What is a Structured Interview and How to Prepare for One

March 14, 2018

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Everyone knows that a job interview is the key part of the job application process: this is the moment you get to create that first impression, which research claims is decisive for future success. Not everybody pays enough attention to different kinds of job interviews, however. In this post, we will explain what a structured interview is, why it is becoming more and more common, especially with bigger companies, and how you can prepare for one.

Unlike the informal approach that allows most interviews to go with its own flow, a structured interview has a fixed script, consisting of a predetermined set of questions that are usually asked in the same sequence. The questions can be divided into four groups. The first two — definitional and consequential questions — focus on theoretical knowledge necessary for the job. The third group consists of hypothetical questions that present different, often unexpected, working situations meant to test the candidate’s patterns of behavior. Finally, the fourth group concentrates on the candidate’s prior experience. In interviews like this, the subjectivity of the interviewer is less obvious than in unstructured interviews: he or she will hardly deviate from the established question schedule and candidate performance will be assessed according to a unified scale or scoring system.

This is why large companies like Google mostly rely on structured interviews in the hiring process: they are more efficient in probing relevant skills and they ensure that the interview process will not fall prey to the interviewer’s confirmation bias; i.e. they will not be driven by their desire to confirm their initial assumptions about the candidate, as might happen during an informal interviews. Of course, developing, testing and maintaining the formal interview system is a demanding and costly task for a company, so it’s no wonder that HR staff at smaller companies tend to stay less structured in their approach.

The process of preparing for a structured interview largely coincides with the general approach that we’ve suggested in some of our previous posts. As structured interviews are targeted at particular skills and competencies needed for the job you’re applying to, you must be sure you’re never at a loss for quick and precise answers. This applies whether it’s a definitional question (e.g. you’re asked to define a concept relating to the job) or a consequential one (i.e. you’re asked to establish logical connections between events and processes).

Another thing you must do as part of your own interview preparation is an exercise in overthinking — try to consider every possible working situation that the interviewer might ask you about in order to assess your expected behaviour. They’re not likely to ask what you would do if the Earth were to be invaded by aliens, but you should be otherwise prepared for any kind of unexpected question.

Lastly, when it comes to your qualifications and prior experience, do not concentrate exclusively on the positive and flattering sides during your preparation: be ready to answer the interviewer should they ask about your biggest professional fail. The inability to respond to a question like this will very likely indicate lack of critical self-assessment.

And, last but not least, don’t forget about dress code and body language – these might take less focus in a structured interview, but how you take care to present yourself always matters.

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