How to develop and conduct a Structured Interview

The underlying principle of structured interviews is that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. This implies that our best guess as to how people will behave in a work situation is how they have behaved in situations similar to those that they would face in the job that they are applying for.

To develop a structured interview, first we need to go through a job analysis to identify the performance competencies and their importance weightings. Next, interview questions together with probing questions are to be written for each competency. Lastly, a rating scale is to be developed for the scoring of each competency. During the interview, candidates will be asked questions about their past experiences and most of the time probing follow-up questions will also be used to ensure that candidates provide complete information for each question. The interviewers' tasks are to take notes of what the candidates said for later rating. Finally, the candidates are rated based on a systematic rating scale, and a final decision is made according to the final ratings.

Conducting a Job Analysis

A job analysis is a systematic way to collect job-related information. The output of a job analysis is a specification of the KSAOs (knowledge, skills, abilities or other attributes) that are needed to perform the job. These KSAOs are often referred to as "competencies".

To conduct a job analysis, SMEs (subject matter experts such as the job incumbents and the supervisors) will be asked to list the tasks for the job under consideration, or in some other cases, they are asked to amend a task list developed by the job analyst using job descriptions, training manuals, or other reference materials. Once the list is created, each task will be further broken down into its component tasks, and SMEs will also be asked to rate the importance of each task, so that the competencies required by the most important tasks can be identified.

Once the list of competencies is created, a weight should be given to each competency to reflect its importance. A rating scale of one to five can be used to weight competencies. Once the most important competency is rated as five, other competencies are compared to it, and each will get a weight from one to five. Some competencies can have equal weight.

Below is an example of a weighted competency list:
5 - people management
4 - planning
4 - knowledge of performance management systems
4 - analytic thinking
3 - decision making
3 - verbal communication
2 - written communication

In this example, people management is the most important competency whereas planning, knowledge of performance management systems and analytic thinking are of the same importance, but slightly less than people management.

Developing Interview Questions

The next step is to develop interview questions. In a structured interview, we ask questions that elicit candidates' past experiences in handling situations that are related to the required competencies of the job under consideration. Questions should focus on the situation the candidate faced in the past, what the candidate did (what were the actual behaviors), and what was the outcome.

Questions will be developed around situations that are similar to those likely to be faced on the job. Interviewers will usually start with a broader question asking if the candidate has had such an experience. For example, "Can you tell me about a time when you met resistance to something you were trying to accomplish?" And then the interviewer will ask the candidate to explain the situation and follow up with probing questions, such as "What happened next?". "What did you do?", "Were you successful?", "What was the outcome?", in order to gain sufficient detail about the situation, what actually happened, and how the candidate handled the situation.

Note that only past experiences will be asked. Thus, hypothetical questions such as "What would you do if you were in such a situation?" or "What would you have done differently?" should be avoided.

Taking Note of What the Candidates Say

In a structured interview, the judgment of the candidates' suitability to the job is withheld until after the interview in order to minimize the contamination of premature judgment during the interview. Thus, it is very important that the interviewers take good notes of what the candidates' have said during the interview.

Because the interviewers will be taking notes throughout the interview, they should inform the candidates that they will need to take notes in order to remember the candidates' past experiences. Usually interviewers will take note on notepaper or a prepared interview form with enough blank space.

Notes should include the situation faced, the candidates' reaction and behavior, and the outcome. Usually a few key words or phrases for each of these are sufficient because the interviewers will have time to review and add to the notes after the interview. Remember, no judgment should be made during the interview!

Rating Candidates and Making the Selection Decision

After completing the interview, interviewers should make sure that they have time to go over the notes and judge the candidate's suitability immediately after the interview. If the notes are reviewed soon enough, interviewers' memory is still fresh so that they could reconcile any gaps or inconsistencies in the information about the candidate. Note that some behavior recorded can reflect more than one competency.

Ratings should be made on individual competencies first and then come up with a final rating of the candidate's overall suitability. When rating the candidate's answers, the interviewer should pay attention to how relevant the situation mentioned is to the job under consideration, how effective was the candidate's behavior, how many relevant behaviors were raised by the candidate for each competency, and how recently it happened. The more relevant and effective the behaviors are, the higher the rating which should be given. Similarly, higher ratings should also be given to answers with more behaviors raised and experiences happened more recently.

In most cases, competency ratings are made on a five point scale as below:

1 - far below what is required for the job
2 - marginally below what is required for the job
3 - just meets what is required for the job
4 - marginally above what is required for the job
5 - far above what is required for the job

In a structured interview, candidates are compared to the job requirements instead of comparing to other candidates applying for the same job. This can help avoid the problem of offering a job to the best candidate among a group of candidates who all fall short of meeting the job requirements.

If there is more than one interviewer, each interviewer should individually rate the candidates on each competency before the discussion with other interviewers. This can help avoid the situation where one interviewer influences others' ratings. Once each interviewer has come up with an individual rating, a final overall rating can be drawn either through consensus among the interviewers or by simply averaging ratings across interviewers, taking into consideration the differences in competency weightings.