You may have heard of structured and unstructured interviews, but did you know that there is a third type called “semi-structured interviews?” Learn the differences between the three, as well as how and when to use each one.
Whichever type of interview structure you use, make sure it provides the best candidate experience to candidates in your pipeline. For more reading, here’s our guide on all things candidate experience.
Job Interview Types
There are three basic types of job interviews: structured interviews, unstructured interviews, and semi-structured interviews. How can you know which one to use when? Recruiters, human resource teams, and hiring managers should all understand the basic differences between each type.
What are Structured Interviews?
A structured interview is conducted by an interviewer who asks a set list of job-related questions that were decided in advance. This type of interview is completely planned and standardized, and every candidate gets asked this same set of interview questions. Other names for a structured interview include formal interviews, planned interviews, patterned interviews, and standardized interviews.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Structured Interviews
As with any interview type, structured interviews have pros and cons. The benefits include:
- You can easily compare multiple candidates’ responses.
- Candidates’ answers provide fair and objective standards to rank answers.
- It creates less stress for the interviewer to have to come up with questions on the spot.
The disadvantages of structured interviews include:
- The candidate is required to plan more in advance.
- The questions need development, review, and testing to approve and implement.
- The pre-planned set of questions is at risk of being revealed, which can help applicants game the system.
- The questions may not seem personal or relevant to each individual applicant.
How to Conduct Structured Interviews
Structure interviews require more planning, but that means they have some very definitive steps. They include:
- Brainstorm, develop, and document the structured interview questions you will ask every candidate.
- Create a rating scale or rubric to rate each candidate’s responses on a scale, such as 1-5.
- Print out the questions and rating scale to bring with you to the interview.
- During the interview, take notes on every candidate’s responses so you can rank them later.
- After the interview, use the rubric to rank each answer for easy comparison to other candidate’s answers.
What are Unstructured Interviews?
Many people mistakenly assume that an unstructured interview lacks a formal interview style that won’t yield consistent answers. While an unstructured interview doesn’t require an interviewer to prepare uniform questions in advance along a pre-determined rating scale, there is still a method to it. However, assessing candidates will use more qualitative data, since the unstructured interview questions leads to open-ended answers.
Also, these spontaneous questions must still be job-related and must be asked in a professional manner. Other names for the unstructured interview include casual, free-flow, or informal interviews.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Unstructured Interviews
Like the other interview types, there are advantages and disadvantages to the unstructured interview. Pros include:
- The experience will feel natural and create a warm and personal experience for the job candidates, which could allow them to relax and open up more in the interview.
- You can more easily assess communication skills because it’s more like a free-flowing conversation.
- The interviewer can pivot to new question topics or ask for clarification on answers they hear, as needed.
The downsides of the unstructured interview include:
- Inexperienced interviewers may not be able to think quickly on their feet to ask the right questions as they need to.
- The variation of questions can be difficult to compare from one candidate to another.
- Different questions for different candidates may lead to unintentional discrimination or unfair assessment.
How to Conduct Unstructured Interviews
Conducting an unstructured interview still needs some preparation, even though the questions aren’t created in advance. The steps include:
- Set goals for your interview and review them beforehand. Refer to them when asking the questions to stay on task.
- Keep flexibility at the top of mind and use opportunities to dig deeper or ask for clarification.
- Start with open-ended questions that allow the candidate to lead. Questions like “What are you most excited about with this job?” or “What do you like to do in your spare time?” can be revealing.
- Use their resume and application as starting points for additional questions.
What are Semi-Structured Interviews?
The third type of interview is a semi-structured interview, and its interview style combines the two. It combines a few of the pre-planned questions of the structured interview with the flexibility to pursue a free-flowing format like the unstructured interview. This kind of interview is also known as a hybrid interview, combined interview, or moderately-structured interview.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Semi-Structured Interviews
Semi-structured interviews are the best of both worlds but do offer some unique challenges.
The advantages of semi-structured interviews include:
- They offer the measuring abilities of a structured interview.
- They allow interviewers to compare candidates on the same set of questions.
- There is significant flexibility to pursue new topics as needed.
The disadvantage of this method is that semi-structured interviews are not as objective, which makes them subject to scrutiny and accusations of discrimination.
How to Conduct Semi-Structured Interviews
Because you can mix planned questions with those you come up with during the interview, you really only need to follow these few steps:
- Determine which of your planned questions you’ll ask of all candidates and write them down.
- Come up with a few flexible questions that you can ask, if they apply, during the interview.
- Listen to the candidate’s answers, using open-ended questions to get additional information on topics you wish to explore.
- For those pre-planned questions that you can measure, use a rubric or scale to compare with other candidates.
Which Type of Job Interview Should You Use?
It may not be obvious at first which interview you should use. One way to determine the type of job interview to use is to start with a job description that outlines your job requirements. Break down the description into needed skills and traits, and then build an ideal candidate profile from that.
If your ideal candidate would work best in a comparison setup with a scale or rubric, go with the structured interview. If you think that some flexible questions may help you find your next star, use the unstructured method. If there are perks to both methods, consider the hybrid approach to this part of the overall interview process.
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