Use structured interviews

Employers have, at some point or another, probably felt both the pride of hiring a star employee and the disappointment of hiring a dud.  There is one thing that these two types of employees have in common, though: success on an employment interview.  How does this happen?  How can the interview be maximized to measure what is important for the job at hand, so top performers are consistently chosen?  How does the interview link to organizational culture?  Answers to these questions can be found in the structure of the employment interview.

What is a Structured Interview?

In the nearly 100-year history of published research on employment interviewing, few conclusions have been more widely supported than the idea that structuring the interview enhances reliability and validity.  “Structured” interviews refer to increasing the standardization of questions and response evaluations.  Campion (1997) conducted a meta-analysis that examined the ways in which interviews could be structured.  This meta-analysis revealed 15 components of structure that can be divided into two broad categories: those that influence the content of the interview and those that influence the evaluation process.  The components that were empirically deemed to be most important in each category will be defined in the next paragraphs, with a note on user reactions to follow.

Best Content and Evaluation for Your Structured Interview

In terms of content, the components that research indicates are the most important are the use of the job analysis, the use of the same questions, and the use of better types of questions.  The job analysis is more likely to identify knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for the job, rather than personality traits.  The job analysis is the basic requirement for developing valid selection procedures, increasing user reactions, and decreasing legal bias.  The use of the same questions is a way of converting the interview from a conversation to a scientific measurement, allowing for easier candidate comparisons.  The use of better types of questions includes using situational questions (“what would you do if a subordinate’s work was not up to your standards?”), past behavioral questions (“describe a time in any job where your suggestion was put into practice by a supervisor?”), and background questions that are job-related (“have you ever been fired from a previous job?”).

In terms of evaluation, rating each answer or having multiple scales, the use of anchored rating scales, and training appear to be maximally important.  In terms of rating each answer or having multiple scales, the candidate may be rated after the interview or each answer may be rated as it is given.  Using anchored rating scales allows behavioral examples to illustrate scale points to reduce ambiguity and enhance objectivity.  Using interviewer training is one of the most common ways to improve interviews, through ensuring the correct implementation of other components.  Interviewer training may include a discussion of job requirements, how to successfully use questions in the interview, and how to evaluate candidate answers.

Get the Best Reactions to Your Structured Interview

There are, however, potential negative effects of structure, which can be seen in terms of user reactions.  Components such as limiting prompting, longer interviews, control of ancillary information, and no questions from candidates may cause unfavorable reactions from both candidates and interviewers.  Panel interviews may be stressful for candidates, and interviewers may resent taking detailed notes or being prohibited from discussing candidates.  Additionally, the physical/psychological environment of the workplace and nonverbal cues of the interviewer are elements that could be studied in the future to both provide increased interview structure and improve user reactions.

Takeaways for Your Practice

The structured interview is one piece of a successful employee selection puzzle. The aspects to consider for a successful structured interview include using a job analysis, using identical questions in each interview, combining situational questions, past behavioral questions, and background questions, rating each interviewee answer, using anchored rating scales, and interviewer training.

Your company is who it hires, and employers need to answer the question of what organizational culture they want to have before conducting the hiring process.  Depending on their answer, they can choose certain elements of the structured interview to find that ideal employee. There is no right or wrong answer to using any given structured interview technique.  You just have to know what you’re looking for.

An important note to keep in mind is that there are more pieces to the successful employee selection puzzle than just the structured interview.  Combining the structured interview with other types of information about potential candidates will lead to the most complete picture for your company. What other types of information could your company collect and combine to produce an ideal personnel selection system?

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Campion, M.A., Palmer, D.K., Campion, J.E. (1997) A Review of Structure in the Selection Interview. Personnel Psychology, 50(3), 655-702.

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  1. FYI Mike Campion’s article is a literature review, NOT a meta-analysis of interview structure. See Chapman & Zweig 2005 for a meta-analysis of those factors.