Everything About Structured Interviews

Interviewing well is difficult. It's also a critically important part of your hiring process. A poor interviewing process directly results in substandard hires.

What can you do to improve your interviews? A lot, in fact.

In this article, we will look at one way you can improve your interviews: by structuring them. Usually, interviews aren't planned. They are mostly based on instincts. Your first impression of the candidate often defines what course the interview will take. It's often inefficient and plain lazy. It doesn't matter how rigorous your hiring process is; if it's not structured, you're going to see wide variance in the results.

What are structured interviews?

In Google's words:

Structured interviewing simply means using the same interviewing methods to assess candidates applying for the same job.

Structured interviewing helps with a lot of things. For example:

Most important, it results in better understanding of the candidate at each step.

Preparing for it

To start off, you need to understand the job. What would a successful candidate look like? What skills are you looking for? What does a day on the job look like?

Once you have these answers, it's time to prepare questions that you want the interviewers to ask in advance. The idea is to have every candidate go through the exact same process so you can collect the right feedback.

How do you come up with good questions? There's no easy way to do it: it takes research, iteration, and time. There are a few things that can help:

a) Keep your questions open-ended. Often, interviewers go into an interview expecting a very specific answer for a question. Avoid that at all costs.

Every interview is about understanding the candidate a little more. As it is, candidates aren't very comfortable in a typical interview setting. Expecting exact answers is setting yourself up for failure.

b) Cover both the breadth and depth of a topic. A lot of interviews glance over a bunch of things at a rapid pace. That can be useful at times but it's important to test for depth of knowledge, too.

When you can, set up a context, lead with a question and ask follow-up questions. Doing so will help you understand the candidate's thought process better.

* Don't leave your interviewers out in the cold. Tell them what to ask and, when possible, tell them how to rate answers. Often, if you leave it to the interviewers, there will be a large variance in how two different interviewers rate similar answers.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. One, while you want comprehensive feedback, it's better not to make every interview long drawn. Asking twenty different questions at every stage just leads to indirection. Two, you need to consistently review your interview questions and improve them. No interview process is going to be perfect from the start.

Conducting Interviews

Preparations done. Now it's time to move on to actually conducting the interview. One of the most challenging parts of conducting an interview is making a candidate comfortable.

It's no surprise that most candidates aren't exactly at home when they interview. Them being uncomfortable or just plain nervous will also impact their performance. Often you will find yourself being more impressed with the candidate who knows how to interview better compared to the one who is more skilled.

You can do your part in making a candidate comfortable. When possible, make sure the interviewers communicate with them before the interview. Make sure the candidate knows what to expect. Little things like directions, what to do when they reach your office, etc. can go a long way in making the candidate comfortable.

Don't jump straight into the technical questions when you start the interview. You've perhaps heard it several times already but spending the first few minutes making the candidate comfortable will result in better interviews.

Take-home tests are another great way to make the candidate comfortable. Before an interview, you can send the candidate a small test that takes a couple of hours. It helps them get an idea of what to expect. It's also something that the two of you can talk about when you're interviewing. They can do the bulk of the work in a setting they are comfortable with and you can then discuss their work with them. It's a win-win for both.

Done well, structured interviews can help you improve the quality of your interviews. Of course, it has its downsides too. For both the interviewers and the interviewee, it can feel a bit mechanical since you aren't allowing a conversation to take its natural course. The upsides, however, are well worth it.