Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
True or False?
- You are an excellent judge of character.
- You are good at interviewing and don’t need any help.
- It is a good idea to change up your questions with each candidate, so you do not get bored.
Winging job interviews—creating a different routine for each interview, entering unprepared—can lead to bad hiring decisions which can cost your firm money. Structured interviewing predictably shows the most successful candidates.
A structured interview involves all interviewers asking the same set of prepared questions to each candidate, taking notes and scoring the answers on a predetermined scorecard. In the end, you get an apples-to-apples comparison of all your candidates on all the topics that matter.
Chatty interviews can predict how much you might like someone. However, a structured interview will make sure you ask pertinent questions and not get lost in irrelevant details. For example, “So, what’s your background?” repeats information you already have in your hand, does not test any specific skill or competency and makes you appear unprepared since you should have reviewed the candidate’s résumé before the interview.
In a similar vein, “What are your strengths (or weaknesses)?” is too vague and does not accurately test any specific skill or competency. This question has appeared in so many interview preparation books that it has become a cliché at this that invites a canned and disingenuous answer. If you are looking for a problem solver, ask “Tell me about a time you faced a difficult situation.” The high-performer candidate will tell you about the situation and how they adapted to it. Structured interviews ensure the selected candidates meet the criteria, based on skills, experience, and demonstrable success — rather than a “feeling” that they would fit.
If every interviewee answers the same questions, you can look at the candidates in an apples-to-apples way. Interviewers are often unaware of their own biases and how they can affect decisions. Structured interviews and score carding will not eliminate bias but will give you a better hiring process. Structured interviews also provide a legal defense for your hiring decisions if necessary. Uniformity ensures that all applicants are treated fairly and shows you value equal opportunity.
Add structured interview questions to your hiring process by following these steps:
- Craft the job description. How can you choose the best candidate until you pinpoint what you are looking for? Decide on your crucial information long before the interview, including the essential functions of the job—the things that must be done by the person in the job, the competencies, the critical skills, abilities, and overall knowledge required for the position; your “must haves” and your “deal breakers.”
- Create the role-specific questions. Make a list of appropriate interview questions based on the key skills and aptitudes required for the job, hard and soft skills, including organizational fit. Use open-ended behavioral questions that ask the candidate to give a specific example of when they demonstrated the competency you are looking for. Include probing questions to elicit more details as necessary. For example, if Customer Focus is a key competency, you might ask: “How do you find out that a client is dissatisfied? Tell me about a specific client who was dissatisfied. What did you do? What happened?”
- Choose a rating scale. Practically speaking, any rating system you want will work. Surveys commonly use 3-, 5-, 7- or 10-point scales, and interviewers will probably be familiar with them. Each point’s definition might vary, g., unsatisfactory to satisfactory or low to high. Make a guideline on how to score a candidate on each question. Think about what a “1” answer looks like versus a “10”. What are the main points for each question that you hope a candidate hits on during their answer? Knowing what you are looking for before asking the question can aid in scoring a candidate.
- Conduct the interview. When you ask a question, listen to the answer. Don’t be so focused on your list of questions that you forget to pay attention to the response. Take notes on the scorecard to help you remember each applicant. Be sure that all notes are specific and descriptive of the candidate’s answer. Avoid personal ad libs. For example, “Nice guy” lacks factual basis and includes potentially discriminating status (gender). Better notes might read “Great insight into past failure with a client, learns from mistakes.” Alternatively, “Friendly, answered questions thoroughly, asked solid questions about the firm, had good ideas that relate to our clients.”
- Critically compare candidates. Once everyone has interviewed the candidates and scored them, all the interviewers should meet to compare notes and evaluate the candidates. This review can open some great dialogue and provide insights into the candidate and the interview process. Ideally, the candidate with the highest total score should get the job offer (assuming that other things, like references, check out).
The bottom line? Structured interviewing puts science into the art of hiring. It saves time and money, and helps you get you the right new-hires!