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August 14, 2018

How to Take the Rigidity Out of Your Structured Interview Process

structured interviews

Always be yourself, except during job interviews. Follow these 9 simple tips for a cruelty-free structured interview process.

Algorithms and big data may rule the world, but recruitment is still a people’s game.

Most of us get hired face-to-face. Meeting someone in the flesh can give you unique insight into a job candidate’s personality and communication skills. And let’s face it, any hiring process that doesn’t actually account for the person behind the application, just isn’t worth its salt.

Now that HR professionals are starting to move away from the traditional informal interview (where hiring managers can easily pull rank for favorite candidates) in favor of the structured approach (where it’s way easier to flag bias), let’s take a deeper look at how to get the best of both by making the structured approach a little less…”structured”.

Why use a structured interview process?

Despite their title, informal interviews can either be informal, or incredibly formal.

In an informal interview, there’s no standardization and hiring manager’s can easily go off script. If the hiring manager loves golf, they’re free to hire the candidate who loves golf. 🙄

With no HR department looking over their shoulder, there’s a greater chance that unconscious bias or discrimination will enter into the process. Not only that, informal interviews have proven to be basically useless for teasing out high-potential candidates.

According to a seminal 1998 study by the American Psychological Association, researchers reviewed 85 years worth of hiring data and found that informal interviews are ineffective at predicting a candidate’s on-the-job performance.

But hey, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Poker-faced and detached structured interviews can leave candidates feeling uncomfortable. How can they gauge what kind of organization and people they will be working with when everyone’s holding their cards so closely?

Personality is what connects us. Without it, an interview can feel unreal and scripted — and no one wants to work with robots. To get the best of both worlds, you’ve got to have a fair and structured approach, without losing that human touch.

How does a structured interview work?

Laszlo Bock, Google’s former SVP of People Operations, famously wrote in his book, Work Rules!, that every company should use structured interview questions based on the actual job.

Asking prospective candidates silly questions like, “Who’s your favorite superhero?” may inject humor into the interview room, but it’s not a robust indicator of job suitability (unless you’re applying for the Justice League).

At a glance, this is what to expect from a classic structured interview process:

  1. Questions are pre-prepared in collaboration between HR and the Hiring Manager. They are based on skills and competency, and usually linked directly to the job description.
  2. A grading scale is agreed for each answer beforehand.
  3. Notes are taken during the interview to help decide the scores and ensure each candidate is assessed fairly and equally by all interviewers.

The pros

  • It’s a clear, transparent and systematic approach.
  • Candidate competencies are measured equally and fairly.
  • Less risk of discrimination and unconscious bias.
  • Reliable and valid.
  • Shorter questions, faster interview, quicker hire.
  • Easy to replicate.

The cons

  • Rigid and strict with no room for impromptu questions.
  • You can’t eliminate all interview bias and personal judgment — we’re human after all!
  • Closed questions make it harder to get a sense of a person’s true personality.
  • Administrative nightmare. Candidates can get tangled up trying to schedule and set up multiple interviews with different people on the hiring team.

How to make your structured interview process more human

Perhaps the biggest downside to the structured interview process is that it can become a little too structured. The process becomes overly rigid and bureaucratic, and companies can miss out on the crucial intangibles and interpersonal behaviors that make for a great cultural fit.

Let’s not let that happen to you.

Here are our top 9 tips on making your interview process way more candidate-friendly.

  1. Ask the right questions. The great thing about the structured interviews is that all the questions are prepared. This gives you an opportunity to really think about what you want to find out and how best to ask it.
  2. Know how to follow a question up. As open-ended questions are a no no, you can instead write follow-up questions that anticipate the direction of the conversation.
  3. Ask probing questions (without trying to trick). Try the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) for an awesome list of honest, real-world-ready Q’s.
  4. Automate the scheduling. If a candidate is being interviewed by lots of people, don’t make them responsible for the diary schedule. Make it easy for everyone by using a tool that lets candidates self-select available times.
  5. Be prepared. All interviewers MUST prepare. Don’t waltz into an interview without first familiarizing yourself with the questions and the candidates’ resume. This will help you be more present during the process, rather than appearing like you’re just reading from a script. (Which, you clearly are.)
  6. NEVER answer emails during the interview. So rude.
  7. Listen. Listen. Listen. Capitalize on the fact that all the questions are already prepped and ready to go! Now you can really focus on the candidate, rather than thinking about what you should say next.
  8. Make eye contact. That goes for face-to-face AND screen-to-screen.
  9. Make it people-friendly. If you still want to have an open, informal discussion, that’s fine. Build it into your process. For instance, hold structured interviews in the first round. Then use a more free-flow approach in the second round with select candidates.

Following a structured interview process doesn’t mean you can’t take a few tips from the informal approach. And the right kind of tool definitely makes it easier. Breezy comes with structured interview guides, automatic scheduling and team scoring features baked right in.