The Difference Between Structured, Unstructured & Semi-Structured Interviews

Conducting interviews well takes skill and planning. Even those of us that are natural interviewers need to prepare, and a great place to start is by determining which type of interview you are going to give:  structured, unstructured or semi-structured. Each type has advantages, and regardless of whether your interview is on the phone or in-person, knowing the type of interview you are conducting will help make it more successful.  

Structured Interviews

What is a structured interview? In structured interviews, questions are planned and created in advance. All candidates are asked the same questions in the same order.

Since in structured interviews all the candidates are asked the same questions, it is easy to compare their answers and hire the right job candidate. You can evaluate candidates in an objective and fair way, which also makes structured interviews more legally defensible.

On the other hand, structured interviews are harder and more complicated to develop. You have to test them and make sure interviewers follow them precisely. You also risk your interview questions leaking out, which means future candidates can come prepared. Moreover, a one-size-fits-all interview can seem a bit cold and unpersonalised, making it harder to really get to know the candidate.

Unstructured Interviews

An unstructured interview is a type of interview in which the interviewer asks questions which are not prepared in advance. Instead, questions arise spontaneously in a free-flowing conversation, which means that different candidates are asked different questions.

The main advantage of an unstructured interview is its personalised approach. This is especially useful for technology roles where the experience of candidates can vary dramatically. Additionally, since unstructured interviews allow for a free-flowing conversation, they feel more casual, which puts the candidates at ease, resulting in a more natural and honest interview.

Because different candidates are asked different questions however, it is harder to compare their answers and evaluate candidates equally and objectively. If you need a programmer for a specific software integration, it will be useful to compare like for like answers regarding their approach.

Semi-structured Interviews

What about semi-structured interviews? A semi-structured interview is a type of interview in which the interviewer asks only a few predetermined questions while the rest of the questions are not planned in advance.

Since semi-structured interviews combine both the structured and unstructured interview styles, they can offer the advantages of both. They allow for the objective comparison of candidates, while also providing an opportunity to spontaneously explore topics relevant to that particular candidate.

But compared with structured interviews, semi-structured interviews are less objective and legally harder to defend.

Which type is best for you?

A good place to start is by looking at your job requirements, and defining your candidate persona. A candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal candidate. This persona is formed by defining the characteristics, skills, and traits that make up your perfect hire. If your candidate-persona has very clearly defined characteristics, then a structured interview might work best. If your candidate-persona includes a broad range of characteristics, then an unstructured interview will likely give you the best feel for the candidate and how they would fit into your organisation. Or if you really aren’t sure, a semi-structured interview will provide you with the best of both worlds.

Interviewing is hard work.  But by clearly defining which type of interview you are giving, you will be more likely to find and hire your ideal job candidate, improve your candidate experience and make your recruiting efforts more successful.

About Oliver Parks

Oliver Parks Consulting offers search-based recruitment solutions to the technology sector, specialising in the ERP, CRM, CMS, ECM, BI and Open Source Technology spaces. The firm’s multilingual consultants operate in narrowly-defined niche market segments, enabling them to gain extensive knowledge of the people and companies operating in each technology.  Oliver Parks has a proven track-record with more than 100,000 candidates worldwide and more than 300 clients globally.