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Talent Assessment | 5 Min Read

Structured Vs Unstructured Interviews: What’s the Truth Behind Them?

Why Interview?

We cannot find a blueprint for an ideal candidate. What we can do is look and search for our perfect match. Assess candidates for different things at a different course of time.

Business leaders and talent acquisition managers want people with the ability and potential to perform and are best suited for the job. Finding the perfect match, who will contribute to the workplace environment and be a cultural fit takes time.

There are many filters that organizations use to reach that one best person, starting with registrations, online applications to online assessments and interviews.

Face to face, either electronic or in-person, meetings serve a 2-fold purpose-

It is the employer’s chance to check if the candidate is suitable for the organizational culture, principles, and goal. It is here where the employer gets insights into the candidate’s personality.

It is the candidate’s chance to know about the company culture, whether it suits him or whether he will be able to cope up in the workplace.

What Goes Wrong in the Job Interview?

Interviews play an integral role in the hiring decision. They are preceded by a series of steps involving filtering through a pool of resumes, then assessments, and finally reaching this stage.

Interviews are different from the other tools used to filter candidates; they are not mere questions they involve social interaction.

But many a time, the way an interview is conducted is the reason for misconduct.

Be it for the technician, the salesman, or the administrator; there is one standard interface. Any person for any role is evaluated on basic guidelines and standard parameters.

This practice of keeping everything under one roof is one reason for the high turnover.

Unclear expectations from both the candidates and the interviewer lead to a dissatisfactory workplace and hence high attrition.

“On a five-point scale, the optimal or “best” interview difficulty that leads to the highest employee satisfaction is four out of five, with five being the most difficult.”


Depending on the company, people can either encounter a structured or unstructured interview.

“Without interviews, companies will be incapable of assessing candidates at their best; hence interviews will stay in for the long haul.”

Before we decide what suits the company best, it is customary to understand each interview in its light of pros & cons. It is only after you have an essence of the two types, you can decide which one to choose.

The Types of Interviews

Talent acquisition and managers have one common objective- recruiting the right person for the proper role, but they all have their ways to reach the goal.

Some follow the structured interview framework while others use the unstructured interview format.

While both methods are fruitful, they come with their advantages and disadvantages.

What Are Unstructured Interviews?

An unstructured interview is one in which the interviewer poses questions that are not prepared beforehand. In this format, questions arise spontaneously in an exuberant conversation, which means that various candidates may be given different questions. These interviews can also be called given names: informal, free-flowing, or casual. As with any interview type, there are also pros and cons of unstructured interviews.

Advantages of Unstructured Interviews 

These personalized approach-based interviews come especially useful when you have to choose between two equally qualified candidates or find candidates for jobs that require excellent communication skill and extroverted personality. Moreover, since unstructured interviews facilitate great conversations, they demonstrate an element of casualness, and candidates feel more comfortable and at ease during the meeting.

Disadvantages of Unstructured Interviews 

One possible downside is that it is a tad challenging to evaluate all candidates objectively and equally because different respondents are asked various questions, and comparing their answers would be equally hard.

Non-directive interviews are the ones that do not have a prearranged set of questions.

It is more like a free-flowing conversation between the candidate and the employer. There is no set of standard questions, but a basic outline with a few basic questions about the topic the researcher wishes to cover.

They are consumed with open-ended questions that give insights into a candidates’ life.

Unstructured interviews can be summarised as:

  • Mostly flexible and free-flowing. The questions change according to the answers of the candidates.
  • They dig-in for qualitative data with open-ended questions. This gives the respondent to express in his/her own words,  hence helping the researcher to get a better picture of the candidate’s true self.

The Pitiful Pitfalls

Scene one-

An office setting, with the interviewer on one side and the interviewee on the other.

Interviewer- “Tell me about yourself?”

The candidate speaks.

Interviewer- “Which animal do you resemble in terms of work ethic?

And maybe when the candidate names the animal, it matches with that of the interviewee’s thought. And kudos, he somewhere starts to like him more!!!( not intentionally)


  • Unstructured interviews are susceptible to bias; the interviewee sometimes tends to develop some kind of liking for the person based on personal experiences. This feeling could affect the validity of the information gathered and lower the quality of interviews than structured decisions.
  • Unstructured interviews are time-consuming, sometimes the interviewee gets swayed in answering the questions that it gets challenging to keep track of time.
  • Unstructured interviews make analyses of answers difficult. It is challenging to evaluate people equally and objectively when each candidate is asked a different set of questions.

What Are Structured Interviews?

A structured interview is a type of interview in which the interviewer asks a particular set of predetermined questions. A structured interview is one in which the inquirer asks a specific set of preset questions. In this format, questions are planned beforehand, which means that the order of questions remains the same for every candidate. These interviews can also be called given names: patterned, planned, standardized, or formal interviews.

Such interviews have a defined format. In these interviews, the questions are planned well in advance, and the interviewer just needs to ask them. This signifies that all the people are asked the same questions in the same order.

