview and build the process</div>

If you’ve made it this far, you’re sold on why structured interviews are the way to go! Now it’s time to learn how to do it.

To build your structured interview process, here are the steps we’d recommend:

  1. 🤝 Get support from stakeholders
  2. 💁 Define the job requirements and job description
  3. ✍️ Write your set of standardized interview questions
  4. 💯 Establish your candidate scoring criteria
  5. 🏋️ Train and educate your interviewers
  6. 💬 Conduct the structured interview
  7. 🔍 Investigate the interview results

Now let’s get into the weeds of each step of the process…

1. Get support from stakeholders

A structured interview process is nothing unless you have your team’s support.

Anyone involved in hiring on your team needs to be on board with getting a structured interview process off the ground. Otherwise, you won’t be on the same page with how you make hiring decisions, your recruitment methods and you won’t all be conducting interviews the same way.

Host a meeting with your hiring team to explain the benefits of this interview approach and how you can implement it at your business.

Be sure to share helpful resources, conduct a training session and share your structured interview questions. Make sure your hiring team knows how to use your applicant tracking system (ATS). More on all this later!

Collaborative hiring for the win. 🤝

2. Define the job requirements and the job description

Next, outline the specific skills, qualifications, experience and competencies required for the open position. This will be your foundation for crafting excellent interview questions and evaluating candidates effectively. It may also be helpful to draft an ideal candidate profile during this process. Doing this will keep you focused on uncovering the most relevant information about your job applicant.

To give you a hand with this part of the process, we’ve created job description templates for various job roles. Copy, paste, customize and you’re ready to rock.

3. Write your set of standardized interview questions

Now the most important part of a structured interview: the interview questions.

Create a set of standardized interview questions to assess each key competency and qualification identified in step two (writing the job description). These questions should be clear, specific and written to elicit insightful responses from your candidates.

The goal is to get responses and insight from your candidate that tells you everything you need to know about them — are they the right person for the job?

For the same role, ask candidates the same questions including role-based and skill-specific questions. Just be sure each candidate is asked the same questions as the next so you can objectively assess each person!

Tips on crafting structured interview questions:

Ask open-ended questions - Questions that begin with “what”, “how” and “why” allow them to talk more freely about their experience or knowledge of their craft.

  • 👉 Example question: “What experiences of yours are most relevant to this role?”

Embrace behavioral questions - These questions help you understand how your candidate will approach future work situations. Your candidate’s responses will give you a better idea of how they solve problems and use their skills at work. Emotional intelligence interview questions can be a great starting point for this.

  • 👉 Example question: “Tell me about a time you got stuck on a problem. How did you react?”

Probe when necessary - Structured interviews don’t mean you can’t ask follow-up questions because you’re limited to just your list of set interview questions. You can (and should) follow up with questions to learn more about a particular point or clarify a candidate’s response.

  • 👉 Example question: “Tell us more about that”, “what do you mean by X?”, “Please continue.”

Avoid leading questions - Leading questions usually don’t shed light on who a candidate really is and you’ll typically get the answer you expect.

  • 👉 Example question: “You know how to use Photoshop, right?”

Steer clear of double-headed questions - Make sure your structured interview questions are clear and simple. That means, don’t write two questions in one. Allow the interviewee to answer and focus on one response at a time.

  • 👉 Example: “Explain your understanding of coding languages and tell me about a project you’ve recently worked on.”

📣 Use these interview question templates to help you write +A structured interview questions

4. Establish your candidate scoring criteria

Structured interview questions, check.

Now it’s time to define a scoring system (or scoring rubric) to evaluate candidate responses.

Scoring criteria AKA interview scorecards will make your hiring teams make fair and informed assessments based on predefined criteria. They bring consistency and objectivity to your interviews.

Before you can start scoring candidates, you’ll need to create your grading criteria. P.S. This is going to vary in some ways from role to role!

  • Define key evaluation criteria: Identify the skills and attributes essential for success in the role. Think technical skills, soft skills, relevant experience, value fit and other job-specific requirements.
  • Provide guidelines and examples: Offer guidelines and examples to illustrate what constitutes each level of performance. This helps standardize interpretation and ensures consistency among interviewers when assigning scores.
How to create scorecard candidate criteria in Homerun's ATS
Homerun's candidate scorecards

🔥 Pro Tip: Homerun's scorecards feature lets you create a custom scoring system (star ratings) for your candidate evaluations. Compare your decisions with your team and decide who moves to the next round based on an average rating. Hiring team members can also provide context and explanations for their decisions. Learn more about scorecards in Homerun's ATS.

5. Train and educate your interviewers

When you work on a hiring team, it’s super important that you’re all on the same page with how you interview and hire.

That’s why we’d recommend training and educating your interviewers on how to conduct a successful structured interview. After all, it’s not a given that everyone will have experience with this method!

💪 Train them up on:

  • how to ask standardized questions
  • how to use the scoring criteria/scorecards effectively
  • how to maintain professionalism and neutrality throughout the interview
  • active listening (more on that in the steps below!)

Whether you plan to embrace structured interviews or not, it’s a good idea to train interviewers on your team. Interviewing is a skill and a big responsibility, so take it seriously.

🔥 Pro Tip You can even conduct mock interviews with your team to practice reading your interview questions out loud and get comfortable with the structured interview style. Provide feedback to each other post-interview.

