Do you know the differences between a structured and unstructured interview?

Finding the right talent for your business is essential to sustain growth, but the recruitment process can be both costly and time-consuming, meaning that it’s important to make the right hire the first time around. One of the most important parts of the recruitment is the interview process, and yet many companies do not have an interview policy in place to help them secure the right people for the job.

One of the most common mistakes made by companies who are new to the interview process is mixing up their use of both structured and unstructured interview questions, resulting in an inconsistent interview process and potentially leading to them hiring the wrong person for the job. So here are the differences between a structured and unstructured interview and how best to use them in order to find the best talent.

What is a structured interview?

A structured interview refers to an interview for which the questions to be asked to each candidate have already been decided and fixed in advance. Because a structured interview is prepared ahead of time the same set of questions can be put to all candidates making the type of data collected, quantitative. Structured interview questions are also often close-ended, which means that they demand a specific piece of information from the candidate, or the candidate must make a choice between a few options. This is particularly useful for instances in which a company needs to interview a large number of candidates, as it will enable them to subjectively narrow down the field based on their answers.

Here are some advantages of conducting a structured interview

  1. A structured interview process is relatively economical and comparisons and conclusions between each candidate can be drawn easily from their answers
  2. Structured interviews enable companies to process a large number of candidates and narrow them down for the next stage of the recruitment process
  3. Structured interviews can be perceived as more ‘fair’ as each candidate is asked the same set of questions and so no interview can be perceived as being easier or harder than the next
  4. Structured interviews are seen as helping to take away bias

And here are some of the most commonly cited disadvantages

  1. Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree and it will live its life thinking that it is stupid?’ what this means is that everyone is different and one fo the most common complaints against structure interviews is their strict adherence to a set of questions which may screen out potentially perfect candidates because of a difference in opinion or interpretation.
  2. Unstructured interviews may help companies decide if someone has the skills for the job but they often cannot help to distinguish if the person is a good cultural fit and will get on well with the rest of the team.

What is an unstructured interview?

An unstructured interview is one in which the questions to be put to the candidates are not prepared beforehand, this is usually intentional and not simply down to lack of preparation and can help the interviewer to probe deeper into the personal life of their candidate, following whichever line of conversation feels natural in order to find out a bit more about the persons personality and if they are the right person for the job. Unstructured interview questions are often open-ended, meaning that they can be answered in a number of different ways and the candidate has more power to create an emotive, personal response which could influence the interviewer. Because unstructured interview questions are not prepared in advance the data they collect is referred to as qualitative.

Here are some advantages of conducting an unstructured interview

  1. Unstructured interviews are a great tool for collecting basic exploratory information such as information about a person’s background and personality
  2. Unstructured interviews enable candidates to elaborate their answers and means that although they may not have appeared to tick all the boxes in structured interview questions, they can explain why they made that choice and may come out better off.
  3. Unstructured interviews are often less formal feeling and can help nervous candidates to perform better
  4. Unstructured interviews can help companies find employees who fit with their company culture. They may end up hiring someone who is less qualified but a better fit culturally.

Here are some commonly cited disadvantages of unstructured interviews

  1. Unstructured interviews are often seen as unfair as they can be influenced by the personality of the candidate, leading to very different conversations.
  2. Unstructured interviews leave the interviewer open to bias.

So which interview process should you adopt?

As we’ve just established, unstructured and structured interviews are opposites of one another, they collect very different data and the advantages of one are often the disadvantages of another. Therefore, many companies choose to use a combination of both in their recruitment process in order to gain a rounded set of data and make a decision that is not solely based on one set of information. You can incorporate both types unstructured and structured interviews into one single interview by having a set of structured questions at the beginning and then letting the process become more unstructured as the interview goes on. Or use the structured interview process to pre-screen candidates and then the unstructured process to narrow down the candidates that are left to ensure they are also a good cultural fit.