Structured interviews-

  • It includes a procedure of institutionalizing pre-determined guidelines.Typically, such rules apply in two ways:

      Content (questions asked)

      Assessment (response scoring)

These questions are specifically developed based on the company’s requirements concerning  a job match, as well as to ascertain whether the candidates have the right attitude and competencies to perform the job.

  • The candidate is expected to provide the required information or sometimes choose from the options available. They reduce the burden on the interviewer’s shoulders as he already knows what to ask next and hence saves time.

Advantages of Structured Interviews:

In structured interviews, all the interviewees are given the same questions, which makes it reasonably easy for the interviewers to compare their answers and pick the most suitable candidate for the job. Objectivity and fair evaluation of candidates make this interview format more legally defensible than other formats.

Disadvantages of a Structured Interview 

On the contrary, developing content for structured interviews is an arduous undertaking. You have to write them out, test them, and ensure that interviewers comply with it. There’s an additional risk of interview questions getting leaked out, which means future candidates can prepare accordingly and ace the interview.

Lastly, this type of cookie-cutter approach can seem a bit non-customized, making it difficult to provide a unique and excellent interview experience for candidates.

The Elements of Structured Interview

Follow this checklist for a structured interview framework.


  • Job Analysis- identify the prerequisites for the job profile- the skills, competencies, and responsibilities.
  • The competencies evaluated for the interview – underline the specific skills that need to be measured in the interview process and design questions keeping this in mind.
  • Design quality questions- The questions must be few, clear, and different (behavioral, situational).
  • Train the interviewer- The interviewer is the only and first point of contact that the candidate has with the company. It is essential to train the person to increase the accuracy and seriousness of the structured interview. The body language, the facial expression, the tone, everything needs to be taken into consideration.
  • Begin with a pleasant introduction- When you meet the candidate on-screen or in-person for the first time, give him/her a warm welcome, go for a small intro, and then begin.
  • Same questions, same order- Maintain consistency in your process, ask questions in a particular order, and limit unnecessary probing or any elaboration of questions.
  • Develop a rating scale- Score each answer with multiple scales, it is also about identifying the scale for each proficiency (e.g.- a range from 1 to 5). The interviewer shall take notes that can be referred to in case of doubt.
  • Consistent approach – Use the same order, same questions, in the same manner for all the candidates. Use the same interviewer for all candidates.
  • Closing – This is where the candidate gets the opportunity to ask questions. It is also the last moment to convey any further information and leave the best impression.

Now that we have a clear idea of structured interviews let us understand what makes them better than the unstructured interviews.

For companies to follow and fulfill this checklist might take ages. It would be a smart move to find this where it is already available.

Find this structure ready to use at Mettl with Hiretrack, which has a user-friendly interface to conduct interviews.

How Are Structured Interviews Better?

Scene one-

An office setting, with the interviewer on one side and the interviewee on the other.

The interviewer has his resources ready and starts with the questions one by one.

“What is the most significant achievement in your current job?”

“Describe a situation where you had to encourage your team to generate new ideas for a recurring problem.”

“You are one month old into the organization, and there is a tier- one client visit scheduled. Due to the unavailability of the concerned person, you are required to attend the meeting. How will you manage?

benefits of structured interview

Advantages of Structured Interview:

Given below are some of the most significant advantages of structured interviews:

An easy process– since structured interviews mostly include standardized questions, it’s an efficient and straightforward process. By comparing respondents’ answers for the same kind of questions helps in identifying capability variability.

Easy to check reliability– it’s easy to check the reliability of a structured interview because it can be repeated so many times. Checking and repeating data continuously in a structured interview reduces the burden of the interviewer.

Better issue management– structured interviews provide interviewers with a comprehensive view of the whole issue. It comes in handy in various situations where decision-makers find themselves at loggerheads, and can’t assess conditions thoroughly.

Repurposing of questions- an experienced interviewer can also rephrase questions if he/she wants to change the tone and arrangement of questions for maintaining the efficacy of the interview process.

In-depth interview- with an in-depth structured interview, identifying the candidate’s level of understanding for any given topic becomes easy.

An active form of assessment-  a structured interview is the most effective form of formative assessment. The method works wonders for administrators, enabling them to find the idea accurately and thought of the responder.

A better understanding of candidates– an applicant can better express his/her skills and abilities in a structured interview process. In this setting, the applicant can furnish interviewers with all the necessary information, be it personal or professional information.

Similarly, there are some cons of using structured interview as given below:

Building rapport is difficult- it’s evident that an element of rigidity prevails in a formal interview setting.  In a structured format, both the interviewer and the participant need to be on the same page, which is often tricky in most cases. The most critical aspects of an interviewer’s personality are his/her demeanor and interpersonal communication skills. The reason is that the candidate being interviewed also wants to build a rapport with his/her interviewer.  Since both parties emphasize on keeping the structure of the interview well focused, it becomes evident that the act of building up a proper relationship takes the back seat.

