Perhaps one of the most common tools to inform hiring decisions is the job interview. There are a few likely reasons for this. To start, job interviews have been around since the 1920s. Second, people typically want to meet the person that they could be working with to determine whether they might be right for the job. In interviews, you get a sense for someone’s social style, likelihood of aligning with the culture, ability to communicate, experiences, and ability to do the job. Lastly, interviews have strong face validity, which means people tend to perceive them as being fair and accurate.
When job interviews are at their best, they can be used to assess whether someone’s skills, experiences, and other key characteristics are aligned with the job, which allows for better hiring decisions. This makes the interview a powerful tool for selection. However, the problem is that all interviews are not created equal.
Bias and Error in Job Interviews
When interviews aren’t designed well, bias and error can impact judgments made in the interview.1,2 An interviewer who has a more favorable impression of the candidate, for example, will likely ask fewer questions compared to applicants for whom they have less favorable impressions.3 In addition, an interviewer’s opinion of an applicant can show through nonverbal communication, affecting the candidate’s responses.4 These errors, among others, can provide some candidates with an advantage or disadvantage over others. For example, the candidate who is asked more questions has more opportunities to show strengths or potential weaknesses.
One way to mitigate some of the potential for error in interviews is to consider the structure of the interview.5 Interviews fall on a spectrum between being unstructured and structured. Those that are unstructured typically follow a more organic or conversational approach. Using this approach, the interviewer asks questions they believe fit the requirements of the job. The interviewer may or may not provide a rating of the candidate’s responses to the questions. Interviewers adopting an unstructured approach likely don’t ask every candidate the same questions and think of questions as the interview progresses.
This unstructured way of interviewing is common in organizations. One reason for this is that an interviewer gets to ask the questions they think are relevant to the job. If you provide an interviewer with a set of questions beforehand and ask them to “stick to the script,” they might think the list of questions is missing important components of the job. Another reason interviewers might favor the unstructured approach is because they can ask candidates questions they believe are relevant to each person.
These reasons might seem to justify unstructured interviews, but they can create problems. While interviewers might want to ask questions relevant to the job, some of their perceptions about what is required could be erroneous. For example, interviewers might assume a candidate should have a certain skill prior to being hired for a job. But it is also possible someone who learns that skill on the job will perform equally as well as an incumbent employee who entered the job with that skill.
Another example could be an interviewer who has a preconceived notion about psychology majors lacking business savvy. This might lead the interviewer to hold an overall negative impression of an applicant with a psychology degree. The interviewer might be inclined to ask that candidate more questions about business yet ask fewer business questions of a candidate with a business degree. This is unfair. Worse, this overall negative impression could be communicated indirectly or even nonverbally, causing a negative reaction from the candidate.
These are just a couple of examples of how bias and errored thinking can influence the unstructured interview process and why it could be helpful to consider a more structured interview.
In contrast to unstructured interviews, highly structured interviews are typically guided by questions planned beforehand. The questions themselves are based on the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) that have been proven to be related to the job. The questions are typically asked in the same order for every candidate, and the rating options for each question are anchored with behaviors the ratings represent. Structuring the interview in these ways helps to mitigate some of the biased decision-making and other problems associated with the more conversational approach of unstructured interviews.6 When each candidate gets the same opportunity to respond to the same questions, the outcome of the interview is less associated with the structure of the interview itself and more with what you are trying to measure in the interview.
So, using structured interviews can be an effective way to assess whether someone will meet the requirements for the job. Each interview question is directly related to the job, each candidate has the same opportunity to answer the questions, and the interviewer has a clear and unambiguous way to rate each applicant. Using this type of interview gives our psychology major and our business major the same chance to be rated fairly.
Making the Most Out of Your Selection Process
While structured interviews are a great tool to use in hiring decisions, the interview is not the only tool you should use in your selection process. Valid, reliable personality tests are another tool that can add value to talent acquisition. Numerous studies have shown that personality is a key component for determining if someone will be a strong performer.7 Other research has demonstrated that gauging personality in interviews is challenging and can result in inaccurate assessment of someone’s personality.8 Hogan provides quality personality tests, which can be combined with an interview to better assess whether someone will be a good fit for the job.
A version of this article appeared on hoganassessments.com, posted on July 26, 2022
EXPERD, Human Resources Consultant, Jakarta – Indonesia