Performing Well in a Structured Interview

by Matt Kirkman

Structured Interview

Quite often, one of the toughest aspects of any selection process for a recruiter is ensuring that they make a fair and accurate comparison of all the candidates, in order to choose the best person for the job. This can be especially challenging if a number of interviewers are involved, each conducting their own style of interview and asking completely different questions.

One way around this is to use what’s known as a structured interview. As the name suggests, this type of meeting follows a particular structure, with each of the candidates asked the exact same questions from a list prepared beforehand, which are designed to examine all of the necessary skills and competencies required for the role. The candidate's response to each question will typically be scored on a scale, and because the questions are identical, it makes it much easier for the recruiter to compare the individual responses and the overall score, in order to identify the strongest candidates.

Structured Interview Questions

Structured interview questions are usually compiled by the HR department, so are likely to include plenty of behavioral questions designed to assess the competencies that the company has identified as necessary for the role. However, it’s possible that other personnel and departments will have had some input into the questions you’ll be asked, so don’t be surprised if they seem to be quite varied. While the HR department is keen to assess you against their list of required behaviors, the line manager might prefer more direct questions about your skills and experience, particularly if the role is for a technical position.

The good news is that, because of the way the questions are compiled, it usually makes it very clear what skill or behavior they are designed to assess; which should hopefully make it a bit easier for you to realize exactly what information you need to provide in your response. Whatever questions you get asked, there are a few tips to making sure you give the best possible answers in this type of interview:

  • Answer each question fully: You don’t know what you’re going to be asked next, so treat each question individually. Make sure you give the best possible answer to whatever it is you’ve been asked, as there might not be another chance to provide any additional relevant information.

  • Use examples: While it might not always be possible, provide evidence of a particular skill or competency by linking it back to your actual experience whenever you can. You will score higher marks if you can demonstrate using a particular skill or competency in a real life example.

  • Don’t waffle: To make it easier for the interviewer to score your response, keep your answers concise and to the point, and resist the temptation to waffle or include information that isn’t relevant.

  • Make sure you understand the question: You need to make sure you give the best possible answer, so even though the interviewer is reading from a list of pre-prepared questions, if you don’t understand what they're asking, get them to repeat it or clarify what they mean.

Things to Realize About Structured Interviews

As well as comparing all the candidates against the exact same criteria, employers like this type of interview because its structure ensures that all the necessary questions are asked. It’s also a very easy interview to administer, as the recruiter simply needs to read each of the questions in turn, and then score the candidates' answers against the scale they have been provided with. This means that even junior managers and HR personnel can carry out structured interviews, without the need for too much training, and still provide a thorough assessment of each candidate.

From a candidate's perspective, this rigid structure can make the interview seem a little process-driven, and make it difficult for you to establish any kind of rapport with the interviewer - but this will be the same for all the candidates. The important thing to remember is that this isn’t a reflection of you as a candidate, or the interviewer’s impression of you, it’s simply a characteristic of these types of meetings. Instead of worrying that the recruiter isn’t getting to see your personality, concentrate on making sure you answer each question with all the relevant information that will demonstrate you have the skills and abilities the organization is looking for.

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