When people think about interviews, they usually only consider the perspective of candidates and how they should prepare. Few realize that interviewers also need to adequately prepare for the session. If you are a hiring manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that the interview is valuable for candidates, whether it is conducted in person or online. A structured and practical strategy is necessary to identify the ideal candidate who possesses the required job qualifications and is a cultural fit for the company. This is when the significance of a well-thought-out approach becomes evident.

In this blog post, we will offer a practical and comprehensive guide on creating and conducting a structured interview using an interview guide. The aim is to significantly enhance the effectiveness of selecting the best candidates.

The role of the hiring manager in an interview

The role of the hiring manager is vital in the progress of the interview. The responsibilities of hiring managers include several key tasks:

• Determine requirements: It is essential to establish the qualifications needed for a job position. The hiring manager needs to create the job descriptions and include all the criteria in that description.

• Review the applications: Job applications have to be reviewed, and the candidates need to be shortlisted based on the requirements

• Evolve interview questions and administer the interview: The hiring manager collaborates with the interview team to design a proper set of questions that can evaluate the candidates’ suitability. They also participate in the interviews, ask questions, score the responses, and select candidates who meet the requirements. During the interview, they assess whether candidates could be a cultural fit for the company.

In general, the HR role is vital to ensuring that the proper candidate will be employed and enter the company.

What is a structured interview?

A structured interview is a systematic form of interview where identical prearranged questions are posed to all candidates in the same sequence, and their responses are evaluated using a standardized scoring system. This approach minimizes the likelihood of making a poor hiring decision, and its efficacy is twice as high compared to traditional interviews. By asking distinctive questions in a specific order, you can assess and score responses uniformly. This not only identifies the most suitable candidate by aggregating scores but also unveils patterns for additional investigation, making it a valuable research tool.

While it may not provide insight into future work performance, such as cognitive tests or practical tasks, a structured interview offers increased reliability compared to traditional interviews. It minimizes discrimination errors by affording all candidates an equal opportunity to showcase their abilities.

Although it is very formal in nature with limited flexibility and scope, it is cost-effective, simple, and efficient, presenting increased credibility.

How to conduct a structured interview using an interview guide?

An interview guide is a document that allows you to organize interviews systematically. It enables organizations to structure the way they conduct their candidate interviews. It assists you in being fluent in the interview process, including questions and their order, ensuring all candidates have a consistent interview experience. As a result, the selection system becomes more reliable. The content depends on factors like the job position or requirements. It aids in organization, ensuring a uniform experience for all candidates and maintaining an equitable assessment system.

Before the interview

1- Understand the Applicant: Attempt to understand the applicant’s motivation for seeking employment and how your organization can fulfill their needs. This information is often available in the cover letter and helps you prepare relevant details to personalize the opening part of the interview.

2- Have a phone screening interview: The typical timeframe for an interview is about an hour. Try to have a phone screening interview prior to the main interview to save your time. During the screening interview, you may ask some routine questions about work history, work authorization, and other key criteria. The interview time can then be used to evaluate technical skills and soft skills in more detail.

3- Create a comprehensive interview guide: The steps below are required to create a comprehensive interview guide:

• Learn about job requirements and understand the skills, qualifications, and culture. This includes both hard and soft skills, as well as cultural fit.

• Make a list of standard questions that address the key qualifications. They need to be open-ended and designed to receive detailed responses from the candidates. Make sure to include behavioral questions to assess the candidates. A common approach to designing questions is to consider those that can be answered using the STAR method. The STAR method stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. It provides a structured approach to extracting information from candidates, testing for key professional abilities, and is highly recommended.

• Double-check your questions considering the legal and ethical aspects of the questions. Ensure avoiding topics such as age, gender, or protected characteristics.

• Design a rating or scoring system to evaluate the responses based on the qualifications and requirements.

• Create a guideline for follow-up questions when it is needed to ask further questions to have more detailed answers. Each question, whether it is a main one or a follow-up one, needs explanations in the guide, including what elements you are expecting in the candidate’s response.

• Provide sample answers for each question to help other HR team assess candidates efficiently.

• Prepare a scoring sheet to rate the responses.

4- Prepare an introduction pack: Some candidates are interested in understanding how the company enhances the lives of customers or the community. It is recommended to create a company pack that showcases the organization, its products, and services. This could be sent to the candidate before the interview, providing a branding opportunity that can be coordinated with the marketing team.

5- Invitation and Overview: Design an invitation letter and dispatch it to all candidates who will proceed to the interview. The invitation letter should encompass a briefing on the interview process. This includes details such as the number of interviewers, the expected duration of the interview, and preparation steps before the interview (e.g., checking the microphone and camera for online interviews).

6- Establish the context: Decide where you intend to interview the candidates and consider the interviewers. Make sure that there is no distraction in the place of the interview. If it is a virtual interview, determine the best application to make the call and ensure it works a few days before the interview. It is professional to include the ‘Setting’ section in the interview guide. If the interviewers need to carry a copy of the candidates’ resumes during the interview and follow specific rules, make sure to prepare them and mention it in the interview guide. Be sure to define the role of each interviewer to minimize back-and-forth communications.

