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March 9, 2017

How to Predictably Hire the Most Successful Candidates Using Structured Interview Questions (Part 2)

Breezy HR

We’ve already talked about what defines a structured interview, and why structured interviews are such good predictors of job performance. Now, we’re going to show you how to run a structured interview — using consistent interview questions that show you the best people for the job, every time.

But we’ll be real with you up front: This is not as quick-n-easy as jotting down a few questions before you head to the interview room.

Building out structured interview questions is a process, and it’s going to save you loads of time in the long run — both in successful hires and in seamless future interviewing.

structured interview questions

But right now?

Yeah, right now it’s going to take some time. So let’s dig in, get you organized, and get you the teammates you can’t wait to go to work with.

Remember: A truly structured interview has two dimensions:

  1. Consistent interview questions
  2. Consistent scoring of those questions

The first part, the consistent interview questions, presents in three ways: Situational, Behavioral, and General questions.

Each of these types can then fit into two categories: Job Specific and Universal.

And then you can break them down even further, into questions that cover Job Knowledge, Soft Skills, Company Knowledge, and Culture Fit.

Here’s what a matrix of these interview questions could look like:

interview questions

A great structured interview will have components of all of these — and we’re going to cover each in-depth.

Let’s start with the types of questions you could ask.

Situational questions ask the candidates to solve some actual problems they’d come across if they filled your open position. You know the type:

“Your potential customer says they can’t sign an annual contract right now, but is willing to pay monthly. As one of our Sales Development Reps, how would you handle the situation?”

What’s so great about situational questions? Well, for starters, they move candidates away from canned responses.

Presenting people with a unique problem to solve means they’ve got to come up with a unique answer on the spot — perfect for judging their competence in the role.

Situational questions also make candidates’ answers easier to compare when it comes to making your hiring decisions. At the end of your interview round, you’d see that Jimmy would accept the monthly rate, Samantha would push for a six-month contract, and Stephen would ditch the call because it wouldn’t count toward his commission.

You can see how these questions could make your job easier.

situational questions
“What’s past is prologue.” — Shakespeare, The Tempest

Behavioral interview questions can sound a lot like situational ones — except now you’re looking for proof of past behavior, not predictions of future actions. Consequently, behavioral questions are a little bit better at predicting job performance than situational questions.

Here’s an example:

“Describe a time when you noticed a problem and took the initiative to correct it, rather than waiting for someone else to do it, or waiting for it to go away.”

This is a good question, right? You can see how easy it will be to compare candidate answers down the line, plus it leads the candidate to paint themselves in the best light. That little bit of leading gives way to higher candidate confidence and a better candidate experience overall.


Both Situational and Behavioral questions give your interviewee a chance to talk, to tell you a story, and to reveal bits about themselves in the process.

Situational and Behavioral interview questions are the new tell me about yourself questions — less blunt, more nuanced, and ultimately more rewarding.

These are the kind of questions that determine common skills, knowledge, and proficiencies you’d need for pretty much every candidate, in every job role.

“What’s your leadership style?”
“What’s your comfort level with Windows systems?”

Not that you can’t add your own general sort of questions into your structured interview, but these cover the basics.

For instance, if the job you’re filling requires constant use of a multi-line phone system, you’ll want to check the comfort level on those for every candidate — but HR doesn’t need to ask the new delivery drivers about the same thing.

Which brings us to the vertical columns of the matrix: Job Knowledge, Soft Skills, Company Knowledge and Culture Fit.

You can assign these to the hiring manager, and they’ll depend on (you guessed it) the open position. We’re going to divide Role-Specific questions into two more camps: Job Knowledge Questions and Soft Skills Questions.

role specific questions
Job Knowledge Questions discern hard skills — can your candidate apply their knowledge about relevant concepts, recent legal or technological news related to the role, or common tools they’d need to use?

If you’re at a bit of a loss for what those hard skills are, review your job description. They’ll be front-and-center in the job requirements!

An example job knowledge question for a social media manager might be,

“How do you think Facebook’s recent algorithm changes will affect the way brands in our vertical advertise on the platform?”

Keep in mind that the best way to evaluate job knowledge may not be a question during an interview.

Instead, you could ask all of your candidates to complete a work sample that shows you whether or not they’re capable of putting common, role-specific concepts into practice, rather than telling you that they can.

A work sample for the social media manager above could be,

“Create a three-month Facebook advertising strategy for us, based on current trends, consumer engagement in our vertical, and our current budget of $X.”

