Why should you be doing more to excel at structured job interviews? How to hire the best people is one of the great mysteries of organizational leadership. Think about it. There are so many stars to align to make a great hire that will keep you, your new team member, your customers, and your other current and future team members enthusiastic for years to come.
First, you're crafting a compelling job opportunity. You have an opening - either a job others do or have held before in your organization, or a brand new position to meet new demands. Worried that the job you're offering may not be compelling? Back up and tackle job design so you have a great job to offer the great candidate you’re seeking.
Second, you’re casting a wide net. You are advertising the awesome job opportunity to as many potentially qualified applicants as you can. Right? You’re making sure you have more people to choose from, not fewer? Remember that Hiring People Science affirms that "The size of your pool of qualified applicants is a critical factor in hiring effectiveness."
Third, you’re hoping that the right person – the person who'll bring outstanding capabilities and joy to pursuing your mission with the rest of the team – notices your opportunity and decides to apply.
Then, you’re hoping to spot that great candidate. You, or your hiring team, need to be perceptive enough to spot that outstanding person in your applicant pool and successfully bring them on board.
You know how important this decision is. You know intuitively what organizational research upholds -- hiring a great candidate positively influences retention rates, productivity and performance, and organizational culture3.
Decades of organizational science research support structured job interviews as:
Excelling at structured job interviews is critical for the best hiring decisions. Whether you’re brand new to structured job interviews or a seasoned pro, these best practices are worth reviewing to make your structured job interviews as powerful as possible.
As a start, keep in mind the basic premise. With structured job interviews, we strive for deeply comparable information about top candidates. We ask the same questions and evaluate with the same criteria. Our intentional structure provides a fair playing field for candidates, and makes it easier for interviewers to compare candidates and decide who provides the best fit for the role, performance requirements, and the organizational culture.
Here are best practices for structured job interviews1. They apply to two important steps, so you can make the most out of your structured interview process. First, design your structured job interviews to gather great information about candidates. Second, execute excellent evaluations to make a confident choice for the very best candidate.
Gather Great Information
The purpose of an interview is to learn great information about candidates. Your structured job interviews must gather the deeply comparable candidate information that will feed a confident hiring decision. Here’s how…
This sounds basic, but it’s easy to wander away from the core capabilities the job demands. Structured interviews are more predictive of a candidate’s future performance when the questions are job relevant.
Make a quick list of the most important, most common, highest impact job responsibilities. Tap into the core knowledge, skills, abilities, and values needed to do those responsibilities well. Bonus: candidates view the interview as more fair when questions are job-relevant.
In your structured job interview, plan a mix of situational questions, past behavior questions, background questions, job knowledge questions, and values questions.
Spend enough time on question phrasing. You want questions that are natural to ask, and interesting to repeat for each candidate. Don’t skip or rephrase questions from one person to the next.
Standardized questions can feel robotic if they’re not well-phrased. But asking the same questions allows candidates the same opportunity to share what they have to offer to the organization. Consistency in how you present questions is helpful for comparing candidates – you don’t have to wonder if the difference in responses had more to do with how you framed the question than with how the candidates responded.
Think through the response criteria, not just the question. Anchored rating scales use behavioral examples to show types of answers that correspond with “high” and “low” responses.
Preparing anchored rating scales in advance helps interviewers to distinguish excellent answers from more marginal answers. This promotes fit and objectivity.
If it’s difficult to define anchors that would characterize great responses, you may need to clarify your question. Thinking about response anchors can also alert you to leading questions that need to be rephrased to get the best candidate information.
It’s natural for an interviewer to ask for more details or clarification. But in a job interview process, prompts may introduce bias in the information gathered across candidates.
When interviewers don’t ask the same follow-ups with all candidates, there isn’t the same opportunity to clarify or expand on responses.
Further, follow-ups can take charge of the direction of the conversation in a way that guides candidates toward favored responses.
The solution? Create standardized prompts within your structured interview plan. That way, all candidates have the same opportunity to clarify specific details or elaborate on their experience.
Supplementary information such as resumes, test scores, recommendations, and transcripts can provide great question material for structured job interviews. Again, what's the best practice for structured job interviews? Consistency of opportunity -- use supplementary information in a planned, similar way for every candidate.
An often-skipped best practice for structured job interviews – dry run your interview before your first real candidate. You can do a dry run with a person who holds the position you’re hiring, another manager, an HR professional, or even a friend or family member.
An interview dry run helps hone all of the tips listed above before you go live. You can test job relevance perceptions, see how varied and interesting the interview feels, hone phrasing that will feel natural and repeatable, refine anchored rating scales, get a feel for where prompts and follow-ups will fit, and try out referencing supplemental information.
Execute Excellent Evaluations
Gathering great information is only the beginning. Moving from that information to a great hiring decision is the goal.
Interviewing is a professional skill. Structured job interviews are a special type of conversation intended to gather great information to identify the best possible candidate for the job. Don’t assume that every HR professional or manager is automatically well-qualified to excel at structured job interviewing.
Trained interviewers are more consistent and better at identifying job-related information in candidate responses. Seek expertise on interview purpose, writing interview questions, evaluating responses, and avoiding bias and error.
Interviewers have unique styles. Even with a structured job interview format to follow, two interviewers will bring their own personality to asking questions and their own perceptions to their evaluations.
For each job opening, use the same interviewer across candidates for more consistent evaluations.
Multiple interviewers provide some balance to reduce bias, and also increase the amount of information the team gathers and processes about candidates. You can combine multiple interviewers in a panel style, or sequence several individual interviews.
Notetaking helps interviewers stay on track, reduces cognitive bias, increases recall, and supports consistency across candidates. A strong interviewer maintains reasonable eye contact with the candidate, while also recording a helpful record of important candidate responses.
It’s better to rate responses for each interview question than to globally rate each candidate. Multiple ratings pick up nuances – showing how one candidate’s mix of strengths is different from another’s.
Multiple ratings gives more precise and consistent information across candidates and will make it easier to compare. This detailed profile of the person you decide to hire is also valuable for planning onboarding and professional development.
Discussing candidates between interviews allows irrelevant information to sneak into the evaluation process. Midstream discussions also influence expectations across candidates.
Unless there is a problem with the entire candidate pool that becomes evident after one or two interviews, wait to discuss candidates until all interviews are complete.
With these best practice tips, you can excel at structured job interviews. Make a great hire that will keep you, your new team member, your customers, and your other current and future team members enthusiastic for years to come.