Structured vs. Unstructured Interviews

Kelly Cantwell

There are two basic styles, or models, of interviews employers usually use when hiring new employees: structured and unstructured interviews. Just like job candidates, each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. But do the advantages of a structured interview outweigh the advantages of an unstructured interview?

As a hiring manager or business owner, you want to find the model that gets the best results, right? You want the one that helps you find the right candidates as quickly as you can, so you can get the right person on the job to help your company grow.

Fortunately, there’s a way to combine the best of both structured and unstructured interview models – but before we explore that, let’s take a look at the definitions, differences, as well as pros and cons, of both types.

What is a structured interview?

In a structured interview, the person or team doing the interview puts together a list of questions that focus on the candidate’s past experience, strengths and weaknesses, job requirements, and abilities and assets the person can bring to the company.

In a structured interview, vs. an unstructured interview, the employer often begins with some small talk and a brief overview of the position and then goes through the list of questions, writing down the responses for each one.

Each candidate is asked the same questions in the same order, while the interviewer takes notes and tries to get a sense of whether the person has the skills and traits necessary for the job, and whether he or she would be a good fit for the position and company.

What is an unstructured interview?

Unstructured interviews are a conversational, unrehearsed interview style that does not have a specific list of questions meant to be asked in a particular order. The interviewer may pick and choose things to talk about based on the candidate’s resume or application, while trying to assess how well the person might fit in with the company culture. These interviews are more like a free-flowing discussion mixed in with interview questions.

Structured vs Unstructured Interviews

What are the advantages of a structured interview?

Conducting structured interviews within your company can yield many benefits.

The advantages of structured interviews include:

  • Easily compare multiple job candidates. Since you ask each person the same questions, you can compare all the candidates’ answers across the board more easily.
  • Prepare and avoid missed opportunities. You’re less likely to forget important questions when you have a prepared list.
  • Reduce biased opinions of potential candidates. In general, structured interviews are more consistent, fair and effective. Focusing on questions and answers rather than whether you “like” the candidate or not creates a more controlled environment and helps to remove the influence of personal bias.
  • Conduct faster job interviews. Once prepared, structured interviews tend to be faster to complete than unstructured interviews.

The disadvantages of structured interviews are:

  • Spend more of your time planning. Structured interviews take more time to plan and prepare, compared to unstructured interviews.
  • Miss opportunities to go more in-depth. If you need more information, it’s more difficult to stray from the format and ask more in-depth questions on any areas of interest.
  • Present your organization in a more professional or cold manner. These interviews can feel more impersonal – more like an interrogation than a conversation. And because they’re more formal, you may not be able to gauge personality traits and characteristics that you might observe in a more informal interview.

What are the advantages of an unstructured interview?

Unstructured interviews can yield much different positive results than a structured interview, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons between the two.

The advantages of unstructured interviews include:

  • Dive into deeper discussions. An unstructured interview model allows you to go more in-depth on a particular topic or focus more time learning about a particular candidate’s strengths or traits.
  • Adapt to changing topics. Unstructured interviews are more flexible, allowing questions to be adapted and changed depending on the candidate’s answers.
  • Improvise relevant interview questions. If the interviewer is good at coming up with questions on-the-spot and making the candidate feel comfortable, it can create a more relaxed atmosphere.

The disadvantages of unstructured interviews are:

  • Getting distracted during the interview. Without having questions prepared in advance, you may forget something or miss learning about a trait or skill that’s critical for the job.
  • Misjudging the interviewee. Because your questions may vary greatly from one candidate to another, it’s much harder to “compare apples to apples” when reviewing answers. It may also become easier to be affected by biases or snap judgments.
  • Unpredictability of the candidate’s job performance. Depending on the person conducting the interview, unstructured interviews can be less reliable at predicting job performance if the right questions aren't asked. This can diminish the likelihood of the right candidates being selected.

Structured versus Unstructured Interviews: Which should you choose?

Numerous studies have found that structured interviews are superior in hiring, providing better results – however, as noted above, the advantages of structured interviews also come with drawbacks.

But the good news is, a system like Hire Success allows you to reap all the benefits of both structured and unstructured interview models to create a kind of “superstructured” interview. Here’s how:

  • Get ahead with filtered test results. By administering preliminary skills, integrity, and personality testing to all pre-qualified candidates, you start off with many answers to important structured interview questions before you ever hold interviews, just by reviewing test results. The people who don’t meet your baseline needs won’t be coming in to interview in the first place.
  • Receive important candidate highlights before the interview. Having testing results speeds up the process of planning a structured interview, versus an unstructured interview, because Hire Success highlights important points for you in our reports. You also won’t forget to ask important questions, because our Interviewer’s Guide will help plot out queries.
  • Discover candidate personality traits to find the right fit for the job. With results from a personality profile test, you’ll already have insight about personality traits that you’ve identified as being critical for the job. You can concentrate your time on areas of concern for each candidate, making each interview more personal.
  • Create a controlled interview environment. Test results help you remain unbiased, because they focus on data. In fact, your data-based test results are more likely to help you identify candidates who might otherwise have been missed.

It’s best to keep in mind your business’s needs and objectives when deciding which type of style is best for your interviewing process. Choosing Hire Success’s interviewing system can help you bridge the gap between the advantages of structured vs. unstructured interviews.

Want to know more about our hiring system? Get a personalized walk-through of Hire Success's interviewing solutions.

Kelly Cantwell

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