Blog Article

Structured vs. Unstructured Interviews


For most employers, interviews continue to be an important part in the hiring decision (despite mountains of evidence that the traditional interview style can be incredibly unreliable for predicting job success). Interviewing definitely has its place in the hiring process – but not all interviews are created equal.

In the battle of structured interviews vs. unstructured interviews, who wins out? To get to the bottom of this, let’s explore their differences, the science that supports them, and how you can make sure your interviews are a reliably predictive part of your hiring process.   

Structured Interviews vs. Unstructured Interviews at a Glance 

Looking to compare structured interviews and unstructured interviews? First, let's take a look the different types of interview styles and how they differ from each other. 

     Structured Interviews

     Unstructured Interviews

Interviewer directs the discussion.A free-flowing conversation between the interviewers and the candidate.
"Small talk” and candidate questions are put on hold until the interviewers’ assessments are complete.Interviewer may engage in rapport-building conversation at the start of the interview to “break the ice.”
Pre-defined questions are prepared based on a job analysis.Interviewers have the freedom to ask the questions they prefer to ask.
Every candidate is asked the same questions, in the same order.Interviewers can vary the questions from candidate to candidate.
Interviewer is looking for competencies necessary to succeed in the role.Interviewer may be looking for a good culture fit.
Interviewers asks behavioral or situational questions that require the candidate to draw upon their experiences to convey competencies.Interview questions may cover strengths, weaknesses, work experience, hobbies, and interests. 
The interviewers involved in the interview are consistent across candidates.Interviewers may vary for each candidate.
Interviewers score each response against an anchored rating scale. Interview guides help each interviewer to score responses objectively against pre-determined criteria.What constitutes a good response may be up to each interviewer’s opinion and impression.

The Traditional Unstructured Interview Definition

When we imagine an interview, what comes to mind for most of us is our first job interview, a high-stakes conversation in a button-up shirt and slacks. The interviewer asks the candidate questions about themselves, their experience, and tries to determine if they’d be a good fit. All in all, the traditional interview we think of is an unstructured interview.

Issues with Unstructured Interviews

  • Unstructured interviews are biased. Unstructured interviews muddle an interviewer’s ability to see the candidate’s true potential, and at worst have the capacity to introduce harmful bias.
  • Unstructured interviews are a poor predictor of performance. Research has consistently demonstrated that unstructured interviews are one of the worst predictors of job performance. 

Despite all this, ditching the interview altogether is probably not a good solution. The reason is the key difference between unstructured and structured interviews. Unstructured interviews lack defined questions and unfold organically through conversation. It’s easily apparent how unstructured interviews can lead to bias when the “success” of the interview is dependent on natural chemistry or common interests. 

What is the Definition of a Structured Interview? 

Structured interviewing is a style of interview that adheres tightly to a set of predefined and purely job-relevant questions that every candidate is asked. Then, their responses are evaluated using a standardized rubric that all interviewers review each candidate with.

Benefits of Structured Interviews

  • Structured interviews are incredibly powerful at predicting future job success. A recent meta-analysis shows that structured interviews are the single best predictor of job performance. In fact, structured interviews are nearly twice as predictive as the traditional unstructured interview.
  • Structured interviews are less biased. By standardizing the interview process for all candidates, structured interviews minimize bias so that employers can focus on the factors that will have a direct impact on job performance. 

Structured Video Interview

Putting Structured Interviews into Practice 

So why aren’t more people exclusively using structured interviews? One of the biggest obstacles may be how much upfront effort it takes to plan and conduct a structured interview in the first place. Constructing a format for a structured interview can be time-consuming, requiring careful thought and a little bit of trial and error.

However, there are many tools in place to help you conduct structured interviews, whether with virtual interviews or in person. For example, Criteria’s video interviewing platform enables you to set up automated virtual interviews with structured interview questions with ease, ensuring that each of your candidates has equal opportunity to answer the same questions.  

While establishing a structured interview process may be a challenge, it’s still a worthy goal – and a worthwhile investment. The data consistently reaffirms that structured interviews are significantly more predictive than unstructured interviews.

Unstructured interviews also increase your chances of introducing more bias into the process. If your goal is to hire the candidates who are most likely to succeed on the job, then structured interviews are the way to go.

Examples of Structured Interview Questions

When choosing to incorporate structured interviewing, it can feel hard to know where to start. Check out our Step-by-Step Structured Interview Guide, created by one of our in-house I/O psychology experts!

The exact questions that you will choose to use in a structured interview are largely dependent on the job that you’re hiring for. It’s vital that questions asked are specific and relevant to the skills and responsibilities of the job.

Structured Interview Question Examples

  • How would you describe your ideal work environment?  

  • In the past, how have you measured your own performance against that of your peers? 

  • Tell me about a time at work when you went above and beyond what was asked of you. 

  • Describe a conflict that you have experienced working as part of a team, and how you resolved it. 

  • Provide an example of a situation where you had to find a creative, "outside of the box" solution to a problem you faced. 

Structured Interviews vs. Unstructured Interviews: The Verdict 

Interviewing is still an important part of the hiring process. But the workplace has evolved over the years, it’s important that our interview styles do too. When it comes to structured interviews vs. unstructured interviews, the tightly defined and rigorous nature of structured interviews comes out on top every time. They are more predictable, less biased, and better suited to helping you identify the best person for the job. 

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