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Structured Interviewing

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Structured Interviewing


Interviewing can be one of the most difficult aspects of the recruitment process. Research conducted through the years indicates that traditional interviews are an ineffective way in which to select people for jobs. For many people this can be a worrying thought. Think about your own interview process and ask yourself: How sure am I that the information I am getting from candidates provides me with enough evidence with which to make a decision? One way in which to acquire additional evidence is through adopting a structured interview approach, which maximizes the information that can be gained from each candidate and ensures that the information obtained is relevant to the job.

Data Collection Instrument (DCI) is a document containing questions presented in a systematic, highly precise fashion. The DCI’s purpose is to enable the evaluator to obtain uniform data that can be compared, summed and if it is quantitative, subjected to additional statistical analysis. Structured interview is one that uses a DCI to gather data, either by telephone or face to face. Structured interviewing is one of the variety of forms of research interview, but it is the one that is most commonly used in survey research. The goal of the structured interview is for the interviewing of respondents to be standardized so that differences between interviews in any research projects are minimized.

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“ Research has shown that the structured interview predicts employment success better than the traditional interview; the structured interview is also the method of choice to ensure a fair and nondiscriminatory hiring process.” (HR Magazine Review for Competence – Based Employment Interviewing by Jeffrey A. Berman 1997) 


A structured interview, sometimes called a standardized interview, entails the administration of an interview schedule by an interviewer. The aim is for all interviewees to be given exactly the same context of questioning. This means that each respondent receives exactly the same interview stimulus as any other. The goal of this style of interviewing is to ensure that interviewees’ replies can be aggregated and this can be achieved reliably only if these replies are in response to identical cues. Interviews are supposed to read out questions exactly and in the same order as they are printed on the schedule. Questions are usually very specific and very often offer the interviewee a fixed range of answers (this type of question is often called closed, close-ended, pre-coded, or fixed choice). The structural interview is the typical form of interview in social survey research.

Guideline of Interview (J. Nielsen “Usability Engineering” pp.209 – 214, Academic Press, 1993)

When holding an interview, the following guidance should be followed:

  • Always record the interview. Making notes is often a distraction to the subject, who will have to restrain him/herself from having a look to see what is being written.
  • Phrase the questions in an open or neutral way. Also, encourage the user to reply with full sentences, rather than a simple "yes" or "no".
  • Begin with less demanding topics and move to more complex issues.
  • Ask questions to reveal more information, not to confirm the investigator's beliefs.
  • Include instructions about the answer. For example, answers can range from lengthy descriptions, to briefer explanations, to identification or simple selection, to a simple "yes" or "no".
  • Do not try to explain to a subject why the system behaved in a particular way. Do not justify the design decision.
  • Avoid using jargon. Use terms that the subjects can understand.
  • Do not ask leading questions. A leading question implies that a situation exists and influences the direction of response.
  • Do not agree or disagree with the user; remain neutral.
  • Use probed to obtain further information after the original question is answered (especially during the earlier stages of usability testing). Probes are used to encourage the subjects to continue speaking, or to guide their response in a particular direction so a maximum amount of useful information is collected. Types of probes include:
    • Addition probe encourages more information or clarifies certain responses from the test users. Either verbally or nonverbally the message is, "Go on, tell me more," or "Don't stop."
    • Reflecting probe, by using a nondirective technique, encourages the test user to give more detailed information. The interviewer can reformulate the question or synthesize the previous response as a proposition.
    • Directive probe specifies the direction in which a continuation of the reply should follow without suggesting any particular content. A directive probe may take the form of "Why is the (the case)?"

Defining probe requires the subject to explain the meaning of a particular term or concept.

Types of Structured Interviews

  • Face-to-Face interview.
  • Telephone interview.

Advantages of face-to-face interview

Enables the interviewer to establish rapport with the respondent, allows the interviewer to observe as well as listen, permits more complex questions to be asked than in other types of data collection, an effective method of gathering data where data collecting instrument (DCI) is lengthy, to get before and after data about a lesson module or a change in administrative procedure, to gather opinions on a specific learning or teaching technique.