Work sample grades translate beautifully onto scorecard rating systems (that’s the second dimension of a structured interview, in case you forgot 😉), giving you the conclusive information you need to hire the right candidate at the end of an interview round.

Soft Skills questions, on the other hand, don’t make for very good work samples.
soft skills questions

But since most businesses agree that soft skills are excellent predictors of successful employees, it’s in your best interest to dig down and find out if the candidate in front of you has the ones you’re looking for.

You can use your job description again to figure out which soft skills are most important to the role, or you can decide from the most highly-sought soft skills across all industries:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Adaptability
  • Critical thinking
  • Work ethic

Do you want to ask your candidate a question to address every one of these soft skills?

We hope not. That’s a really freaking long interview.

But a combination of behavior and situational questions can knock a few birds down with one stone. Take this one, for example:

“If you saw a mistake in a report but your manager wasn’t available to address it, what would you do?”

A thorough answer would reveal plenty about your candidate’s critical thinking skills, strong work ethic, and adaptability.

These are the more generic questions, and HR will probably chime in on most of them — or handle them in a pre-hiring-team screening interview.

Company Knowledge:

“Who are our biggest competitors?”

Culture Fit:

“Do you consider yourself an autonomous worker, or do you work better as part of a team?”

More often than not, these are questions asked of every candidate across the organization, which is why we suggest that Human Resources take charge and provide them for everyone interviewing on an open position.

In Breezy, you can create and attach multiple interview guides to any interview appointment, so it’s easy to include company-wide Culture Fit and Company Knowledge questions, as well as a position-specific guide with your next interview.

breezy interview guides

And if your department is unique (say, every member is remote while the rest of the team is centralized), you probably have your own culture fit questions to throw in there, too.

“How do you stay on task while working without supervision?”
stay on task

So, now you’ve got a fantastic list of questions to ask your candidates. You can cross one part of structured interviews off your list.

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  2. Consistent scoring of those questions

Now it’s time to give you an easy way to rate their answers.

Enter: Scorecarding.

“The scorecard method has not only helped our clients to make better and quicker hiring decisions, they provide a data set that we can refer back to when making the next hiring decision. If a hire is performing well — a look at her rating scorecard from the interview process can help us to tailor of next search for a similar role within the same company.” Atta Tarki, ExConsultants Agency

You’ve got a couple options to score your candidates. Here’s a (somewhat complicated) example from the US Office of Personnel Management, scoring interpersonal skills at the following levels:

  • Level 1- Low: Handles interpersonal situations involving little or no tension or discomfort and requires close guidance
  • Level 3- Average: Handles interpersonal situations involving a moderate degree of tension or discomfort and requires occasional guidance
  • Level 5- Outstanding: Handles interpersonal situations involving a high degree of tension or discomfort and advises others

Here’s a custom option from the folks at Closer IQ, who use a spreadsheet to weight the importance of the question and guidelines for rating properly along with a grading rubric:

interview grading

Says Jordan Wan, who uses the rubric above to hire stellar salespeople at Closer IQ:

“We advocate for using interview rubrics to eliminate emotional biases and conduct a more efficient recruiting process.
1) You won’t fall in love with personality. A rubric can prevent you from jumping to conclusions by replacing emotional judgment with bite-sized factors — helping you make objective, micro-evaluations about each candidate.
2) You won’t commit to only one type of profile. Great candidates come in different forms. A rubric will help you compare different profiles and resolve differences in strengths and weaknesses.”

At Breezy, we make the same concepts nice and simple for you, right from each candidates’ profile:

breezy candidate scorecards

You can score candidates on their answer to each of the consistent questions you’ve used asked — thumbs up, thumbs down, or neutral — and then score the candidate overall.

  1. ̶C̶o̶n̶s̶i̶s̶t̶e̶n̶t̶ ̶i̶n̶t̶e̶r̶v̶i̶e̶w̶ ̶q̶u̶e̶s̶t̶i̶o̶n̶s̶
  2. ̶C̶o̶n̶s̶i̶s̶t̶e̶n̶t̶ ̶s̶c̶o̶r̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶o̶s̶e̶ ̶q̶u̶e̶s̶t̶i̶o̶n̶s̶
  3. Who has the highest score?

Did you ever think that selecting the most successful candidate would be the easiest part of your interview process?

That’s the beauty of Structured Interviews!

They require some work to get organized and templated beforehand, but once you’re finished an interview round? It’s just a matter of looking over your candidates’ ratings to determine your new teammate.

breezy scorecards

Ready to start using the tools that bring you your best candidates yet? Come see all the ways that Breezy HR can help you modernize your recruiting process.