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Structured Hiring   | 5 Min Read

Structured vs Unstructured Interviews: What's the truth behind them?

Written By Divyeshwari Singh

Why interview?

We cannot find a blueprint for an ideal candidate. What we can, 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 and 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 common interface. Any person for any role is evaluated on basic guidelines and common parameters.

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

Unclear expectations from the side of the candidates and the interviewer, the incapability of asking the right question 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 4 out of 5, with 5 being the most difficult.”



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

“Without interviews, companies will be incapable to assess 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 2 types, you are able to decide which one to choose.

The Types of Interviews

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

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

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

The Unstructured Interview

“Interviews in which neither the question nor the answer categories are predetermined.”

                       -Minichiello et al. (1990)

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 in relation to 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)

the pitfalls of unstructured interview

  • 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.

I have been in HR for 20+ years and have used behavioral interviewing/structured interview guides since 1998 …It has been my experience that when hiring managers give more weight to their preferences/biases, the hire made is not the best fit for the role.” — Bridgette Wilder, Chief HR Officer, Media Fusion, INC

  • Unstructured interviews are time-consuming, sometimes the interviewee gets swayed in answering the questions that it gets difficult 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.

The Structured Interview Effect

Such interviews have a defined format. In these interviews, the questions are planned in 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. Normally, such rules apply in two ways:

      Content (questions asked)

      Assessment (response scoring)

These questions are specifically designed, based on the company’s requirements in terms of a job match, as well as to whether you have the right attitude and temperament to do 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 times.

The elements of structured interview

Follow this checklist for a patterned interview framework.

elements of structure interview

  • Job Analysis- identify the prerequisites for the job profile- the skills, competencies, and responsibilities.
  • The competencies evaluated for the interview - underline the specific competencies 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 (behavioural, 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 introduction and then begin.
  • Same questions, same order- Maintain a 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 (eg- 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 Mettl Recruit, 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 1-month old into the organization and there is a tier-1 client visit scheduled. Due to the unavailability of the concerned person, you are required to take the meeting. How will you manage?”

benefits of structured interview

  • Structured interviews base questions on job analysis. Asking questions related to the profile and skills required increases the validity by directly increasing job-relatedness. By guaranteeing that the questioner neither incorporates insignificant data nor bars applicable data, it further validates the process.
  • They greatly reduce bias. By connecting assessments with job-related factors, planned interviews put a constraint on the irrelevant information. Though bias exists, structured interviews reduce the degree of this bias.
    • Formal interviews are not very time-consuming. The interviewers practice balanced probing, where an equal amount of time is given to each candidate and only interrupts when the candidate has misunderstood the question or is unclear about something.
    • Structured interviews are digitally recorded. This simply means that every candidate’s response to each and every competency is available to the interviewer in the detailed report format.
  • Standardised interviews evaluate people in the fairest possible way. Since the same questions are asked to all the people, it is easier to draw a comparison, grade people and then hire the best fit.

What is the difference?

Before we decide which one to go for, let us have a quick recap of the difference.

difference between the two

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.

Take your Candidate Experience to Another Level with Mettl

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

For starters Mettl Recruit 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 the tension of keeping a track of which interview is when vanishes!!

The interface allows you to prepare your own questions and score card 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!!

Use Mettl Recruit and build a winning interview process!!

Topics: Structured Hiring

Originally published April 16 2019,updated June 29 2019

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