The job interview is arguably the most critical part of the hiring process — a short window of time where you can get to know your candidate’s personality, experience, and skillset first-hand.
Interviews are your opportunity to separate the best candidates from ones that are simply good. As a result, it’s essential to make sure your interviews are structured in the best way possible. In this playbook, we’ll take a look at why your interview format is so important and show you how to do it effectively.
Why is interview structure important?
While hiring managers consistently rate unstructured interviews as the most effective way to get to know candidates, studies have found that they’re the worst predictors of on-the-job performance. Since free-flowing interviews’ structures change from interview to interview, they make it harder to compare candidates accurately and can introduce bias into the hiring process.
On the other hand, structured interviews can help:
- Keep conversations on track and focused. A solid structure prevents you from getting sidetracked or distracted during the interview. You’ll stay within time limits and stick to relevant topics and talking points.
- Ensure you cover all necessary points. Structuring your job interviews appropriately means you’ll avoid missing key points, get all the information you need, and make the most of this short window of time.
- Keep interviews equitable. Structuring your interviews helps ensure all candidates are treated the same, reducing the potential for bias and creating a fairer interview process.
- Make it easier to compare candidates. When your interview process is fairly uniform across all your candidates, it’s much easier to compare them side-by-side and make a fair assessment of their ability and fit for your company.
How to structure an interview: the key stages
Now let’s take a look at the key steps every interview should feature, and how to start building out a structure for your interview process.
One of the most important steps in a structured interview process takes place before you’ve even met a single candidate. The preparation stage is where you get clear on exactly what you hope to gain from your interviews.
Think about what you want to see from an ideal candidate and develop criteria to assess your interviewees. At this stage, you’ll also want to spend time planning the questions you want to ask. Here are some tips:
- Refer to the job description to help you craft questions related to your original requirements. Think of one or two questions tied specifically to each requirement.
- Think about any additional requirements or desirable job-related skills you may not have listed in your job description, and how you can assess these in the interview.
The preparation stage is also your opportunity to plan logistics. Work out how many interviewers you’ll need, what time slots you’ll be available for, and where to host your interviews.
In the pre-interview stage, you should reach out to your interviewees and give them all the information they need ahead of the interview. Be detailed here — include information like the location of the interview (whether online or in person), accessibility details, and options for different time slots. Let them know how many interview rounds you have planned, and what the purpose of each is.
Make sure to give your candidates a heads-up about what to expect in terms of themes and topics, and what you’re looking for in your ideal interviewee.
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This stage involves getting to know your candidate, breaking the ice, and making some small talk.
The goal of the introduction stage is simply to make the candidate comfortable and gain a first look at their personality. You shouldn’t spend more than a few minutes here.
Experience and profile
In this part of the interview, you’ll dig into your candidate’s work experience and learn more about who they are and what they’ve done in the past. Have a copy of your candidate’s resume on hand so you can use this to guide the discussion and refer to specific points.
This stage is an opportunity to flesh out what you already know from the application and resume, learn some new information, and dive deeper into any areas you’d like to know more about or clarify.
There are many resources available to help at this stage. Workable’s library of more than 300 sample questions and SWE’s technical interview question repository are great places to start.
Find out why the candidate is interested
A good interview should always find out why the candidate is interested in your job and your company specifically. This serves a number of useful purposes — it helps you learn more about your candidate’s motivations and what they expect from the role, how your company is perceived by applicants and the outside world in general, and it allows you to give your candidate a more rewarding and tailored interview experience.
This can also be a good opportunity to dig into the candidate’s career aspirations. Why are they pursuing a role at an early-stage company? If they’re your first developer or design hire, are they comfortable working as an individual contributor and a future manager? Make sure candidate answers align with your company’s current growth stage and future trajectory.
Are they a good fit? Get to know them and let them get to know you
An interview isn’t a one-way street. The best interviews allow you and your candidate to get to know each other and work out if you’re a good fit for one another. Find out who your candidate is on a personal level and whether they mesh well with your company culture.
Businesses often benefit from hiring a less experienced candidate who is a perfect match than a seasoned veteran who has little in common with your existing culture and teams.
To establish a good cultural fit, it’s important to ask questions and provide answers that actually reflect your startup’s culture. For example, if your teams are regularly working 60+ hour weeks, make sure to mention this.
Ask behavioral and situational questions
Interviews — of course — involve lots of questions. Two key question types here are behavioral questions and situational questions:
- Behavioral questions relate to specific past experiences of your candidate. For example, “Can you tell me about a specific time when you successfully assumed leadership of a group?”
- Situational questions are more hypothetical, “what if” style questions. For example, “What would you do if a client insisted on a deadline that your team couldn’t possibly reach?”
You should also include skill-based questions that focus on specific skills, competencies, abilities, and qualifications — and assess your candidate’s understanding of these areas and how they have applied them in the past.
Using a range of different open-ended question types allows you to explore your candidate’s experience, skillset, and personality from multiple angles, building a more complete picture and ultimately leading to a more useful result.
It often helps to give your candidate the opportunity to ask a few questions of their own. This helps them clarify any areas they might be unsure of, and it also helps you gain an understanding of what they want from the company and what they consider important.
Conclude the interview
In the final part of the interview, you should wrap things up and let the candidate know what their next steps will be. Give them a rough idea of timelines — when will they hear from you and how you will get in touch with more information about hiring decisions.
Structuring an interview takes time, but it’s essential if you want to get the most out of your interview process and maximize your chances of hiring the very best talent for your company.
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