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February 22, 2017

Why Structured Interviews Help You Predictably Hire the Most Successful Candidates (Part 1)

Breezy HR

Fact: Using structured interviews increases your chances of hiring a successful candidate.


Because science. And studies. And experience.

But before we dive into science (or studies, or experience), let us have a quick chat about the essence of unstructured interviews vs structured interviews, so we’re all on the same page.

Here’s confusing thing #1 about unstructured vs structured interviews: You could be practicing a little bit of both.

When you structure something, you give it a framework, right? So it’s pretty likely that your interviews have some sort of framework.

Instead of considering it a binary choice — the way we just presented — put interviewing on a spectrum.

structured interviews

The chat. The friendly sit down where any interviewer asks whatever pops into their head at random. “How many golf balls would fit on a city bus?” “What forest mammal best describes your work ethic?”

“Who’d you vote for in the last election?”

annoying interview questions

When researchers ask around, they find that the majority of interviewers prefer an unstructured interview like the one we just described. You may even be nodding, yourself, even though you know we’re about to tell you that unstructured interviews are horrible, no-good predictors of job performance.

Not lying: Unstructured interviews are horrible, no-good predictors of job performance.

What these chatty interviews do very well, instead, is predict how much you might like someone. #Science.

You might find yourself thinking, “That’s a clever way to calculate!” or, “That’s my favorite forest animal!” or “Aww, heck, no, no, no!”

Notice how none of those reactions are, “Boy, this candidate really knows our tech stack/customer base/competitors’ tactics.”

“I have been in HR for 20+ years and have used behavioral interviewing/structured interview guides since 1998 …It has been my experience that when hiring managers give more weight to their preferences/biases, the hire made is not the best fit for the role.” — Bridgette Wilder, Chief HR Officer, Media Fusion, INC

These feel more like a Choose Your Own Adventure: Interviewers have a specific set of topics to explore at will, or maybe something like a list of 100 questions, of which they can choose 10.

At this spot on the spectrum, some companies also begin to implement scorecards, when interviewers can rate candidates on a predetermined system. At Breezy, we use thumbs-up, neutral, and thumbs-down scorecarding in order to eliminate subjectivity, but others use scales of 1–10 or Very Low to Very High.

You get the idea.

“We began implementing scorecards within the last 12 months and have had a lot of success with the system. The scorecards, when used properly, allow an interviewer to stay on task and keep the flow of conversation geared toward topics that are pertinent to the hire.” — Brad Stultz, Human Resources Coordinator, Totally Promotional

Loosely structured interviews are on the right track, especially when they’re combined with scorecards. They begin to accomplish some of the most important goals of a truly structured interview:

  • They provide a list of questions, which means newer interviewers are more comfortable and more likely to ask pertinent questions.
  • They assign topics to cover that help make sure nobody gets caught up talking about irrelevant details (“Dog person or a cat person? And please don’t tell me you like birds.” <– True, 20-minute portion of an interview).

This brings us to an important point: People will still talk about their pets and kids and the weather and the local football team.

We’re not trying to remove humanity from the hiring process.

We’re just doing our best to remove the bias that comes along with recognizing your similarities in a candidate and perceiving that similarity as a qualification.


Because, you know, bird people can still be good at their jobs.

foolproof interview questions

It’s basically bulletproof. Goofproof. Foolproof. And proven to predict better job performance. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

A highly structured interview has two dimensions:

  1. Consistent interview questions
  2. Consistent scoring of answers

Your interviewers will ask every candidate applying for the role the same questions, in the same order. During the interview, the interviewer will score each answer the candidate gives on a predetermined scorecard.

When you finish the interview rounds, you’re presented with an apples-to-apples comparison of all your candidates on all the topics that matter.

iris bohnet bias quote

We keep saying that structured interviews lead to better hires, and we keep linking to studies that state the same (here’s another), but the reasoning behind the use of structured interviewing varies.