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Advantages of Telephone interviews

Telephone interview is less costly than personal interview, takes less time than a personal interview; simplifies recording of data if CATI-computer assisted telephone interview is used, effective most when the number of questions is relatively small and time available to gather data is short. It is easier to supervise than personal interview. This is a particular advantage when there are several interviewers, since it becomes easier to check on interviewers transgression in the asking of questions, such as rephrasing questions or the appropriate use of probes by the interviewer. Telephone interviewing has a further advantage which is to do with evidence which suggests that in personal interviews, respondent replies are sometimes affected by the characteristics of the interviewer (for e.g., gender, ethnicity) and indeed by his or her mere presence (implying that the interviewees may reply in ways they feel will be deemed desirable by the interviewers). The remoteness in telephone interviewing removes this potential source of bias to a significant extent. The interviewer’s personal characteristics cannot be seen and the fact that he/ she is not physically present may offset the likelihood of respondent’s answers being affected by the interviewer.

Validity and Reliability of Structured Interviewing

“One key element in conducting useful research is gathering reliable information. And basis for doing that is designing question and questionnaire that get the kind of information from which the researcher can draw valid conclusion. When one looks at a completed questionnaire or the results of a valid study, he or she is often tempted to say, “that’s not difficult to do,” but that temptation quickly passes after a few minutes of closer analysis. That’s about all it takes to realize that designing a good question and good questionnaire requires more thought and time one might originally think. There are an almost infinite variety of things to think about and to do correctly to avoid the kinds of errors that can make scores of hours of work worthless.” (Hollwitz, J. and Wilson, C. E. 1993” Structured Interviewing in Volunteer Selection” Journal of Applied Communication Research, 21, 41 – 52)

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The standardization of both the asking of questions and the recording of answers means that, if it is properly executed, variation in peoples, replies will be due to ‘true’ or ‘real’ variation and not due to the interview context. When we ask a question that is supposed to be an indicator of a concept, we want to keep error to a minimum. We can think of the answers to a question as constituting that the variable takes. Those values, of course, exhibits variation. Most variables will contain an element of error, so that it is helpful to think of variation as made up of two components: true variation and error. The aim is to keep the error component to a minimum, since error has an adverse effect on the validity of a measure. If the error component is quite high, validity will be jeopardized.

The significance of standardization and of thereby reducing interviewer variability is this: assuming that there is no problem with an interview question due to such things as confusing terms or ambiguity, we want to be able to say as far as possible that the variation between interviewees and not due to variation in the way a question was asked ore the answer recorded in the course of the administration of a survey by structured interview.

Variability can occur in either of the two ways. First, intra- interviewer variability, whereby an interviewer is not consistent in the way he or she asks questions and or records answers. Secondly, when there is more than one interviewer, there may be inter-interviewer variability, whereby interviewers are not consistent with each other in the ways they ask questions and or record answers. Needless to say, these two sources of variability are not mutually exclusive; they can co-exist, compounding the problem even further. In view of significance of standardization, structured interview is also called a standardized interview (Oppenheim 1992) or standardized survey interview. (Fowler and Mangione 1990)

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Like self-administered questionnaires, most structured interviews contain mainly questions that are variously referred to as closed, closed ended, pre-coded, or fixed choice. With the closed question, the respondent is given a limited choice of possible answers. In other words, the interviewer provides respondents with two or more possible answers and asks them to select, which one or ones apply. Ideally, this procedure will simply entail the interviewer placing a tick in a box by the answer(s) selected by a respondent or circling the selected answer or using a similar procedure. The advantage of this practice is that the potential for interviewer variability is reduced: there is no problem of whether the interviewer writes down everything that the respondent says or of misinterpretation of the reply given. If an open or open-ended question is asked, the interviewer might not write down everything said, may embellish or misinterpret what is said. Closed questions greatly facilitate the processing of data. When an open question is asked, the answers need to be sifted and coded in order for the data to be analyzed quantitatively.

