Structured Interviews: More Predictive, Less Biased, and Better for Candidates

We’ve all heard the quip attributed (wrongly, it turns out!) to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yet many hiring managers and recruiters do just that: they rely on unstructured interviews and gut feelings to make hiring decisions despite mounting evidence that these methods are poor predictors of future success and that they tend to introduce bias into the interview process.


Why do we so often resist adopting a structured interview process—in which all candidates are asked the same set of questions and are assessed based on a predetermined set of criteria—in favor of a less reliable technique? For one thing, Robert Dipboye argues, interviewers often find unstructured interviews more personally enjoyable. After all, most of us probably got into this profession partly because we enjoy talking to people!


In addition, we tend to be overconfident in how well gut feelings and intuition predict success. Paradoxically, this is partly because intuition is hard to quantify—and, as a result, its predictive power is hard to falsify. When we use evidence-based hiring practices, we gather aggregate data that shows both the successes and the failures of these methods. By contrast, when we rely on intuition, we don’t track outcome as rigorously and rely much more on anecdotes—for instance, that one star performer that we just had a good feeling about.


These factors can make the switch to structured interviews a hard sell. But it’s worth it for several reasons:



Structured Interviews Enhance Comparability Between Candidates


By asking all candidates the same questions, you ensure that you have a solid basis on which to compare candidates with one another. Too often, unstructured interviews leave you comparing apples to oranges. If you spend a lot of time talking with one candidate about his experience at a firm you used to work at, you may be gathering a lot of information; but much of this information will not be directly comparable with the information you get from other candidates who didn’t work at this firm. To make the information gathered from structured interviews as informative as possible, you should not only ask all candidates the same questions, but also score their responses based on a predetermined rubric.



Structured Interviews Minimize Interviewer Bias


Two of the most common cognitive biases that impede diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hiring process are affinity bias—in which we gravitate to people who are similar to us—and confirmation bias—in which we seek out information that supports our existing beliefs. While we are always susceptible to these kinds of biases, structured interviews limit their effects. By focusing on a set of predetermined questions, structured interviews avoid the non-job-related chit-chat that can be used unconsciously to determine if a candidate is “like us” (affinity bias). And similarly, structured interviews prevent the interviewer from unconsciously taking the conversation in a different direction depending on their preexisting impression of the candidate.



Structured Interviews Improve Candidate Experience


In the era of GlassDoor, you can bet that your candidates will be comparing their interview experiences. A structured interview process allows all candidates to share the same information with you, leaving them more confident in the fairness and equitability of the interview process. Moreover, because structured interviews are carefully designed to assess the things that correlate with success on the job, candidates feel more confident about the criteria on which they are being evaluated. And finally, structured interviews allow you to gather information more quickly than unstructured interviews, saving the candidates valuable time.



Ready to Implement Structured Interviews?


Implementing structured interviews requires several steps:


  • Identifying the factors that predict future success on the job. What do your star performers have in common?
  • Formulating questions that accurately assess these factors and that do not muddy them with irrelevant information. (Ask yourself: how would you have identified those star performers during the interview process?)
  • Developing a scoring system that allows you to evaluate answers to these questions consistently and accurately. To do so, write out not only the questions you’ll ask, but also the types of answers that would receive a high rating vs a low rating. Atta Tarki highlights the importance of this step in his Evidence-Based Recruiting, noting that it is “particularly helpful in disentangling the impression that candidates are giving off versus the substance of their responses.”
  • Tracking and assessing the results of your interview process to see if it is achieving the desired results. If you find that your structured interview questions are not as predictive as you’d expected them to be, this allows you to investigate why this is and redesign them for the future.


Developing a structured interview process requires a substantial initial outlay of time and effort, but it’s worth it for the return you get: a hiring process that is more predictive, less biased, and better for candidates. And while you might miss the opportunity to chat with the candidate about their favorite sports team or their recent vacation, don’t worry: you’ll have plenty of time for those conversations when they’re on your team.



Etha Williams is a Project Manager at ECA. She can be reached at [email protected].



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