What is a structured interview?

At Google and many other modern organizations, one specific interview format — the structured interview — is favored for its ability to save time, improve the candidate experience, and reduce bias. This format has proved to be one of the strongest predictors of a candidate's future success, allowing companies to hire better candidates simply by changing the way they conduct their interviews.

If you're asking, “What is a structured interview?” you've come to the right place. Today, we'll show you what a structured job interview looks like, explain its many benefits, and give you the steps you need to implement a structured process at your organization.

The structured interview defined

Structured interviews meet two specific criteria:

  1. They have sets of questions that do not vary from interview to interview.
  2. They use the same evaluation criteria to assess the candidate's responses to those questions.

Structured interview questions are determined by hiring managers in advance. Each candidate being interviewed for the same role is asked the same set of questions, often in the same order. Different sets of questions can be used for different roles — for example, an engineer may be asked vastly different questions than an administrative assistant based on the job requirements.

The structured evaluation criteria is also defined in advance of the interviews. This is the scoring system used to evaluate a candidate's answers to their interview questions. A rating scale might look like a range from “poor” to “excellent,” or letter grades from “F” to “A.”

A grading rubric explains what constitutes each grade or score. It's important for interviewers to understand and agree on what separates a “good” answer from an “excellent” one. A rubric is one way to further standardize the experience for everyone involved.

How structured interviews improve the hiring process

Implementing a structured interviewing process benefits all parties involved. Research by Google's hiring team showed that structured interviews created a better experience for both candidates and their interviewers:

The team has seen an uptick in candidate satisfaction in feedback scores for structured interview candidates. Interestingly, scores indicated an especially big difference in candidate satisfaction rates when comparing rejected candidates. Rejected candidates who had a structured interview were 35% happier than those who did not have a structured interview.

One of the most surprising advantages of structured interviewing is a reduction in hiring bias. Feedback offered to candidates is based solely on their performance — not the interviewer's potential biases. By using pre-established interview criteria, all candidates are held to the same standards and not judged on how well they respond to a specific interviewer's style or questions.

The structured format also saves time. Google's research showed that pre-created questions, guides, and rubrics reduced the interview length by an average of 40 minutes. Interviewers also reported that they felt better prepared, thanks to the materials they received in advance.

Finally, extensive research into 19 different assessment techniques demonstrated that structured interviewing is 26% more effective at predicting a candidate's future success at an organization. The format is stronger at predicting success than 17 of the other factors studied, including work experience (which can only predict success 3% of the time), references (7%), and unstructured interviews (14%).

How to develop a structured interview process

With all of the benefits of structured interviews, you may wonder why more companies don't use them. The answer is a simple one: They appear difficult to implement. But we've identified four steps to help you start developing effective structured interviews:

  1. Compile high-quality interview questions relevant to each role.
  2. Create an interview evaluation form so interviewers can evaluate candidates fairly.
  3. Create a grading rubric to define the criteria used in the form.
  4. Train interviewers on the structured interviewing process.

Here's a breakdown of each step required to build your structured interview process and implement them smoothly.

1. Compile relevant questions

Your interview questions must be relevant to the role and help realistically evaluate the skills needed for a candidate to succeed. Instead of judging responses as “correct” or “incorrect,” you may want to see how candidates develop solutions to problems.

The questions asked should generate answers that help show how candidates think through a resolution to a challenge. By contrast, simple yes and no answers provide very little insight into the candidate's actual on-the-job performance.

Google's has a two-part method for developing effective questions for use in structured interviews:

  1. First, use a prompt to introduce a realistic scenario. For example, if you're interviewing a marketer, you might ask: “How would you approach developing our marketing strategy?”

  2. Second, ask follow-up questions to pull out more details and evaluate strengths of attributes not covered by the initial prompt. For example, for the marketer interview, follow-up questions might be: “What would you do if a coworker disagreed with your strategy?” This would help you evaluate the candidate's teamwork skills. Or: “How would you implement the strategy across the marketing department?” This would allow for an evaluation of their leadership skills.

Compile these questions (and any follow-up questions) somewhere that is accessible to all interviewers and hiring managers — for example, in a shared document or within your applicant tracking system (ATS).

2. Create a standard interview evaluation form

An interview evaluation form is used to record interviewers' feedback. Your organization should customize this form for each role by using a standard set of evaluation criteria as well as an evaluation scale.

The scale used on evaluation forms is usually something like “poor” through “excellent” or “F” through “A,” but it should be customized based on what your team prefers. It also should match what is ultimately entered into your ATS.

The form you create should be used in tandem with a grading rubric, which you'll create as the next step in this process.

3. Create a grading rubric

The strength of an interview evaluation form ultimately depends on the strength of its rubric, which is what defines its rating scale. Creating and using a grading rubric will make your evaluations stronger and more meaningful by eliminating inconsistencies between interviewers.

Your rubric should define each grade on your evaluation form in detail. For example, in the category of critical-thinking skills, your rubric may look something like this:

  • “Poor” represents a candidate not showing any critical-thinking skills.

  • “Fair” means they show some critical-thinking skills, but not enough to succeed in the role.

  • “Good” means they show critical-thinking skills and are able to somewhat elaborate upon their thought processes verbally.

  • “Excellent” means they think critically about all situations and are able to clearly elaborate upon their thought processes verbally and in writing.

Get started on your own rubric with this sample sheet. Create a rubric that matches each interview evaluation form, and keep all the forms in a shared, easily accessible location (like a shared network folder or Google Drive).

4. Train interviewers

Finally, training is necessary to help interviewers understand not only how the structured interview process works but also why the structure is so important. Our internal research at Google shows that interactions with interviewers are the top factor in candidate feedback about the quality of their hiring experience. It's for this reason that we believe everyone should understand how critical their role is in making the hiring experience a good one.

Interviewers can be trained on the structured process in a few different ways:

  • Shadowing other experienced interviewers

  • Practicing mock interviews among themselves, with a member of HR helping out as needed

  • Watching or listening to recordings of interviews using the structured format

  • Using cheat sheets or reading evaluation forms, like this interviewer training cheat sheet

Finally, remember to provide feedback to interviewers — both from you and from the candidates. This feedback will help interviewers improve how they use the structured format in the long term.

Provide consistent candidate experiences with structured interviews

Research shows that interviewers make judgments about candidates within the first few seconds of speaking with them. A structured interview process is the most effective way to guide interviewers and hiring managers away from this bias, encouraging them to use a candidate's actual strengths, experiences, and knowledge in evaluating whether or not they would be a good hire.

Ultimately, by implementing this structured process, you're not only improving the experience for the people directly involved in hiring — you're improving it for your entire organization. This format ensures that you hire the strongest, most suitable candidates, and that's a win on every level.

About Hire by Google

Hire is a recruiting app by Google that uses AI to make the hiring process faster and simpler. Because it is designed specifically for G Suite users, with Gmail, Google Calendar and other G Suite integrations, Hire streamlines administrative tasks so that your team can hire the best people, faster.