Average Validity Co-efficient

Though we would like to have perfect correlation between tests score and on–the–job performance, such will never be the case. As a rule of the thumb in personnel selection, validity coefficients above .20 will probably be useful, those above .30 are high, and those above .40 are outstanding. The average validity coefficient for structured interview is .34 (Huffcutt and Arthur, 1994). Structured interviews with multiple viewers have a mean validity coefficient of  .60, across 7,873 subjects. Also, a consensus approach to combining ratings in the multiple interviewers studies enhanced structured interview validity. (Wiesner, W. H. and Cronshaw, S. F. 1988. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 61, 275 – 290)

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Designing a Structured Interview for Selection

The steps in the evaluation designed process-defining the question that dictate the objective of the study, selecting the methods of collecting the information, and preparing an analysis plan for using the collected information to answer the question-are interrelated and iterative. Any constraints in identifying and selecting a sample may make it necessary to refine the original evaluation question. The point to remember is that the use of structured interviewing to collect information is not an isolated process and cannot be thought of as a sequential task unrelated to or independent of other tasks in the process of answering an evaluation question.

The step in designing the interview is to formulate the broad overall questions that the survey is intended to answer i.e. why the study is being undertaken, what does the study aim to learn or determine, to describe something that has occurred, to compare results to some standard and to determine if a procedural change has made a difference (a cause and –effect) study.

“The second step is to translate the broad overall question into measurable elements as hypotheses or more precise questions. Then the target population needs to be identified. Then, the study can proceed to the development of a pool of specific questions designed to elicit the desired information. The number of questions developed should be more than the number of questions developed should be more than the numbers to be asked, then, the most appropriate and useful can be selected from those available”. (Campion, M. A., Campion, J. E., and Hudson, J. P. 1994, Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 998 – 1002)

Three main criteria exist for writing appropriate questions: relevance, selection of the proper respondents and ease of answering.
Relevance: questions should be directly related to the purpose of the study and have a good probability of yielding the kind of data desired.

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Selection of respondents: even though a question may be relevant to the study, it may not be answerable by the people to whom it will be asked.

Ease of response: questions need to be relatively easy to answer and should not create embarrassment for or an undue burden on the interviewee.

Selecting a Question Format

Important considerations in deciding on the format of questions is to be delivered (telephone, face to face), the type of information the respondent is expected to provide, and the possible alternative responses. Making these decisions will result in the selection of open-ended, fill-in-the-blank, binary choice, scaled response, or unscaled response questions. Of course, depending on the type of information desired, a structured interview questionnaire will have a combination of these types of questions:

Open-ended-because open-ended questions provide no structure for the answer; they should be tightly focused to elicit the kind of information the researcher wants to get. And, because they require accurate and time-consuming transcription, their use should be limited to initial research where the number of respondents is small and the object is to refine the research direction and determine more precise questions that can be structured another way.

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Fill –in-the-blank-this type of question has a simple answer, usually a name, frequency, or quantity, which is the kind of information these questions are good at obtaining.

Binary-these are good for obtaining factual information that falls into the yes-no, true-false category of answers.
Scaled-response-these consist of a list of alternative responses that increase or decrease in intensity in an ordered fashion. These kinds of questions can be further defined as balanced, unbalanced, rating and ranking.

Unscaled-response-with this type of question, the respondent is asked to chose one or more options from a list, this is the type of question that should include the other category so that the responder is not faced to select an answer he or she is not completely satisfied.

Building A Better Interview Process

Competency-based structured interviewing should not be viewed as a panacea for selection issues and organizational needs. It is just one tool. Yet when used in conjunction with other selection tools, better hiring decisions are made. It is also necessary for firms to address cultural, strategic, and process issues before or at the same time as developing and implementing competency-based selection processes. Key steps in developing an effective hiring strategy include:

Developing a comprehensive plan. A competency development plan should

include a review of the position requirements and performance measures, determination of the skill sets necessary for success in the position through interviews with high performers, and a ranking of selection criteria according to “must have ”and “good to have ”attributes. An effective strategy also includes development of interview questions that will help reveal these attributes as well as predetermination of the value of possible responses.

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• Documenting all processes. All processes should be documented, from the analysis of the job ’s competencies, to the scoring system and the applicant ’s responses. Accurate note taking during the interview, for example, is essential. Without good notes, the information for the selection decision is inaccurate and incomplete. Interviewers can overestimate the quality of candidates or see fewer distinctions between candidates, and the influence of biases and other poor decision-making factors can escalate.

• Validating continuously. Formal measurement of the impact of structured interviewing over time is essential. Does the process successfully predict performance? On the job? If not, where was the breakdown? Was it in the selection of competencies? Or in the scoring or interview delivery? The documentation will support validation of each step of the process.

