Structured Interviews for Managers

We all know a manager – we may even have been that manager -- that quickly throws together a job description with little thought for what the role really requires. Often just a copy of a previous role. This is then used to find candidates and some are brought in for
interview. Just before the interview, the manager prints out the CV and reads it as they walk to meet the candidate. In the interview they spend time on small talk and ask some questions about their CV. In the end they decide subjectively based who they felt was the best fit.
Predictably, the results are not good. These unstructured interviews are a poor predictor of whether the candidate will be successful in the role. More often than not, turnover of new hires is high. Research shows that typically new hires perform worse than existing employees and are 270% less likely to get the top ranking in performance reviews and 75% more likely to get the lowest ranking. Clearly there is room for improvement. 

Scalable Global Solutions ran a poll that showed that 56% of all companies surveyed across Europe did not provide their hiring managers with interview training. Given this lack of knowledge on how to interview correctly, it is small wonder that results are poor. When looking to hire the best candidates, structured interviews are a much better way to select the best candidates.

Selecting the best candidates
So, what is a structured interview? Firstly, it is not just the interview. 
Running good interviews starts well before the interview itself. The process can be broken down in to the following four steps:

  1. Conduct job analysis and write a job description
  2. Prepare interview questions
  3. Conduct a structured interview
  4. Evaluate and rank the candidates
Conduct job analysis and write a job description

Take the time to analyse the requirements of the job. Don’t rush this stage as getting this right forms the basis of everything else that comes. The information below is not an exhaustive explanation of how to capture role requirements but rather an overview for the purposes of explaining how best to do interviews. The key point is to identify what you need from a candidate for them to be successful in a role.

Work Experience & Education
What skills and abilities will they need to be successful? Beware of the “15 years of experience” trap and remember that some of the most successful business people had very limited experience before starting out. Think Bill Gates, Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg here for example. Focus on skills, knowledge and abilities.

Personality & Personal Characteristics
What sort of character do you want? Think of this in terms of what will make them successful in the role. Having the right person to fit in to the team is important but you are hiring someone to do a job and not to be your friend.

Leadership Experience
Obviously if they are applying for a management role, you need to identify their skills as a manager and leader.

Special Knowledge
An example of this would be a programmer that needs to know Java. Identify what knowledge they need to do the role. Something I like to think about is how will the success of the role be measured? What KPIs and targets will they have? When you conduct a performance review, how will you assess whether or not the person has done a good job? This helps in the next steps to set the questions.

Prepare interview questions
The most important thing about interview questions is to prepare them before the interview. You don’t want to be making them up during the interview itself. Write them down. The other most important point is that interview questions should relate to the role. They should find out whether the candidate has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to succeed. Going back to our KPIs and targets, you could ask questions about how they either achieved similar results in the past or how they would go about achieving the targets and objectives for this role.

Here are a few types of questions that you can use to identify this:
    Situational — what would you do if …? I like these questions as they are hypothetical and harder to prepare for. For example, you could ask ‘how would you improve product quality and reduce product defects from current 4% to less than 1%’?
    Behavioural — tell me about a time when …? These are about experience. An example would be ‘tell me about a time when you acquired a new customer.
What were the challenges and how did you overcome them’?
    Knowledge. These are quite simply whether they have a specific knowledge. In the case of a programmer, maybe they need to know about Java. So ask them about it and test their knowledge.

Conducting a structured interview
This is the crux of the discussion but if you have done your role analysis and written a good job description and prepared pertinent questions in advance, you have the basics already done.
A few things to remember are to ask the same questions in the same order. The easiest way to do this is to have them written down and work through your list. We will discuss this more in a moment when we discuss evaluation forms.

When conducting the interview, take notes and document the interview. This is critical for compliance reasons and you have some legal protection if there should be an issue later. It also helps to remind yourself of how the interview went and what you talked about and what the candidate said. It is really hard to remember everything especially when you have multiple interviews. Take your time. The longer an interview takes, the better the results are. Makes sense as it gives you more time to access the candidate. There is more opportunity for them to open up and show their true character. Also take the time to probe and challenge – do not simply accept the first answer they give. Listen more than you talk. There is saying that goes we have two ears and one mouth so use them in that proportion. As an interviewer, it is important to listen in an interview. Let the candidate talk. It is hard to evaluate the candidate if you are doing all the talking. This may seem counter intuitive but do not spend too much time on small talk. This is not directly relevant to the role and can distract and bias you opinion. Some to see how they are socially and to put them at ease but focus on the job requirements.