7- Create a structured welcome: There are a few things that need to be mentioned in the first moments of the interview as an introduction, such as the industry of the company, the history of the company, details about the role, and introducing the interviewers and the like. Include this introduction in the interview guide and practice it prior to the interview.

8- Prepare for candidate questions: Think about possible questions that candidates might raise and include them in the interview guide. These questions could be about the job, the company culture, etc., indicating the candidate’s interest in working with your organization.

During the interview

1- Consider the interview as a conversation with a purpose: An interview is a conversation. Adopting this mindset reduces stress for both the interviewer and the interviewee. It helps the candidate feel more comfortable, encouraging them to open up and providing you with a better understanding of their personality.

2- Take notes: Take notes of the responses of the candidate. It helps you capture the content of the interview and gives you the opportunity to memorize and re-evaluate the candidate. Try to cover vital points. Take clear and concise notes by writing verbatim during the interview, ensuring the candidate’s answers cannot be misinterpreted. Take note of:

– How the candidate listens to you and if they directly respond to the questions.

– If the candidates need clarification or more information. Try delving deeper or rephrase your question if the candidate’s response is not fulfilling.

– How the candidates are able to turn negative information into a positive.

– How well the candidate communicates, including posture, eye contact, and body movements.

– If the candidate establishes rapport with you perfectly.

3- Avoid early conclusion: Do not make early decisions about the candidates at the first glance. Give them proper time to relax and feel less stressed. The conclusion must come after evaluating the questions.

4- Practice active listening: Pay close attention to the responses, as active listening demonstrates your interest and enables you to gather valuable information.

5- Positive Interview Dynamics: Avoid displaying disapproval or interrogating the candidate, as it may cause them to become reserved and withhold information or provide responses they think you want to hear.
Provide positive feedback to candidates for their achievements, downplay the significance of any mistakes or negative experiences they share. Take note of these remarks and subsequently ask behavioral questions to gain further insight into the situations. For instance, inquire about their learning from the experience, the changes they would make in the future, and the ultimate outcomes. Apply the STAR formula!

6- Close the interview: Fifteen minutes prior to the end of the interview, allow the candidate to ask questions of the interview panel. Ask the candidate if they would like to provide additional information and express gratitude for their time. Explain the next steps and the expected timeframe for your decision. They need to know when and how they will hear from you, whether it is by email, phone, or letter. Remember to thank the candidate for being present at the interview. Provide them with further contact information in case they have any questions after leaving the interview.

After the interview

1- Review your notes: It is suggested to go through your notes immediately after the interview and ensure that key information is documented accurately. Take note of your feelings during the interview as well.

2- Score responses: Once the interview is finished, it is time to rate the responses. The scoring should be done right away when the answers are still fresh in the mind of the interviewer.

The questions could be classified into categories like job fit or cultural fit. The former indicates how well the candidate fits the job requirements, and the latter involves questions regarding compatibility with the company. The priority of each category depends on the requirements of the organization and its mission.

Job fit questions differ based on the roles you are hiring for; however, cultural fit questions will be uniform for all hirings. Therefore, you can include them in each interview guide directly or store them somewhere to use in all the interviews.

The scoring could be based on the criteria below:

• If their skills and qualifications meet the job requirements.

• If their attitude aligns with the job and if they are a natural fit for your team, with similar values to the company.

• If they have a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

3- Take note of any criteria that the candidate doesn’t match: This information will be very useful for providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates and developing a training plan for the successful candidate.

4- Schedule a feedback meeting with the HR team: Set a time after the interview to gather with other interviewers to discuss feedback and scores. This should be done as soon as possible, and the ratings and feedback must not get stale. The feedback is better to be in written form before the meeting. It is professional to update candidates as soon as possible, even if it is a simple letter allowing them to know that the interviews are still ongoing.

5- Do the reference check: Reference check involves reaching out to the candidate’s provided references to gather additional insights into their work ethic, skills, and overall suitability for the position. Begin by contacting the listed references and asking specific questions related to the candidate’s performance, reliability, and interpersonal skills. Use this information to verify the accuracy of the candidate’s claims and to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their professional background. A thorough reference check helps ensure that you make well-informed decisions and select the most qualified candidate for the role.

In general, hiring managers play a pivotal role in the structure of the company, tasked with identifying talents that contribute to the organization’s growth. However, the interviewing process can be challenging and intricate. The implementation of an interview guide and a comprehensive plan can mitigate the risk of bad hires, steering the company towards success by selecting top-notch candidates. A well-structured interview ensures consistency and objectivity throughout the hiring process, equipping hiring managers with the necessary tools to make informed decisions that align with the company’s requirements and culture.

To provide an example of an interview guide, Harvard University has designed a sample, which can be found here.

 

References:

  1. Yale University
  2. University of Louisiana Monroe
  3. Academy to Innovate HR
  4. ChilliFactor
  5. Risely
  6. MichaelPage
  7. Scribbr
  8. Workable
  9. Idealist
  10. Harward University