6. Conduct the structured interview

Now the fun part: conducting the structured interviews!This is where your job description, scoring system, interview questions and interview training all come together.

Roll out the structured interview process and stick to your established guidelines. Use structured interviews for screening, initial interviews and final rounds to maintain uniformity and fairness throughout the hiring process. You can do this in person, over the phone or on a video call — there are no limits.

💡

A note on interview note-taking

While taking notes during an interview can be super helpful in helping you remember a candidate’s answers, it can also be quite distracting. Try your best to stay present with your interviewee while taking notes.

You want to be focused enough to follow up on their responses with follow-up questions or comments. Take notes of only the most salient points — you don’t need every little detail. From a candidate experience perspective, it can be disconcerting for candidates to see an interviewer constantly looking down at a notepad or second screen as they type out answers. Candidates should feel heard and listened to.
You can also consider interviewing with another coworking on your hiring team. One person can be responsible for taking notes and the other for conducting the interview. At the start of the interview, be sure to let your candidate know that one of you will be taking notes.

The most important interview tip we can share is to practice active listening.

Active listening allows you to ask appropriate follow-up questions that dig into each candidate's answer. In short, active listening is all about listening to understand. Instead of thinking about what you’d like to say next when listening to a candidate, truly listen to what they’re saying. Absorb it so you understand exactly what they’re communicating.

In a structured interview process, active listening will help you truly get to know who a candidate is, understand their skills and experience and, ultimately, it’ll help you make smart recruitment decisions.

You’ll find that active listening will not only make you a better interviewer, but it’ll also make you a better colleague. 🏆

7. Investigate the interview results

Finally, it’s time to dissect your interviews.

Meet up with your hiring team — this can be async or in person. Use this time to discuss your interview results. If you’re hiring solo, review your interview notes and scorecard.

Use factual information you gathered in the interview process to decide on who you’ll bring to the next round of hiring yet or even whom you’ll extend the job offer to. 🎉

<div id="limitations">The limitations of structured interviews</div>

Don’t get us wrong; structured interviews come with some challenges. With any hiring process, it’s not perfect. But we believe the more you know, the better your interviews will be.

  • They may be perceived as cold: While not intentional, a structured interview style may be cold and overly methodical for some interviewees (this all depends on how you, the interviewer, conduct the interview!).
  • They may lack spontaneity: If the interview isn’t conducted well or if the interviewer isn’t particularly comfortable, a structured interview might not allow for the same spontaneity as an unstructured interview.

🚨 There’s a fine line between a structured interview and an interrogation. With some practice, you should be able to ask your planned questions while keeping the interview light and conversational. Give the candidate ample opportunity to ask you questions (making it feel more like a conversation) and share some information about yourself. This creates an equal dynamic between you and the candidate — no more awkward hierarchy.

Refresh and structure your recruitment process

Structured interviews are not just a buzzword; they’re a powerful tool for unlocking your hiring potential. By adopting a structured approach, you can ensure fairness, accuracy and consistency in your candidate assessments, ultimately leading to better hiring decisions.

As hiring the right talent for your business intensifies (thanks to stiff competition and developments in AI), it’s important that hiring teams adapt. Structured interviews could be the key to unlocking your hiring potential.

<div id="faqs">FAQs on structured interviews</div>

When should structured interviews be used?

Structured interviews should be used when you want to bring more fairness, consistency and accuracy to your hiring process. It’s also a great tactic to try when your hiring process needs to be revamped. This interview style is particularly useful when:

  • You're hiring for positions where specific skills, competencies and qualifications are crucial (think: a Software Developer or a UI/UX Developer).
  • You want to minimize bias and ensure all candidates are evaluated on the same criteria.
  • You're looking to make data-driven hiring decisions rather than relying on subjective judgments.

What are the advantages of a fully structured interview?

Structured interviews are fantastic because they can elevate your hiring process and help you find the right candidate for the job. The top benefits of a structured interview are:

  • Consistency: When you ask candidates interviewing for the same job the same questions, you can get more reliable and consistent responses, and therefore more reliable recruitment results.
  • Data-backed decisions versus “gut-feeling” hiring: Gut-hiring is common but it’s not ideal for an unbiased, fair recruitment practice. Data-backed hiring is more likely to help you make impartial decisions based on facts.
  • Effectiveness: Structured interviews help you find the right candidate match with more precision and clarity.

What are the four types of structured interview questions?

Structured interviews typically involve four types of questions you can ask candidates:

  1. Behavioral questions: Ask candidates to provide examples of past behavior in specific situations to gauge how they might act in similar scenarios in the future.
  2. Situational questions: These present hypothetical scenarios relevant to the job and ask candidates how they would handle the situation.
  3. Competency-based questions: These questions focus on the skills, knowledge and abilities required to do the job. Candidates have to show the interviewer that they're skillful in these areas.
  4. Technical questions: These questions assess a candidate's technical skills, expertise and qualifications necessary for the role — these are especially relevant for technical or super-specialized positions.

Unlock your hiring productivity

Bring structure to your candidate interviews with Homerun’s ATS — for every stage of the recruitment process.

Learn more
About the author
Alessia is Homerun's resident Canuck and Content Writer based in London. She's been writing B2B content for small and medium-sized businesses for eight years and is passionate about helping people feel more confident (and happy!) in their jobs. When she’s not researching the ways growing teams can improve their hiring, she’s probably thinking about pasta, books, craft beer, and the importance of the Oxford comma.

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