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Don’t Leave Hiring Decisions to Chance—Apply Structured Interviews

Using structured, competency-based interviews can be twice as effective at helping you make good hiring decisions. Here's how.

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Tue Jul 09 2024

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I was never trained on how to interview people during the recruiting and hiring process, and I know I’m not alone.

In fact, I ran a poll on LinkedIn asking people how they learned to conduct hiring interviews. Only 20 percent said they had received formal training. So, how did the other 80 percent learn? They did the same thing I did: they just started interviewing.

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In my case, I would sit down five minutes before the interview, review the candidate’s resume, highlight a few things I found interesting, and then ask about those items during the interview. I would also sprinkle in a few “getting to know you” questions and let my guest ask me a few questions.

This is a bad way to interview and can easily lead to making a bad hire.

The Cost of a Bad Hire

The cost of a bad hiring interview process in an organization can’t be overstated. According to Gallup, the cost of replacing an employee is between one-half and two times their salary. A $60,000 per year salary equates to a $30,000–$120,000 replacement cost.

Even if a poor hiring decision doesn’t result in replacing that employee, there are still potential costs associated with additional training or lack of productivity. The United States Department of Labor says a bad hire can cost your business 30 percent of the employee’s first-year earnings.

Those are substantial costs. Yet, a clear majority of companies are still leaving this decision up to chance. They simply hope their managers make good hiring decisions, without any real reason to believe that they can.

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Luckily, there is a relatively easy answer.

Structured, Competency-Based Interviews

To understand the answer, I need to define two terms for you. First, structured interviews. This term just means that, throughout the interview process, you use the same structure of questions for every candidate. You create a list of questions before you interview the first person and then stick with that list.

Second, competency-based questions. This simply means that, rather than looking at a resume and basing your questions off that, you look at the role competencies and base your questions off them.

These two terms used together mean that you are making a standard set of questions for every candidate based on the competencies for the role. The process starts with a clear job description. Either the hiring manager or the recruiting team look at the job description, responsibilities, and requirements and create a list of questions based on that description.

For example, if the job requires a person to be able to coordinate between and communicate with multiple stakeholders, a potential question might be: “Tell me about a project where you were working with multiple stakeholders and how you maintained clear communication between them.”

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This list of questions is then used for every single candidate and can be scored. This allows you to obtain the information you need to get from prospective candidates to determine their qualifications and fit for the position at hand. It allows you to compare scores and responses from candidates and do so in a thorough and consistent fashion.

Of course, the structured questions aren’t the only ones you will ask the candidate. You may want to ask a follow-up or clarifying question. But around 8 percent of the questions asked should be the same for every candidate.

Though this method of interviewing might sound simplistic, it is startlingly effective. Some research shows that structured interviews can be twice as effective at making good hiring decisions.

The Unconscious Impact of Structured Interviews

The reasons for getting training in and using structured interviews go much deeper than simply reducing costs. They can also have a dramatic effect on reducing bias in the hiring process. They achieve this in two different ways.

First, every candidate starts on an even playing field. Without determining the questions ahead of time, the question you ask may be biased based on what you see on the resume or the answers a candidate gives. You may decide they aren’t a good fit based on the first question you ask, and then never give them a chance to “wow” you with answers to later questions.

Second, structured interviews help keep the interview within the bounds of the requirements for the job, instead of straying into “hey, I love baseball too” territory. The natural inclination is to want to get to know someone on a personal level, but this just increases the chances for our unconscious biases to poke their heads up and steer us toward making decisions that aren’t based on the job itself.

Does Your Company Train on How to Perform Structured Interviews?

Training people on how to perform structured interviews is simple. By partnering with your recruiting team and holding a few workshops to practice the dos and don’ts of structured interviews, your organization could realize big improvements and gains in its hiring success.

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