Man smiling at woman during a job interview
Jun 13, 2023 — Carly Miller

Structured vs. Unstructured Interviews: Which One to Choose?

Female interviewee shaking interviewer's hand

Regarding recruitment, having the proper interview process can make a huge difference in your ability to identify and select the best candidates for the job.

Whether interviewing for entry-level or executive positions, one of the most important decisions you must make is whether to use a structured or unstructured approach. But what exactly is the difference between these two interview methods?

This blog post will outline the difference between structured and unstructured interviews and guide how to choose the best approach for your recruitment goals.

What Are Structured Interviews?

interviewer looking over interviewee's resume

A structured interview is a recruitment technique using consistent interview questions to assess job candidates.

The structured interview method uses predetermined, objective criteria to evaluate potential candidates’ answers and assess their suitability for the job.

The structured interview method also provides consistency across all candidates, allowing recruiters to gain more detailed information about applicants’ skills and experience.

Structured interviews focus on collecting data about the research subjects and aim to capture numerical values or quantitative observation.

Benefits of a Structured Interview

Young woman doing a job interview

Structured interviews are beneficial because they allow recruiters better to understand each job candidate’s skills and experience.

Additionally, the structured interview method helps ensure that all applicants are given an equal opportunity by providing consistent criteria across the board.

Offer a Standardized Approach

During a structured interview, every candidate receives the same questions and is evaluated based on predetermined criteria. This offers a standardized approach to ensure that all candidates are treated fairly and have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.

Maintain Consistency

A structured interview also helps maintain consistency across departments and job levels. Using a predetermined set of the same questions ensures that all job candidates are assessed on the same criteria.

This helps create an even playing field where no candidate is advantaged or disadvantaged based on their unique qualifications.

Objective in Nature

Conducting structured interviews also leads to higher objectivity. This allows you to evaluate a candidate’s answers more accurately and with greater consistency, as the predetermined criteria ensure that no candidate is judged based on subjective opinions or personal bias.

Reduce the Risk of Interviewer Bias

Structured interviews help to reduce interviewer bias by removing any opportunity for the interviewer to deviate from set standardized questions.

Interviewer bias, often unconscious, can arise from several factors, including personal biases and factors such as the candidate’s appearance or mannerisms.

Using a standardized set of questions in structured interviews reduces the risk of bias as each candidate is evaluated on the same criteria, ensuring that the evaluation process remains objective and fair.

Easy to Measure

Structured interviews are also easy to measure and compare. Because the same questions are used for all candidates and responses are evaluated based on predetermined criteria, it’s much easier to analyze results and compare different applicants.

This helps you to gain a better understanding of each candidate’s qualifications and abilities, as well as make informed hiring decisions.

Efficient Hiring Strategy

Structured interviews offer an efficient interview strategy that can save recruiters time and money.

By utilizing a set of predetermined questions for all candidates, you do not have to spend as much time preparing for each interview or evaluating the responses from multiple candidates.

This helps to streamline the hiring process and increase overall efficiency.

Reduction in Candidate Turnover

Utilizing structured interviews can help to reduce turnover once a candidate is hired. Gathering detailed information during the interview process will better match candidates with positions that best fit their technical skills and experience.

This helps to ensure that the right candidate is selected for a position, which leads to less turnover and heightened job performance.

Roles that Benefit From Structured Interviews

Group of people are waiting in chairs for a job interview

Structured interviews are especially beneficial for roles that require specific technical or professional skills.

By using predetermined questions and evaluation criteria, recruiters can better assess each candidate’s skills and qualifications.

Some examples of roles that benefit from this type of interview include:

  • Technical roles such as engineering or IT, where specific skills and experience are required.
  • Finance roles, where attention to detail is essential.
  • Supervisory roles, where leadership qualities and abilities are critical.
  • Customer service roles, where communication and interpersonal skills are essential.
  • Project management roles, where organizational and planning skills are essential.
  • Sales roles, where persuasion, negotiation, and networking skills are critical.
  • Administrative or support roles, where attention to detail, task management, and organizational skills are essential.
  • Health care or clinical roles, where there are specific qualifications, requirements, and experience needed for the job.
  • Regulatory roles, where there are specific legal requirements and industry-specific knowledge is required.
  • Education or training roles where teaching or coaching qualifications and experience are necessary.

What are Unstructured Interviews?

People laughing in an interview meeting room as woman shakes man's hand

An unstructured interview does not involve standardized questions or evaluation criteria.

Rather, the unstructured interview method is more like a conversation, allowing you to understand a candidate’s background and qualifications through open-ended questions.

Benefits of Unstructured Interviews

Male interviewee shaking interviewer's hand in an office

An unstructured interview method gives you more flexibility and a better sense of who the candidate is and how they would fit into the organization.

This more personalized approach to interviewing is extremely beneficial for companies looking to enhance employee satisfaction.

Provides Insight Into Personality

An unstructured interview can give you more in-depth insight into a candidate’s personality and soft skills.

By asking open-ended questions, recruiters can better understand how candidates communicate, interact with others, and problem-solve.

Opportunity to Explore Different Areas

Unstructured interviews also provide an opportunity to explore different areas that are not related to the job itself.

This can be especially valuable when determining the best candidate for a role, as it reveals more about their readiness, motivation, and enthusiasm for the position.

Heightened Candidate Experience

In addition to the benefits for recruiters, unstructured interviews provide a more positive experience for candidates.

Job interviews can be stressful for both the candidate and the hiring manager. The relaxed atmosphere and conversational unstructured interview approach can help reduce stress and anxiety, allowing candidates to showcase their full potential.

Give a Well-Rounded Candidate View

An unstructured interview can provide a more well-rounded view of the candidate than structured interviews, which focus solely on skills and qualifications.

