Why Structured Interviews Are the Best Way to Hire

Have you ever asked different people how the same movie was and received different reactions and emotions? The conversation could flow like this:

Will: How was the movie?

Sara: It was the best ever!

Will: What was so great about it?

Sara: The soundtrack, the twist at the end, and the strong lead character.

versus

Will: How was the movie?

Mike: It was ok.

Will: Just ok, what didn’t you care for?

Mike: The music was overpowering, it was so predictable, and they could have used a bigger star for the lead role.

Interviewing experiences can take the same path as these very different reactions. I have witnessed two people who have been in the same interview but have wildly divergent opinions and perspectives of a candidate. It was almost like they interviewed two different people. In my quest to find a movie, or interview, that everyone could agree on I found a solution that brought me closer to my goal of hiring the best people consistently.

If you want to consistently hire the best people for your projects, evaluate the answers to two questions in your interview process:

  1. Can they complete the work that needs to be done?(experience and aptitude)
  2. Do they want to do this work? (attitude and desire)

Let’s focus on the first question: can this person complete the work that needs to be done?

According to Laszlo Bock, “The best predictor of how someone will perform in a job is a work sample test (29 percent) … The second-best predictors of performance are tests of general cognitive ability (26 percent) …Tied with tests of general cognitive ability are structured interviews (26 percent), where candidates are asked a consistent set of questions with clear criteria to assess the quality of responses.” 

I am going to focus on the impact of structured interviews because they not only help you hire the best person, but also has the greatest opportunity to drive recruiter and hiring manager relationships, positively affect the candidate experience, and ensure speed and quality in the interview process.

Structured interviews require up-front planning. The goal is to ensure candidates are asked a consistent set of questions with a clear criteria to assess the quality of the responses.

Recruiter and Hiring Manager Relationships

Structured interviews require up-front planning. The planning process allows the recruiter and hiring manager to partner and make sure that the best person is hired for the role. The recruiter’s goal is to deliver people who make the hiring manager’s team better. This doesn’t always mean giving the hiring manager what they want. The recruiter needs to work to give them what they need.

Set up tangible goals for the position before you decide on interviewing candidates. After this, define the responsibilities of the role and determine the interview questions that should be asked which elicit responses that are indicative of a successful person for the role. This will help you shape a structured interview path that has objective measurements throughout the process.

Once you have the interview questions and grading rubric set, the hiring manager should go over everything with the recruiter. This will be a great opportunity for the recruiter to understand the position in detail and help them understand what the hiring manager deems important. This will also be a great exercise for the hiring manager as the recruiter may be able to spot bias in the process.

Eliminating Bias

If you are not structuring your interview path and are not capturing the entire response of a candidate, you are introducing bias into your process.

Here is a list of 20 potential cognitive biases that could impact your assessment of a candidate.

The best technique to minimize bias is to ask the same questions of all candidates, capture the exact responses, and have someone else review the responses and compare it to a grading rubric of possible answers.

Every interviewer should have the specific questions to ask in each interview and capture the exact response of the candidate. Interviewers should also have the freedom to ask follow-up questions to gather more information and help the candidate succeed.

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Over time, comparing the grading rubric to candidate answers allows for every interviewer to understand where an answer falls on the spectrum of hire or no hire.

No Hire ———-> Hire

‘Strong No’-No-Yes-’Strong Yes’

Capture the exact words of a candidate response. Without this, you are allowing the interviewer to inject their bias into the answer. Additionally, a recruiter will have a harder time pushing back on an interviewer if they have generic feedback notes without facts and the specific candidate response.  

There’s also a session at ERE in San Diego called “Beyond the Pledge: How to Tackle Unconscious Bias to Increase Diversity.”

Candidate Experience

If hiring the best person for your role wasn’t a compelling enough reason to structure your interview process, then think about the candidate.

According to the Talent Board, which runs the Candidate Experience Awards every year, there are five practices to focus on to improve the candidate experience. These practices include expectations, fairness, accountability, listening, and closure.

By implementing a structured interview process, each candidate will know that the interview process has been thoughtfully designed. The recruiter will be able to set the proper expectations for each interview and the number of steps in the process. Even candidates who were not selected for an interview may have a positive perception, knowing your company has a structured interview process and that you have invested time into thinking about the position in detail.

By structuring your interviews, you may find that you have a higher offer-to-acceptance ratio. The candidate you extend an offer to will have a better impression of the company they might join because they will have experienced an interview process where each interview built off of the last one. They will not have been asked the same questions by multiple people. The candidate will experience the competence and organization of the company.

The candidates who are not offered the role will also perceive fairness in the process. They should feel like they had an opportunity to present their skills as it relates to the role. In both cases, receiving an offer or not, the candidates should have a better understanding of your business, have positive things to say about your company, and could eventually be a customer or promoter of your business.

Speed and Quality

In a candidate-driven market you need to make hiring decisions quickly. The advantage of a structured interview path is the recruiter takes ownership of the process and doesn’t have to wait on busy hiring managers. The recruiter knows who is conducting which interview or has a pool of people to pull from. The recruiter can begin to assess candidate answers at both the recruiter screen stage and later in the interview process and make recommendations.

When the final interview is scheduled, the interview team should know with near certainty that the candidate can do the job based on their experience and aptitude. The interview process should give insight to the final interviewer that this person can do the job effectively. The final interview should focus on attitude and desire. Does this person want to work on the things we need them to?

This structured interview process will ensure you are spending time with the right candidates and that you are moving quickly to hire them. 

Effective Interviewing Is Critical

Interviewing has become an even more critical skill as we progress away from long-term employment into the tour of duty model and as companies and talent/people/experts/professionals continue to embrace the “talent economy.”

Interviewing is not a simple task. If you want to constantly surround yourself with amazing coworkers and peers, you must become an exceptional interviewer. Today’s interviewing requires diligent note-taking or another way to capture the responses.

Start structuring your interview processes and reap the rewards. (Greenhouse’s playbook may help.) You may find candidates accepting your offer in much higher numbers, the relationships between your recruiters and hiring managers becoming legendary, the net promoter score of your entire candidate pool increase, and that the talent across your organization is constantly increasing in terms of capabilities and impact.

Will Ducey is a recruiter at Toptal. He works remotely and views it as the best way to work with exceptional talent around the world. He channels his passion for learning into finding ways to make recruiters more effective and improve his team's sourcing infrastructure through data. He values great conversation and the great outdoors.

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