“As an HR practitioner with over 15 years of recruiting experience, using a structured interview that is scored is the best way to ensure consistency and fairness during hiring, although no system is perfect. Anytime you’re evaluating someone, even with the most objective criteria, subjective assessments can creep in. This is particularly true with known or internal candidates where there may already be preconceptions of the individual.” — Jana Tulloch , CPHR, DevelopIntelligence

You’ve been the second, third, or fourth to interview a favorite, right? The VP’s bff’s nephew, the Sales Director’s former employee who’s new to town. You feel like every question you ask is either pointless or not creative enough to impress them.

What will they tell the person who referred them? Does your opinion even matter?

Structured interviews can lift the burden of creativity (everyone asks the same basic questions), and, in theory at least, give your opinion on the candidate’s answers the same weight as anyone else’s.

keep interview bias at bay

Here’s a study that found applicant obesity accounts for a 35% variance in hiring decisions.

Here’s one that presented people with equal-performing candidates, where men were 1.5 times more likely to be hired.

Interviewer biases include everything from nonverbal bias (thinking, “That haircut was a terrible idea”) to things like contrast bias, where an otherwise average candidate appears very strong because they came after a weak candidate.

Structured interviews and scorecarding can’t eliminate bias … but they can go a long way toward it.

“Most small businesses and startups are running around like crazy. Putting in structured interviewing takes pressure off of them (and their team) to come up with good questions on the spot, as well as from being biased against a candidate (who perhaps is scheduled during an especially crazy day and the team is in a bad mood).” — Christy Hopkins, Human Resources Staff Writer at FitSmallBusiness

This leap toward removing bias is also legal win for structured interviews

“A structured interview allows a legal, controlled environment for managers to have an interview in and compare candidates apples to apples, versus apples to oranges when managers are all asking different questions. Once you control an environment, you take the opinion and bias out of the process and begin to have a solid recruitment process that can be replicated.” — Christy Hopkins, Human Resources Staff Writer at FitSmallBusiness

Structured interviews put the questioning power where it usually belongs: in the hands of the HR team, or in the team member with the most vested interest in the quality of the hire.

Whether you’re dealing with a green hiring team or just a maniacally busy one, a thoughtful, predetermined set of questions help keep you informed.

Decide on your crucial information long before the interview, and you’ll reap the repeatable benefits for similar, stellar hires long afterward.

“Having a standardized interview structure is critical — it enables us to screen candidates with consistency. The purpose of the standardized structure is to ensure the selected candidates meet the criteria, based on proof, past experience, and demonstrable success — rather than a ‘feeling’ that they would fit. The approach enables us to test all candidates in exactly the same manner so we can eliminate biases and make an objective “apples to apples” assessment.
This process has allowed us to successfully hire top performing salespeople for our clients.” — Taylor Dumouchel, Executive Recruiter, Peak Sales Recruiting

You’ll hear it over and over again from companies and practitioners … structured interviewing predictably shows the most successful candidates.

If you implement scorecards as well — remember, that’s the second dimension of a highly structured interview — you’re no longer left looking at reams of feedback notes.You don’t have to decide if Accounting Candidate A’s love for knitting trumps Accounting Candidate B’s passion for martial arts on the question of “Tell me about yourself.”

And you really won’t have to try to figure out how either of those relates to the open Accounting role.

tell me about yourself

If you’re thinking that structured interviews are the way to go from here on out, we couldn’t agree more. That’s why we baked Interview Guides right into Breezy.

You can define your questions, group them, copy them to a scorecard, and assign them to a hiring pipeline. They’ll be waiting for you (and your teammates) in the interview’s calendar appointment.

So when it’s time to start talking, you’ll have your interview guide right there with you, along with the candidate’s profile and scorecard. Ta. Da. 🎉

breezy interview guide

Next up, we’ll dig into the best kind of questions to ask (there are three categories: Structural, Behavioral, and General) and how to format Candidate Scorecards that accurately reflect the questions your team is asking.
AKA, the tactical stuffs.

Ready to start removing the bias from your hiring? We can help with that. Join us for an upcoming webinar with Bamboo HR where we take on some solutions.

Then, See all the ways that Breezy HR can help you modernize your recruiting process.

Continue to Part 2 and learn how structured interview questions can help you hire the most successful candidates.