The intent of an employment interview is to evaluate if a candidate can perform at a high level in the position they are being considered for. And the goal is to do it as efficiently as possible within a certain time frame while simultaneously avoiding any pitfalls in the process. These parameters perfectly frame why structured interview methods are ideally designed to get you the hiring results you want and need.

However, proponents of an unstructured interview process will often make the same claim. So, what are the differences in these two interview methods, and why are we such fans of a structured approach? We’re glad you asked.

Structured vs Unstructured Interviews

Conducting a structured interview as part of a hiring process means that each candidate experiences the same process and is evaluated against the same set of criteria or benchmark standards. Unstructured interviews take the opposite approach where the format, flow, and even feeling of the conversation is not consistent with each candidate and oftentimes entirely spontaneous and generally unplanned. However, the distinction between these methods extends beyond a programmed format versus an unscripted dialogue.

Attributes of structured interviews

Because of the deliberate and systematic approach, using a structured interview provides much greater consistency throughout the hiring process. This method ensures key questions are asked and specific topics are reviewed that are essential to the role being hired for. And because the questions and process are the same for each candidate, accessing individual capabilities and past performance is much easier. Not to mention, providing an easier and more reliable way to evaluate your entire pool of candidates.

The results of using a structured interview is a more efficient interview process that allows you to make faster hiring decisions and requires much less training for the interviewers.

Attributes of unstructured interviews

The strongest and most common reason we hear for using an unstructured interview is that the interviewer feels like they have a good instinct or gut feel for selecting a good match. While many people we speak to  have claimed to be successful with this interview method, they usually only point to one or two examples of good hires they have made and a graveyard full of failed hires. The roles hired with this method have consistently shown in studies to post their highest turnover rates.

In an unstructured interview, the conversation can flow in any direction. And often does. Meaning the topic of conversation can be completely different for each candidate. Unless a hiring manager is professionally trained in the practice of interviewing, essential information to understanding if the candidate can perform the role may not even be reviewed.

Most concerning is that the possible inconsistencies of this method can open an organization to legal and ethical challenges if the interviewer is not properly trained on EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) guidelines. (Hidden biases and subjective hiring decisions are the primary concerns here.)

Unstructured interviews may have their place in a world of journalism and podcasts, but not in business when hiring decisions can impact your bottom line. The more niche, specialized, or seniored the role you are hiring for, the more strategic, organized, and consistent your candidate interviews need to be.

Tips for Conducting a Structured Interview

Do your homework

The majority of your work when using a structured interview method happens before the actual interview. Not only should you clearly define what the person in this role will be responsible for, but also what success will look like.

This means you need to go beyond job title, education, experience level, and even technical knowledge. While important, these criteria will do little to reveal how a candidate will actually perform in the role. Clearly define, in writing, what a candidate will be responsible for and need to accomplish with the knowledge and skills they possess.

Having the background and foundation of the role defined will also help you market and promote your opening more effectively. Rather than a static list of must-haves, you can paint a realistic picture of what joining your team will look like.

Map out your plan

This isn’t called a structured interview for nothing. Identify your entire hiring process including how many interviews are needed and what format they will be in (phone, video, in-person), who will be involved in the interviews, who will make the final hiring decision, and your ideal timeline.

Once you know what your process will look like, determine the format of the interviews themselves. There are a wide variety of structured interview methods you can use, but two styles we think offer the most insight are performance-based interviews and a top grading style.

Performance-based interviews focus on past performance as a means of predicting the likely future behavior and possible success of a candidate. Questions are structured for candidates to explain how they managed and solved actual situations that closely mirror what they will likely face in the role you are hiring for. Your topics of conversation in this approach will be more situational.

Top grading interviews (aka the A Method) take an historical walk through a candidate’s resume from past to present giving them an opportunity to explain the responsibilities, accomplishments, challenges, and reasons for leaving for each position they have held. The purpose of this approach is to allow candidates to describe and promote their own career. In one meeting, a hiring manager can see a candidate’s drive, capabilities, skills, and personality all on display.

Since the candidate takes the lead in this process, their natural strengths and weaknesses are going to become apparent. It also allows for a natural conversation flow since the candidate will contribute most to the conversation and happens to be our method of choice.

Why Structured Interviews Work

Regardless of the specific interview method you use, structured interviews get results because they provide the most consistent method of evaluating candidates in the least amount of time.


  1. Structured interviews adhere conversations to topics that are relevant to the role you are hiring for. Meaning that details and information essential to the position are sure to be discussed.
  2. It also ensures that the conversations and questions are consistent, allowing for uniform evaluation between candidates interviewed.
  3. Both sides are focused on facts that can be verified, not hypothetical situations.
  4. Because of that factual focus, behavioral traits are revealed which weeds out candidates who may be good at interviewing, but not ideal fits as your next employee.

Hiring new employees has a significant influence on your business. Your attention to your hiring process, interview method, and means of evaluation should reflect that.

Do you have questions about your talent acquisition process? Contact us today with your concerns, we’re happy to help.

a guide to the recruitment process