Structured interviews significantly improve your hiring success

Many companies are ramping up their recruiting efforts as the pandemic abates in many areas of the country. At a time when face-to-face meetings in an office are still considered risky, virtual recruiting and interviewing techniques such as the pre-recorded video interview and ZOOM interviews will remain popular-but they can be significantly improved by using structured interviews.

Despite 100 years of empirical evidence (yes, it is 100 years.), many companies do not put the time and effort into setting up effective interviewing techniques to improve their ability to hire top talent significantly. Instead, they rely on casual, poorly prepared interviews (academic researchers call them “unstructured interviews”) that are heavily affected by first impressions and unconscious bias. Not a good way to hire.

Structured interviews defined

A structured interview is based on the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies to perform on the job and align with company values.[i] With structured interviews, the company creates a set of questions to ask each candidate to determine if they have the education, experience, technical skills, social skills, and emotional intelligence to do well on the job.

Note that with this process, I am not referring to behavioral interviewing. Behavioral interviewing is an approach that began in the 1990s when interviewers asked questions such as, “Tell me about a time when you had to…” The problem was that too many job candidates learned to come in with canned answers. The process often felt too stifling.

My biggest objection to behavioral interviewing is that it was too indirect, as if the candidate had never sent you a resume. Rather than the indirect behavioral interviewing technique of “Tell me about a time…,” why not bring up a job on the individual’s resume and ask him or her to tell you about the jobs that are closest to the job you have open? What were the goals for the job? The business situation? How did they achieve the goals? What went well? What didn’t go well? What was the outcome? And if you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?

The structured interview is also set up to see if the job candidate has a record of success and how they achieved their success. Structured interviews dig deep and don’t hover over the surface. Another reason to use detailed structured interviews and background checks is because they offer a reliable way to determine if the job candidate is telling half-truths or lies.

Empirical evidence supports structural interviews

Empirical studies conducted in the 1980s and 1990s have shown the strength of structured interviews over unstructured interviews.[ii] Structured interviews have higher reliability and predictability than unstructured ones. A more recent meta-analysis on structured interviewing, conducted in 2014, arrived at the same conclusion of the earlier studies. The 2014 study reports that, “Twelve meta-analyses have been conducted on this topic, and they have consistently found strong evidence for the superiority of structured interviews compared to unstructured interviews.”[iii]

Schmidt and Hunter’s 1988 meta-analysis found that structured interviews were the third-best selection method, with a validity factor of .51. It rises to .63 when used with a General Mental Aptitude Test.[iv] (GMATs are tests that measure various aptitudes depending on the job, such as logical reasoning and are very predictive when validated. Validation means that they have been statistically proven to predict great performing hires.)

Unstructured interviews have no or minimal fixed format, fixed set of questions to be answered, or specified procedure for scoring applicant answers. In many cases, different job candidates will be asked different questions. Unstructured interviews have a validity factor of .38.[v]

A 1988 British academic meta-analysis on structured vs. unstructured interviews by Willi Wiesner and Steven Cronshaw found that the structured interview was a valid and reliable assessment method. It was nearly twice as accurate as unstructured interviews. The meta-analysis also found that structured interviews are more valid when they are based on job analysis.[vi]

Structured interviews work well with ZOOM interviews.

Research has also shown that phone or video interviews are more effective when used with a structured interview. The ability to view facial expressions, make eye contact, hear the change in voice intonation, and see body gestures, engages the interviewer. Why? Because more care is used by the interviewer when asking questions and  listening to the answer.[vii]

Establishing Structured Interviews

Structured interviews are usually established by first having an up-to-date job description of the job that identifies the knowledge, skills, and abilities required on the job and a profile of the ideal candidate.

If you don’t already have this information, I recommend that you launch an effort with the hiring managers of a job family to identify the knowledge, education, skills, aptitudes, mentoring, coaching, and job experiences that molded your best employees.

In detail, I suggest you look for the following when setting up a structured interview:

  1. What is the education, certifications, or training of your best workers?
  2. Before you hired your best workers, what experiences and job competencies were critical for their development?
  3. What industries or previous employers provided the best hires?
  4. Which of your training programs, mentors, and coaches have had the best success and why?
  5. What on-the-job experiences provided the best development?

If you don’t have the resources to set up structured interviews, I suggest you review the 13 different structural interviews identified in my book Hack Recruiting. I have successfully used these interviewing templates for leadership, software engineering, finance, and ten other roles.

Structured interviews hold up well in court

Structured interviews are more likely to be successfully defended in court than unstructured interviews. A study of 158 cases in the US Federal Court involving hiring discrimination from 1978 to 1997 showed that unstructured interview processes were challenged in court more than any other selection tool. Remarkably, the structured interview survived 100 percent of the legal challenges mounted against it, while the unstructured interview survived only 59 percent of challenges.[viii] Structured interviews based on job competencies with trained interviewers and work sample methods can reduce rater bias and improve selection predictability.

Structured interviews are not as effective with inexperienced candidates, such as college graduates.[ix] There, intelligence measures and the ability to learn and apply new information, solve problems, and work in teams, and the strength of their technical competencies are more predictive. Structured interviews can be made more predictive with inexperienced candidates when the interviewing team looks for achievement factors such as leading teams and participating in student activities.

As you look to expand your business and grow as the pandemic abates, it is an excellent time to improve your recruiting practices to hire the best talent available. Structured interviews are a tried and true method. Check out the other techniques, and the best of digital technology for hiring high performing employees in my book, Hack Recruiting.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at 

[i] Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter, “The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings,” Psychological Bulletin, 124, no. 2 (1988): 272. Copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0033-2909/98/.

[ii] Hunter and Schmidt, “Quantifying the Effects of Psychological Interventions on Employee Job Performance and Work-Force Productivity,” American Psychologists 38 (1982): 473–474; and M. A. McDaniel, D. L. Whetzel, F. L. Schmidt, and S. D. Maurer, “The Validity of Employment Interviews: A Comprehensive Review and Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Applied Psychology 79 (1994): 599–616.

[iii] Julia Levashina, Christopher J. Hartwell, Frederick P. Morgeson, and Michael A. Campion, “The Structured Employment Interview: Narrative and Quantitative Review of the Research Literature,” Personnel Psychology 67 (2014): 241–293).

[iv] Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter, “The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings,” Psychological Bulletin, 124, no. 2 (1988): 272. Copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0033-2909/98/.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Willi H. Wiesner and Steven F. Cronshaw, “A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Impact of Interview Format and Degree of Structure on the Validity of the Employment Interview,” Journal of Occupational Psychology 61 (1988): 275–290. Printed in Great Britain. Copyright 1988 The British Psychological Society.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] D. A. Terpstra, A. A. Mohamed, and R. B. Kethley, “An analysis of federal court cases involving nine selection devices,” International Journal of Selection and Assessment, Vol. 7(1), (1999): 26-34.

[ix] Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter “The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings,” Psychological Bulletin, 124, no. 2 (1988): 262–274. Copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0033-2909/98/.

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