Have you ever hired someone? If so, you probably interviewed several people to help you pick the right one. But how did you conduct the interviews? Did you prepare questions in advance or did you just have the people come in for a chat? There are many ways to conduct interviews, but they work best when you structure that interview.
How Do We Conduct Interviews?
An interview is a conversation between two or more people about a specific topic. They can be conducted face-to-face with everyone in the same room. They can be conducted using video technology, such as MS Teams, Skype, or Zoom. They can be conducted with voice only via a telephone. Sometimes interviews are conducted with one interviewer, but often there is more than one interviewer in the room. Interviews can be used for many purposes, including hiring.
Interviews for Hiring
Interviews allow for in depth discussion of an applicant’s background, experience, and talents. Interviews, if conducted properly, can assess many of the KSAOs (Knowledge, Skill, Ability, and Other Characteristics) necessary for job success. For example, if the job requires knowledge of office procedures, an interview can be used to get a snapshot of the kinds of office experiences the applicant has had that reflects on their knowledge. Interviews work best when the interviewer has in mind the sort of information that is needed to support decision-making. Better still is an interview that is pre-planned to cover specific issues, and to cover the same issues for each person who is interviewed. In other words, preplanning means that you structure that interview.
Types of Interviews
Interviews differ in the extent to which they are structured. Structure means the extent to which questions are pre-planned and how much interviewers deviate from the pre-planned questions. We can think about three different kinds of interviews according to the amount of structure.
- Organic Interview. This interview is completely unstructured. It is a conversation between the interviewer and interviewee that evolves naturally as the people interact. The interviewer might have a standard way of breaking the ice to start the conversation “How are you today?” or “Why are you here today?” But the purpose is to see how well the interviewee is able to connect, and whether valuable information emerges.
- Semi–Structured Interview. A series of questions is pre-planned to be asked of everyone. But the responses of the interviewee might trigger follow-up probing questions to provide more depth. Those probes might or might not be pre-planned. This sort of interview can allow for a natural conversation flow, where each question is asked as the prior answer comes to an obvious conclusion.
- Totally Structured Interview. A series of specific questions is generated, and each question is asked in the same order. There are no follow-up or probing questions unless they have been pre-planned. Every interviewee gets the same questions, including follow-ups. The interviewee does (or should do) most of the talking, as the interviewer only asks the questions and then is silent as the interviewee answers. This sort of highly structured interview is very much like a verbally administered test, with each item (question) spoken rather than written. Answers are also spoken rather than written. One of the byproducts of high structure is that it produces a conversation that is awkward and, all parties can find it to be uncomfortable. It might be more effective to administer this sort of assessment electronically. Interviewees use a computer where questions are either written or pre-recorded, and responses to questions are recorded for later analysis.
Structure That Interview
When it comes to using interviews for hiring, structure has several benefits (for more details, see my I-O Psychology textbook).
- Structured interviews do a better job of assessing job relevant information like KSAOs.
- Asking all applicants the same questions makes it easier to compare them and choose the one who is the best fit for the job. It is extremely difficult to compare applicants when each has been asked different questions. You wind up having to make a judgment based on the fact that Applicant A answered a question about a challenging experience better than Applicant B answered a question about their personal goals. It is much easier to make comparisons of answers to the same question.
- Structure helps reduce bias. Unstructured interviews allow conscious and even unconscious biases to come through. This might mean that what minority interviewees are asked is different from what majority interviewees are asked, putting them at a disadvantage. Structure means everyone is asked the same things, so the interview process is fairer.
- Structured interviews do a better job of predicting who will make a good employee. By reducing personal biases and focusing on job relevant information, structured interviews are more helpful in identifying talent.
Many managers who conduct interviews are more comfortable with the free-wheeling organic interview. It is a natural way of communicating, and they might have had success with it in the past. Adding structure has several benefits that can make the hiring process more effective. Adding even some structure can be effective, but it requires preplanning of questions that each applicant will be asked. If you have never done one, try it the next time you hire. I think you will find that if you structure that interview, you will be amazed at how helpful it is.
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