Employment Interview: The Ultimate Guide

The most commonly used method to assess if an applicant is suitable for a position is employment interview. Isaac Song has identified two major types of employment interview: structured and unstructured interview. HR leaders should keep these two definitions in mind when reading through this guide as to what is defined as structured and unstructured interview:

  • Structured Interview: A structured interview is a type of interview in which the hiring manager asks a set of premeditated questions in order to gather information about the applicant’s skill and knowledge.
  • Unstructured Interview: An unstructured interview is a type of interview that does not make use of a set of standardized questions. Hiring manager does not generate any specific set of standardized questions for the applicant, and asks different questions in line with the context and purpose of the systematic investigation.

In any employment interview as well, there are various styles associated with it. HR Leaders may opt for a more traditional style of questioning, some prefer strictly work-related questions and so on.

Structured vs. Unstructured

The structure of any interview is governed by the source of questions, the degree to which all job applicants are all asked the identical questions and as well as the scoring system in place. Structured interview has all of these standardized, in a sense that all sources are finalized and locked in place, questions asked to all applicants do not vary and the scoring is well-defined and followed for all responses to evaluate the answer. On the other hand, unstructured interviews lack the standardization and often allow the hiring manager to ask anything they want, does not require the consistency of the same scoring system and questions may vary across different job applicants.

Different types of employment interview may present themselves differently, and goes as far as the interview setting itself. Structured interview (left) are more formal, and makes you nervous most of the time. Unstructured interview (right) gives you the feeling that you are having a chat.

Following the three criteria of structure to define if an interview is deemed structured or unstructured is difficult. If two criteria are met out of three, does it automatically fall into the category of unstructured? HR leaders should use these terms more loosely, and instead uses a gradient matrix to define it:

  • If all conditions are met, we say that it is highly structured;
  • If two conditions are met, we say it is moderately structured;
  • If only one condition is met, we say it is lightly structured;
  • If no conditions are met, it is unstructured.

Style

The style of interview is determined by the types of questions asked by the hiring manager. Generally speaking, Isaac Song has observed that the most common interview style is focused on developing an understanding of information from a curriculum vitae, career interests and how applicants strategically align their statement with the organization, and approaches to hypothetical situations which are mostly based on actual organizational events. Isaac Song calls this interview style as “Traditional” or “Original Recipe”. 

Another great distinction that Isaac Song has observed is that, when hiring managers are interviewing applicants for people-facing positions, hiring managers would usually include questions that are behavioral-based in nature. This line of questioning focuses on understanding how a job candidate utilized professional skills in the past, with the premise that past performance will predict future performance in a similar situation. This is crucial as it allows the hiring manager to assess the job applicant’s affinity to deal with the uncertain nature of human-based interaction in any position.

Last style of interview is a little unconventional for some, but it may be quite common for technical based positions. When certain knowledge or skills are very important, the hiring manager will provide a case study or on site assessment, and usually advance notice is provided. This may involve a standard aptitude test, a word problem, interpretation of data or another short exercise to demonstrate knowledge, teamwork skills, and problem-solving abilities. Isaac Song had once recruited for CNC programmer, in which the hiring manager assesses the programmer on the spot on various technical aspects of the job and as well as coming out with a work sample. 

Advantages & Problems of Structured Interview

It is generally easier to come to a hiring decision based on structured interview, since everything is standardized and all applicants are judged based on a presumably equal benchmark. When there is a large pool of applicants, a structured interview stands out as it retains the critical information related to the position itself and not the job applicant’s personal values. From a legal standpoint, structured interviews are viewed more favorably too, as it eliminates the potential bias related to gender bias and race culture, that is if the hiring manager is well trained in this aspect.

Downside of a structured interview is that it is expensive to administer. HR leaders need to sit down with the hiring manager to standardize the questions and baseline, and concurrently train the hiring manager on gender bias and race culture related curriculum to ensure that all fair practices are being implemented and there is no bias against any population. These two by itself, are time consuming and would likely be an enterprise wide initiative.

Advantages & Problems of Unstructured Interview

Unstructured interview adopts a conversational tone to an otherwise formal process. And because a great rapport is being created between hiring manager and applicant, unstructured interview excels on gathering information on complex issues. Usually unstructured interviews are also more flexible and comfortable in nature, and it allows formulation of new questions along the way. 

However, due to the conversational tone and complex discoveries behind unstructured interviews, it generates a big chunk of data that is hard to analyze and comparing two applicants would be akin to comparing apples to oranges.

Conclusion

HR leaders may opt to deploy both interview methodology independently, there are no rules against implementing both employment interview methods. Structured interviews are easy to replicate, and unstructured interviews are used to assess various complex questions such as people-organizational fit and problem solving abilities. Isaac Song reckons that by combining them in a meaningful way, the interview structure could yield the best result for both applicant and hiring manager.

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