Time to rethink your interview style and go hybrid

When you interview do you use an unstructured style?

It has been common place for many years but if you do use this style, it may be time for a rethink, as you could be missing out on some great employees…

Many interviews now adopt an unstructured style. The aim being for the interviewer to try and get the best out of the candidate; to try and bring out their personality and see how they would ‘fit’ the business.

A recent article in The New York Times, Sunday Review, addressed the potential flaws of unstructured interviewing. It discussed interview structure, assumptions, and how we use these to weigh up people.

A lot of corporate companies use structured competency based interviews for internal promotions or side-ways moves. This enables them to use the same set of criteria and questions to accurately compare candidates. But, most SME businesses use an unstructured approach for new starters. The theory is that a person’s CV gives you the facts and then you get to know the person and bring out their personality in an unstructured interview.

Are we therefore judging people unfairly with unstructured interviews?

They are being compared ‘like for like’ for one job but experience a different interview and different questions. When we employ someone, over time it either works or it doesn’t. We’ve all been in a position when someone hasn’t had the experience they said they did, or the job wasn’t what they were expecting etc. We get to know if an employment decision was right or not fairly quickly, and we learn from it for the next time we recruit.

What we don’t usually get to learn from, are the recruitment decisions we make not to employ someone.

The New York Times piece used research that could retrospectively review recruitment decisions that used an unstructured interview style. They claimed that an unstructured approach revealed more about the interviewer than the person being interviewed, and was an unfair way to compare people. The way they set out to prove this was looking at university admissions and student’s later achievements.

At the University of Texas Medical School, the admissions team interviewed, shortlisted and took on a new class of medical students. Later, they were asked to also give places to the 50 students they had rejected after going through the interview process. They were then asked to predict the future grades of both sets of students. The study found that the initially rejected students performed just as well as their classmates in terms of academic performance and final grades. The judgment of the interviewers, therefore added nothing of relevance to their admissions process in this case.

Overlaying this insight onto your own recruitment process, how many people could have been perfect for your business but were dismissed during the interview stage? Could a more structured interview process help with this?

The New York Times article also discussed someone who had been offered a job based on her composure and ability to perform well under pressure when she had been 25 minutes late for her interview. The interviewers had been particularly impressed; however, the facts were slightly different.

The candidate thought she was 5 minutes early for her interview – there had been a mix up in the times given to both parties. Assumptions were made on her behaviour in the interview and how that would be indicative of future performance under pressure. If this was correct of not, this interview scenario was impossible to recreate for other candidates to give them a fair chance to prove the same. Is this a fair way to pick one candidate from another?

With the facts in mind, we recommend that you adopt a hybrid interview style.

Using the 80/20 rule will help you with this. We use this hybrid style ourselves at Vanilla Recruitment. When we register candidates, we conduct a face to face interview. The first phase is structured, there are set questions that we go through to get the facts about someone, their abilities, track record, achievements, goals etc. We work through these fact based standard questions before anything else. We feel that this gives us a baseline for that person and it allows us to accurately compare them with others who we have a baseline for. We are therefore comparing like for like information.

Our next phase is to get to know someone’s personality. We ask more open-ended questions and let them guide the conversation more.

We spend 80% of the time on the comparable facts, the structured part of the interview. Then 20% on the unstructured part to get to know them better.

By structuring the main part of your interview so that all candidates receive the same questions, your interviews will be a more reliable way to assess and compare.  This should also make it easier to predict future job success because you are using comparable facts.

It is hugely important that your workforce either get along or at least have mutual respect, so having an unstructured element to your interview might help you to assess how a person would ‘fit’ with your team and company culture.

Before you embark on your interviews you need to invest time defining your set questions for the structured part of the interview, as well as defining your questions for the unstructured element. Taking this time up front with pay off.

We can, of course, help you with your interview style and questioning approach if needed. Get in touch for a chat if you’d like to run through your plans and get our feedback; 01858 898058[email protected]