Through unstructured interviews, candidates have more of an opportunity to talk about their experience and skills in their own words.

This is especially important when determining if a candidate has what it takes to succeed in the organization long-term.

Builds Candidate Connections

Unstructured interviews are an effective way to build meaningful connections with candidates. Through this approach, recruiters can gain a deeper understanding of the candidate and their goals for the future.

This can help recruiters make more informed decisions about which candidates to hire and provide them with a better overall experience throughout the hiring process.

Flexible Approach

Unstructured interviews offer recruiters a flexible approach to interviewing. This allows them to tailor the interview process for each candidate and ask questions more specific to the role or organization.

This helps ensure the right candidates are considered and encourages meaningful conversations throughout the interview.

Eliminates Scripted Answers

Unstructured interviews also eliminate the potential for candidates to provide scripted answers to predetermined questions. This is beneficial as it allows recruiters to understand better how the candidate thinks and approaches problems.

Additionally, it is easier for the interviewer to spot discrepancies between what a candidate is saying through body language versus what they say verbally in an unstructured interview – which can be harder with a structured approach.

Roles that Benefit From Unstructured Interviews

group of people waiting for a job interview and reviewing their resumes

Unstructured interviews are best suited for roles where interpersonal or creative skills are essential.

Overall, unstructured interviews provide recruiters with a more comprehensive view of the candidate and help to ensure that the right people are being considered for the job.

Some examples of roles that benefit from unstructured interviews:

  • Creative roles in research and development or design, where problem-solving skills and innovative thinking must be assessed.
  • Marketing roles, where communication skills, strategic thinking, and creative ideas are essential.
  • Leadership positions such as managers or directors, where personality traits such as team spirit and motivation must be considered.
  • Research roles, where knowledge of current trends is essential, and a creative approach to problem-solving is required.
  • Retail roles, where customer service skills, product knowledge, and the ability to provide product advice are critical.
  • Business development roles, where networking, persuasive communication, and negotiation strategies are critical for success in the role.
  • Social media or community management positions that require creativity for content creation ideas and engagement with followers online.

What is the Difference Between Structured and Unstructured Interviews?

Two interviewers reading a resume during a job interview

Along with the different goals structured and unstructured interviews aim to accomplish, some key differences separate the two basic interviewing styles.

Types of Interview Questions Asked

One of the main differences between structured and unstructured interviews is the type of interview questions.

The structured interview method asks the same questions as a traditional interview. Some examples of typical structured interview questions include:

  • What qualifications do you have that make you the ideal candidate for this role?
  • What experience do you have that makes you suited to this job?
  • How would you describe your approach to problem-solving and decision-making?
  • Describe a difficult situation you’ve encountered in your career and how you overcame it.
  • Tell us about a successful project or goal that you achieved and how did you get there?
  • What strategies do you use to help build relationships with colleagues, customers, or stakeholders?
  • Please walk us through how you approached a recent challenge at work and what the outcome was.

The unstructured interview method asks relevant questions that help an interviewer or hiring manager learn more about various candidates. The interviewer may also ask follow-up questions based on the candidate’s responses. Some examples of unstructured interview questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself and why this role would be a good fit.
  • What do you know about our company, products, or services?
  • Please describe your experience in this field and how it has shaped who you are today.
  • Talk about a project or initiative you’ve taken that was particularly rewarding for you.
  • How do you handle criticism and feedback?
  • What challenges have you faced in previous roles, and how did you work to overcome them?
  • What makes this job or organization something that excites you?

Interview Sequence

Another critical difference between a structured and unstructured interview is the interview sequence.

While a structured interview follows a predetermined sequence of questions asked in the same order, an unstructured interview does not use any set order of questions. This difference in sequence means that the topics covered in each type of interview can vary significantly from one another.

In an unstructured interview, the interviewer is free to ask descriptive research questions spontaneously as the conversation progresses, allowing for more flexibility and an emphasis on topics brought up by the research subject. This type of interview allows for a more natural flow of conversation which can lead to in-depth insights.

Data Collection

Unstructured and structured interviews also differ in the data samples they collect: quantitative or qualitative.

Between the two interview types, a structured interview is best used for quantitative research. The structured interview method allows interviewers to compare data samples between candidates.

Due to the off-script nature of questions, an unstructured interview is best for qualitative data collection. Because the questions asked for one candidate may differ from another in an unstructured interview, these are best used to conduct qualitative research on a candidate.

Structured vs. Unstructured Interviews: Choosing the Right Approach

Interviewers reading resumes at an office desk

It is important to carefully consider the difference between a structured and unstructured interview before deciding which approach is right for you.

Determine Skills Required

Structured interviews may be better suited for roles that require specific qualifications and experience. In contrast, unstructured interviews are more suitable for those roles where interpersonal skills and creative thinking are essential. Ultimately, the right approach will depend on the job requirements of the position you are recruiting and the candidate you are looking to hire.

Consider Company Goals

Choosing between a structured and unstructured interview can depend on your company’s values and resources. For corporate environments, an unstructured interview method may be time-consuming for hiring.

If your hiring team values employee engagement and high job performance, you may consider conducting an unstructured interview, as the information gathered there may impact your final decision.

By using structured and unstructured interviews in your recruitment process, you can get a more comprehensive view of the candidate and ensure that the right people are being considered for the job.

This helps to create a better overall hiring experience for both the recruiter and the candidate.

About TrackFive

TrackFive provides custom recruitment platforms that cater to specific markets, enabling organizations to acquire specialized talent. Rather than relying on generic job sites, TrackFive leverages advanced recruitment technology to power multiple career platforms deployed in verticals with significant hiring requirements.

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