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• Following up. A common mistake firms make is to underestimate the need to frequently reevaluate competencies. Updating competencies every 12 to 18 months is a necessity to ensure that they remain accurate for the changing nature of work and evolving objectives of the firm.

• Recognizing the significant cultural challenge. The cultural adjustment is the most difficult obstacle in the implementation of structured interviewing selection techniques. For managers accustomed to unstructured interviewing, the use of structured interviewing can be extremely uncomfortable at first. Strong support from executive leadership and effective training are necessary for the shift to be successfully made and sustained.

Practical Implications of Structured Interviewing and Recommendations

There are not many things that are more important to a successful operation than the staff, both year around and seasonal employees. Even at lower pay rates, hiring decisions represent a major investment in both time and money. The costs are true whether you hire a top performer or a poor one; they’re basically processing costs and have nothing to do with the quality of your hiring decisions.
Whether the employer is hiring any level of employee the cost can be enormous. Consider lost productivity causing and increase in your labor expenses or lessening the grade quality of your product, damaged or stolen equipment and produce, company reputation, poor morale among existing employees, and the oppressively high costs of unemployment insurance and workers compensation. Poor hiring decisions result in higher turnover and require additional workloads on those remaining as well as increased recruiting, screening and interviewing expense. It means additional time expense for training the newly hired and lost production during the time the inferior employee worked, during the time the position was vacant, and while bringing the new employee up to speed. Also given todays high level of employment related lawsuits, a single legal challenge by an aggrieved applicant or former employee can cost thousands of dollars in government fines and tort liability.

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The purpose of the selection interview is to pick the candidate(s) with the highest likelihood of being successful on the job, the assessment of both the ability and the motivation of the individual. Some of the jobs skills will be best assessed in the interview, while others, such as manual dexterity, are better demonstrated in a simple job sample test. However, almost everyone uses the interview to hire personnel. Any employer, must complete the hiring process without illegally discriminating against applicants based on race, gender or age and should evaluate the applicant’s skills, knowledge, and abilities as they relate to the actual requirements of the position. This is exactly what structured interviewing does in its use of carefully planned job-related questions. Applicants always know when their job-related weaknesses and strengths have been uncovered and they generally leave the interview with a clearer picture in their minds about getting the job or not and also with the feeling that the process was fair. In the future even more applicants may apply, feeling that with you, they are given a fair chance. Should a legal problem arise, the employee will be fully prepared to defend the decision.

On the other hand, traditional interviews that are unstructured reveal few, if any, true strengths and weaknesses of the applicants. As a result, people leave the interview feeling unsure about the assessment, and this attitude increase the possibility of legal actions should they fail to get the job. The traditional interview leaves little or no basis to stand up to such actions, as there is often no record of what was discussed in the interview to merit the decision.

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The Structured Interview ensures that the interview discussion focuses on and accurately measures the applicant’s qualifications. Having a large set of common questions helps to eliminate biases of interviewer and build confidence in evaluating applicants. It also provides a record of how and why decisions were made. Furthermore, such standardized evaluation system leads more easily to a final decision and most importantly, it works, structured interviewing helps us to administer interviews which are valid which are measure competencies or skills, which in turn translates into improved job performance, reliable, accurate and consistent, fair, so that all the applicants are treated equally and the interview is seen as fair and definitely practical in order to minimize labor and other costs while helping to increase your return on investment for every hire.


Berman, Jeffrey A. (1997). HR Magazine Review for Competence – Based Employment Interviewing

Campion, M. A., Campion, J. E., and Hudson, J. P. (1994). “Structured Interviewing: Note on Incremental Validity and Alternative Question Types”. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 998 – 1002

Hollwitz, J. and Wilson, C. E. (1993) “Structured Interviewing in Volunteer Selection” Journal of Applied Communication Research, 21, 41 – 52)
Huffcutt and Arthur, (1994) Average Validity Coefficient

Nielsen, J. (1993). “Usability Engineering” pp.209 – 214, Academic Press.

Wiesner, W. H. and Cronshaw, S. F. (1988). Journal of Occupational Psychology, 61, 275 – 290)


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