Interviews: Structured, unstructured or semi-structured?

No matter your method, the candidate should always come first

In our previous blog in this interview series, we discussed the difference between competency-based and emotional intelligence interviews. In this blog, we’ll be discussing the difference between structured and unstructured job interviews, and how you can utilise both.

Interviews are not just a process during which a company gains an understanding of the relevant candidates. Rather, interviews are also an opportunity for candidates to gain insight into your company. Too often companies take their position for granted. They fail to understand that a candidate can reject your company just as easily as you can decline them. So, treat candidates the way you want to be treated.

An interview should strike a balance for both the company and the candidate. While an interview needs to assess the candidates’ capacity to fulfil the role, it should also give them a good depiction of your corporate culture. The candidate wants to be reassured that they will be accepted as part of the team and be supported.

Why does your interview style matter?

These days, businesses cannot afford to lose out on talent. The jobs market is currently 90% candidate driven. So, candidates can have their pick of employers. Therefore, the interview process is an opportunity for your company to promote itself.

This means that an entirely structured interview could come across as unwelcoming and may not be the best approach for the current climate. However, the value of a structured interview doesn’t have to be lost. Similarly, while an unstructured interview is commonly known to be free-flowing, it doesn’t have to be entirely void of purpose.

The value of a structured interview is in its capacity to provide quantitative data. This makes scoring and comparing your candidates relatively easy. The value of an unstructured interview is in its ability to provide you with an accurate assessment of the candidates’ personality and cultural fit.

While both these assessments are equally valid, a combination of the two is perhaps the safest bet.

Enter: the semi-structured interview

The semi-structured interview places both the candidate and the company at the heart of the process. To prepare, the hiring manager creates a list of interview questions they wish to ask. However, unlike structured interviews, there is no scale on which a candidate’s answer needs to fall. While this means the data gathered will be qualitative rather than quantitative, it also means there is no right or wrong answer.

This takes the pressure off the candidate and allows the hiring manager to respond spontaneously. When a structured interview relies on the candidate ticking boxes with their answer, it can sometimes result in a wrong hire. This is because the hiring manager is swayed by the data. So, they hire the candidate who said the right things, rather than following their instinctive, initial feelings.

When there is no right answer, it is not possible for a candidate to fail. This provides a safe space for the candidate to be truly honest. It also makes room for conversation to occur in the moment.

So, to semi-structure, or not?

Well, the biggest flaw with both unstructured and semi-structured interviews is that they are less objective. This is a problem if your company would like to keep strict records of interview processes. However, if this is not the case, the semi-structured interview may be the best way forward.

While some companies do utilise the entirely unstructured interview, you can’t assume that a lack of structure will enable your candidate to be comfortable. Some candidates are much more comfortable with a sense of boundaries in place.

Of course, your final decision of which interview style you land on depends on your objectives. However, Amanda, our Lead Resourcing Partner, recommends the semi-structured interview for companies who can see the benefit of both interview styles. She says the format allows for the most efficient, yet friendliest candidate experience while gaining the company the information they need.

Effectively, the moral of the story is not to stick all your eggs in one basket. Spread them out, take a little of what works from one approach, and a little of what works from another. Pay your candidate as much attention as your objectives, and you should find the happy medium you need.

This is the second blog in our interview series. Keep an eye out for the next blog in the series. We’ll be going into more detail about the type of questions you should be asking.