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Are Structured Interviews Ever a BAD Idea?

April 20, 2017

No matter where you look, the research (including ours) says the same thing:  Structured interviews are one of the best ways to learn important information about a job applicant. In fact, structured interviews are typically viewed as the gold standard these days. If you're not familiar, a structured interview has guidelines built into the entire process:  What questions to ask, what questions NOT to ask, and how to stay on track to ensure you're asking every candidate the same job-relevant questions each time. This kind of attention to detail has shown to reveal more quality information about candidates, as well as reduce the bias we may fall victim to if we focus on factors other than job-relevant details.

But even a highly structured approach can be poorly executed. Recently, we've seen too many organizations believe that a structured interview is infallible. So I want to remind you that even the best ideas - in theory - are not always the best ideas in practice.

When are structured interviews actually a bad idea?

  • When the interviewer hasn't been properly trained.
    Veteran interviewers understand that this is a critical chance to learn about a prospective employee. The problem arises when veteran interviewers have their own style, structure, and "special" questions that they like to ask, even if those questions aren't job-related. Here's an example: I once had an interviewer tell me that they always conducted a thorough interview, but if the applicant didn't shake their hand at the beginning of the interview, they were an automatic fail. Practices such as this will weaken the integrity and potentially threaten the legal defensibility of the interview. Relatedly, employees who have never interviewed anyone before might not understand why or how they need to structure the process. This could lead to the interviewer providing too much information to the candidate, using biases to make decisions, or not using the rating scales appropriately. Issues are likely to crop up for both seasoned and new interviewers alike, but both groups can improve by following a detailed and scientifically based interview guide.

  • When management hasn't created buy-in.
    I'll admit it: Structured interviews are more demanding than unstructured interviews and require more preparation. Instead of having a free-flowing and comfortable conversation, you have to ask specific questions, possibly read from a script, and create a more formal interaction with the candidate. Implementing structured interviews is a process with multiple steps and multiple stakeholders working together. For many of these stakeholders, this level of preparation is a departure from the ways things have been done in the past. You need to be confident that they will stick to the structured process, even when they're not being observed (by you or others). Interviewers need to understand, and believe, that structure will yield better hires.

  • If competencies are bad, the interview is pointless.
    Building structure into the process alone does not yield results. It is important that the competencies covered in the structured interview are chosen based on job-relatedness and relevancy. While it might seem like the structure is the foundation of the interview, the competencies within the interview are equally important. After all, if you're hiring for a sales role but asking applicants about their manufacturing experience, structure won't help you find people who are a good fit for that job. Without these tailored and specific competencies, your interviewers won't see the point in asking these structured questions. This hurts buy-in and makes interviewers more likely to go rogue - reverting to their own method or casual conversation.

Don't get me wrong, I love structured interviews. But don't be afraid to dig deeper to make sure you're maximizing their effectiveness to bring about success within your organization.

And while we're on the subject, here are some other common interviewing errors to avoid:

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Jaclyn Menendez, Ph.D. Jaclyn Menendez, Ph.D. is a Project Consultant at PSI based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Her areas of expertise include testing, assessments, and project management. Jaclyn has contributed to the development, validation, and implementation of assessments with various clients. She has managed, analyzed, and presented data analyses for content and criterion validation studies.