A certain level of discomfort- sometimes structured interviews become a nerve-wracking ordeal even for experienced or competent candidates. This fact holds true in those cases where a committee in place of just one hiring manager is appointed to interview candidates. Under such conditions, the candidate tries to showcase their skills, persona, and confidence, but many a time, performance gradually declines as pressure increases.

Lack of flexibility- mostly, interviewers feel that structured interviews that are specific to prearranged questions lack flexibility. There’s no scope for them to go beyond the interview protocol to dwell deeper into interviewee’s insights by asking unanticipated questions during the interview.

Incomplete reports- final assessment reports generated by structured interviews contain fragmented or incomplete information, which does not fully take the candidate’s circumstances and perspectives into consideration.

Chances of misinterpretation- all participants do not share the same level of vocabulary and may perceive questions in a structured interview quite differently based on their perspective. This could lead to variability in the types of responses.

Theoretically, structured interviews prioritize consistency and follow a formal structure, but practically, every participant is unique, and decision-makers must be considerate enough to readjust their strategy for unanticipated circumstances.

Structured interviews are frequently used in combination with various kinds of research interviews. For instance, an interviewer might choose structured interviews to conduct descriptive research and subsequently use unstructured or semi-structured interviews to look into specific areas.

Structured Versus Unstructured Interviews

A structured approach is research-oriented and formal, whereas the unstructured approach is non-formal and governed by intuition. Typically, organizations adopt a semi-structured selection approach, which possesses elements of both approaches. However, most interviews pattern themselves after the unstructured approach as contrasted with the structured one. Most interviewers have idiosyncratic, personal views about the candidates that are required for the job. The way information is collated and used to make judgments reeks of subjectivity and ambiguity in decision making. Moreover, how well do evaluators perform the task of selecting candidates is based on casual perception rather than systematic investigation. Although the selection process is usually like this, the research on interviews suggests otherwise that unstructured interviews are prone to biases that hamper the quality of hiring decisions.

Structuring the entire process is a sure-fire way to eliminate biases and make informed hiring decisions. A structured interview approach can go a long way towards helping decision-makers to assess critical competencies that are required in the job. Unlike the unstructured process, evaluators rely on the knowledge, skills, and abilities of candidates to conduct a well-detailed formal job analysis. Often experienced interviewers based on prior conceptions cannot differentiate a right applicant from an unsuitable one, thus becoming the victim of poor judgment.

Differences Between Structured and Unstructured Interview


A structured interview relies extensively on a set of prearranged and standardized questions to seek information about any candidate. On the contrary, an unstructured interview isn’t dependent on premeditated questions for its data collection process. In an unstructured format, the interviewer doesn’t come with a set of prearranged questions, while in a structured format, the interviewer follows a strategic interview sequence.

Interview Sequence

In a structured interview, the interview sequence comprises standardized questions, while there is no such interview sequence being created in an unstructured format. In a structured interview, the researcher follows the interview sequence, but researchers in an unstructured setting don’t support such a sequence but leave room for spontaneity to steer the course of conservation.

Question Types

In a structured interview, researchers use closed-ended questions extensively while an unstructured interview mainly consists of open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions enable interviewers to limit the candidate to some possible responses in line with the research context. On the contrary, open-handed questions do not require respondents to limit themselves to predetermined options for answering such questions. Instead, it lends respondents the opportunity to address questions from multiple perspectives, and this allows interviewers to gather exciting insights about the candidate.

How to Take the Candidate Experience to Another Level? (How to Ensure Interviewer Is Not Cheating- Digital Record)

Structured interviews are the best bet to reduce any bias that comes with recognizing the persons’ similarities and perceiving those similarities as a measure to qualify.

If you are looking for an easy “Apple to Apple” comparison with the advantage of a grading system that finds the best available candidate, then go for a structured interview.

Sometimes companies face difficulty in structuring their interview process and end up somewhere in between formal and informal interviews. They are unable to reach the patterned process.

How Mercer| Mettl Can Help?

Our integrated platform can make your hiring process much simpler, effective, and organized.

For starters, Hiretrack can help you schedule multiple interviews in just a mouse click, the invite sent to respective candidates doesn’t take much time either. All this automatically syncs in with your calendar, so keeping tabs on which interview is when vanishes! The interface allows you to prepare your questions and scorecard, or Mettl’s question bank is at your perusal. And once the interview starts, you have everything recorded. So whenever in doubt, avail the recording!

Sliding CTA_Are You Prepared for Future of Work-1


Use HireTRACK and build a winning interview process!!




Originally published July 16 2018, Updated December 17 2020

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About This Topic

An online video interview software allows organizations to conduct interviews remotely in a scalable, structured and effective manner. With the digitization of the recruitment process, an online video interview software provides organizations with a virtual platform to conduct interviews.

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