Multiple opinions are better than just one. Have multiple people interview the candidate and listen to their feedback. Some say three interviewers is ideal balance of getting multiple interviews but not using up to much of peoples time. But do not discuss candidates between interviews as this will again bring bias in to the results. And as a final point, be sure to be on time and be respectful. Remember you are interviewing them. But they are also interviewing you and deciding if they want the job. I have seen plenty of good  candidates not accept offers as they got a poor impression in the interview.

Use a candidate evaluation form
You can find examples simply by googling ‘sample interview evaluation form’. Different people like different formats so I am not going to try and force mine on you. Important is to use a certain structure and document the interview.
There are two important reasons to do this.
The first is obvious — as you go through multiple interviews it is hard to remember what was said. Capturing notes at the time makes sure you can go back later and see how each candidate performed. The other is a compliance issue. In the case that a candidate thinks they have unfairly been rejected then your notes will provide the evidence to show that it was a fair assessment of each candidate.

Personally I like to structure my evaluation sheet as follows:
1. List the must have and nice to have requirements for the role from the role analysis and job description. It keeps me on track. This is also what I will evaluate the candidate on during the interview. The example above uses more generic criteria.
Both work but be consistent.
2. List the questions put together following the job analysis that you plan to ask in the order you are going to ask them. This ensures you do not forget anything and you are consistent across candidates. All are asked the same questions in the same order and therefore can be properly evaluated against each other.
3. Have a rating guide to capture your evaluation of the candidate. You should rate their ability level for each criteria. For this I use a simple 1 to 5 rating and also allow halves. An important point here is to have a threshold that defines whether they have the necessary level for the job requirement. You need to assess whether or not they have the required skill level for a Must Have criteria. I personally set this at 3 or higher. As you go through the interview, ask the questions, document the answers and evaluation of the candidate. Take notes. I not like to give an overall rating for the candidate in the interview. I prefer to do this objectively through a ranking spreadsheet which we will discuss next.

Ranking and selecting the best candidate
Once the interviews for all candidates have been completed, we need to decide which of the candidates can best fulfil the requirements of the role and which one we will hire. In order to do this impartially and objectively, we should rank each candidate against each other and to do this, we use a scoring spreadsheet.

  • The spreadsheet is pretty
  • simple and I have a basic example above.
  • Along the top is a list of the

key requirements for the role. The Must Have skills and abilities. Apply a weighting for each of these requirements. For example, for a sales person you might decide that acquisition is very important so you give this a weighting of 5 but account management is less important so this gets a weighting of 3. Knowledge of a CRM would be a nice to have and so would get a weighting of 1. Really think about what is going to be critical for the person to be successful in the role and capture and weight these criteria accordingly. Not everything should be a 5! List each of the candidates and write in the score you gave for each Must Have and Nice to Have requirement. This score comes from your evaluation sheet.

Multiply the rating by the weighting to get a weighted score and add these together to get an overall weighted score for each candidate. The candidate with the highest score should be best suited to do the job. But there are a few caveats ...

There may be more than one candidate suitable and able to do the role but there will only be one that is best. They will have the top weighted score. Candidates should achieve the minimum level of skill for ALL the Must Have requirements. In the example above, candidate 1 achieves the top score (46) but they do not fulfil one on the Must Have criteria to the required level. On this basis, they cannot be chosen.

Another point to make is that each candidate will have a differing level of skill and experience. Just because one candidate is better than another at a specific skill does not mean that the candidate with less skill cannot do the job. In the example above both candidates 2 and 3 can do the job but they are good at different things. If you have your weighting done correctly though, this should not be an issue and you should still be able to identify the best candidate.

I always add on to this what the candidates are paid.The best for your job is the person that can fulfil all the Must Have criteria and has the highest weighted score. They may also be the highest paid person. However, more than one candidate may be able to fulfil the requirements of the role and be suitable but are paid less. You may decide price / performance is better than just the best. Just bear in mind that salary is an important factor as well.

Final Thoughts

All companies want to find and recruit the best employees. Unstructured interviews and subjective decision making are a very poor way to do this. Many companies – half of all companies in our survey -- don’t give their employees training on how to interview properly and then are surprised when the quality of staff is not what they expected, that they get poor performance reviews, that they fail to meet their objectives and miss on their KPIs and ultimately leave the company prematurely. Running structured interviews is a good way to select and hire the best employees. Hiring managers should take the time to correctly define the role, the requirements for that role, create the right questions to identify the required ability, knowledge and skills and then objectively score the candidates. Do this and you will see an immediate improvement in the quality of your new hires. If you would like further information or are interested in more extensive consulting around interviewing or recruitment in general, get in contact with Scalable Global Solutions at