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The 3 building blocks of an effective structured interview

If you’re involved with technical hiring, you’ve heard of the “structured interview.” But what does it mean to conduct a structured interview well? CodeSignal Co-Founders Sophia Baik and Tigran Sloyan describe the three building blocks of an effective structured interview that will reduce bias in your hiring process and allow you to identify the most qualified candidates, consistently. 

“Structured interview” has become a buzzword in Silicon Valley, and for good reason. Years of research on hiring practices have shown that structured interviews – interviews that use a consistent set of questions, structure, and evaluation metrics across candidates – can successfully predict how candidates will perform on the job. They also help reduce bias in hiring by making the interview process more objective and consistent.

Running an effective structured interview, however, is not as simple as it sounds. While many companies tout their use of structured interviews, they do not always follow through on this promise or execute it well.

CodeSignal Co-Founders Sophia Baik and Tigran Sloyan break down what it means to run a quality structured interview into the three building blocks: the pre-brief, the interview, and the debrief.

Building Block 1: Pre-Brief

The pre-brief (also called an interview plan) is the time for your hiring team to get on the same page about the role they’re interviewing for, the interview structure, and each team member’s responsibilities during the interview. 

By the end of your pre-brief meeting, each of your team members should agree on their answers to these questions:

  • What is this role we’re interviewing for?
  • What are the skills and qualifications required for this role?
  • What are the different areas of responsibility for this role?
  • Who on the interview panel is going to be asking about each of these areas?
  • How are we going to make a decision after this interview?

In the pre-brief, it’s important to think about all parts of the interview and clearly delegate responsibilities to each member of the interview panel. Often, during an interview, “you can miss an important area because no one realized they had to cover it,” says Sloyan. 

If you need to bring in a candidate for another interview as a result of this oversight, you draw out your hiring process and create a poor experience for the candidate. Avoid this risk by investing time upfront to make sure your team is prepared for the structured interview.

Building Block 2: Interview Session

Even if your hiring team goes into an interview with a clear set of questions and a plan, they may not conduct the interview in a structured way. Experienced interviewers, in particular, may be tempted to improvise and “see how it goes,” says Sloyan. However, this opens the door to bias, inconsistency, and poor candidate experience. 

Two rules to keep in mind for running a structured interview are:

  1. Ask the same interview questions of each candidate for a role, and
  2. Ask your interview questions in the same order – ideally, starting with the easiest questions

The first rule, asking the same questions of each candidate, might seem obvious. This rule ensures that each candidate has the same opportunities to share their knowledge and facilitates comparison among candidates. However, interviewers can stray off-course if they don’t have the questions written down and in front of them during the interview.

The second rule, asking questions in a consistent order, is more important that it may seem. Sloyan and Baik recommend starting with easier questions that allow a candidate time to ease into the interview and get comfortable. Answering an early question correctly also boosts a candidate’s confidence, setting them up to perform at their best on later, more challenging questions.

Is your hiring team dead-set on starting with a hard question? That’s okay, too – so long as they follow the same question order with every candidate. A consistent question order allows each candidate to be evaluated as objectively as possible.

Building Block 3: Debrief

Running an effective structured interview extends into how you evaluate a candidate, too. Just as an unstructured interview session opens the door for bias, so too does an unstructured debrief.

When planning your debrief, “the more structure, the better,” says Sloyan. A great way to do this is with rubrics. Providing interviewers with a rubric that touches on each of the job requirements keeps their feedback focused and relevant. 

Unlike an open text area for candidate feedback, structured feedback helps prevent “random, ambiguous comments like, ‘it didn’t feel right,’” says Sloyan. Comments like this, which don’t specify how well a candidate meets the requirements for the job, allow subjectivity and bias to influence your hiring process.

A rubric that is organized by each interviewer’s area of responsibilities can also speed up your team’s decision-making. Rather than squabbling over one answer from the candidate, each team member has their own area of responsibility to weigh in on. 

Staying Human

There’s “one catch” with running structured interviews, Sloyan adds. “It’s to not forget that you’re interviewing a human who’s probably nervous, whose career is on the line, and who probably doesn’t interview as often as you do.”

Just because your hiring team is asking a consistent set of questions in a predetermined order doesn’t mean they need to sound like robots.

So how can you make a structured interview more personal? Check in on your candidate during the interview. Structure doesn’t prevent you from asking questions like: “how are you doing?” and, “would you like to take a break?”

“You have to keep that balance,” says Sloyan, “of humans talking to humans, but with structure.”

Learn More

Want to learn more about how you can build a winning organization through data-driven recruiting? Visit CodeSignal to find out how you can measure technical skills effectively and objectively with its automated assessment and live interview solutions.