Why use structured interviews?
A lot of businesses at the moment are struggling to find the right people. So there are good reasons to do structured interviews. They don’t need to be overly complex or complicated. Structured interview help ensure
- you’re setting new employees up for success
- they know exactly what they’re being hired to do
- you’re getting the best possible candidate
- you can make the best possible decision about who’s the right person for the job.
In my post on Recruiting Right – Use Psychometrics to Find Great People, I looked at using psychometrics as part of your recruitment process. These tests help to remove bias, and put some more structure in. But there’s more to it than that.
In structured interviews we ask the same questions of every candidate. This reduces the bias, because we are able to compare candidates when we’re asking everyone the same question.
Structured interviews can be more informative, because you’re defining the questions in advance, to ensure they relate to the job. In an informal interview, you’re unlikely to have prepared, as it’s not a structured process.
For example, imagine you have a job that requires someone with a high level of analytical skill. Without preparing in advance you might ask questions like:
- do you consider yourself analytical?
- tell me about your analytical skills?
If you take the time to consider the types of questions you need to ask you may have questions like:
- can you tell me about a time when you had to take a large data set and provide some insights to a management team around that data?
- what was the process you used?
These questions encourage the candidate to give you an example of a time when they’ve demonstrated the skills you need. And you haven’t even used the word ‘analytical’ in the questions.
The answer should let you know whether they acted in a logical, analytical way, or if they haven’t done this work before. It allows you to make a decision about whether they already have the skill, and if not, whether you can train them.
So it’s important to take the time, before the interview, to determine the things that you need to ask the candidates, and frame the questions so you get useful answers.
Hard to fake
Structured interviews are much more difficult to fake because you’re asking for examples. Ideally, you will include questions that people haven’t come across before. A structured interview will go beyond the usual questions like:
- tell me about yourself?
- what do you consider your strengths or weaknesses?
- what would your ex-manager say about you?
- what kind of manager do you like to work for?
- who’s been the best manager you’ve ever had? why?
- tell me about a time you performance-managed a staff member?
These are questions that candidates encounter in 95% of the interviews. They’ve been asked these questions before, and likely have prepared answers.
However when you’re drilling down into your particular role, and ask questions related to the knowledge and skills needed in that role, they’re less likely to be questions the candidate has answered before. That means they’re more difficult to fake.
If you use structured interviews, you need to be consistent with your processes and train everybody who does interviews. If I said to someone who’d never done this type of interview before, ‘here you go, here’s some interview questions, good luck!’, that’s probably not going to give a good result. It may not be any better than those informal interviews at a coffee shop.
A better way is to define the right questions and to train my interviewees in behaviour-based technique.
The right questions
To find the right questions, I need to ask:
- what are the top three skills needed in this role?
- what are the top three behavioural attributes that mean someone can succeed in this role?
Then I take those two things to my bank of interview questions and come up with the best questions for the role. Then we lock those in as the questions that we’re going to ask.
In behavioural-based interview technique, we’re looking for the candidate to tell us about an example where they can demonstrate three things:
- a situation or task
- the action that they took
- the result
So we say to the candidates, today we’re going to be asking you some behavioural-based questions. And when you are asked those questions, we’d like you to reflect on your past experiences. Those experiences can be work-related, or non-work-related. And within that answer, we would like you to make sure that you’re covering the situation or task, the action you took, and the result of that action.
You’re not trying to trip people up, it’s not supposed to be something hugely tricky. You’re just trying to give structure to the process so that you know that you’re asking things that are relevant to the job.
This gives the employee an opportunity to highlight those areas as well. Because as much as I was warning about impression management earlier, you can also have the opposite problem. Sometimes a candidate really wants to make a good impression, but they haven’t interviewed for a long time, or they’re just not very good at interviewing. So providing more structure enables people to put their best self forward.
Next you need to train everybody who interviews in behaviour-based technique, and in how to develop the right questions. You also should be training people around bias, and the types of interview questions that you shouldn’t be asking people, and why. People need to be aware of their conscious and unconscious biases when going through a recruitment process.
During recruitment, it’s also very important that you are listening as much as possible. I generally find that people who aren’t trained in these processes tend to spend most of the interview talking, rather than listening to the candidate.