Structured Interview Questions Facilitate Comparison, Ratings Capability

By Janet Santa Anna, CSP

Many hiring managers complain, “Good people are hard to find.” Could it be that they don’t know how to properly assess the most successful employees? According to many experts, this is the case.  Experts believe that hiring mistakes occur frequently because of improper, incomplete or inefficient interviewing. In fact, for many hiring managers, the process of interviewing and selecting an employee can seem like a hit-or-miss proposition.

If you’re considering hiring new employees in today’s competitive employment environment, ask yourself, is it time to restructure your interview model to ensure the best hire every time? To begin to change, you must give into the notion that employees are among your greatest assets. Then respect the process as you would any other important process in your organization. There is no question that interviewing is one of the most important aspects of every manager’s job. The benefits of a more effective interview will help reduce recruitment costs, lower turnover and discrimination lawsuits, increase productivity and help corporations achieve their goals.

There are two broad types of interviews to consider: unstructured and structured. Unstructured interviews, the more common of the two, are characterized by a somewhat informal, conversational style. Questions are generally not specified in advance. A formalized scoring guide is not usually utilized. The major drawback of this technique is the lack of direct comparisons among applicants since not all applicants are asked the same questions and a rating system is not used to assess applicant fit.

Alternatively, structured interviews are much more formalized. They are characterized by a series of behavioral, job-related or psychological questions developed from a study of valid job criteria. An applicant’s answer to these questions is graded in a formal fashion and the scores are compared at the end of the process.

Structured Interview Question and Rating Example:

Describe a situation when you had to make a controversial decision independently. What was the decision?  Why was it controversial? What process did you use to come to your decision? What were the results?

Rating: Poor ____ Below Average ____ Average ____ Good ____ Excellent ____


Behavioral or Situational questions are designed to elicit how a candidate would handle a certain type of situation and how they would utilize skills needed on the job. For example, the candidate might be asked about how they handled a similar situation in the past or a hypothetical situation that could occur in the future.

Each question is anchored with a superior response and a poor response, which are used to facilitate scoring. Base your anchors on your job analysis. Identify those things that you would expect to hear from the best candidate when describing how they would handle the situation to anchor a superior response, the basics of an average response and what elements would be missing in a poor response.

The interview process begins after you have attracted the most qualified pool of candidates for consideration to join your team. There are many ways to gather 10 to 20 quality candidates. You could advertise/post the position on the Internet job boards, seek out employee referrals, use networking or work with a staffing services firm to streamline the process. If you choose to do your own recruiting, you must be creative to attract the best applicants. Therefore, organize the details and goals of each position. Write out the skills and abilities that will be required to be successful in the position. This is imperative to ensure you will attract the best people.

In fact, it is most helpful to create the structured interview before beginning the recruitment and initial screening process.

Structured Interview Guide:

Step 1: Decide before the interview process what is required in the job as well as factors that will make the person successful.  Write a job description based on what a candidate needs to be successful.  Create questions that evaluate both the performance and personality traits of the applicant that relate to the job requirements.

  • What are the major responsibilities and objectives, which the person will be expected to meet this year? Why are they critical?
  • What particular kinds of experience are absolutely necessary for effective performance on the job?
  • List any critical personality qualities needed for success in the job.
  • List any specific skills, education requirements, job experience, salary guidelines, personal characteristics, physical requirements, environmental concerns, the degree of judgement required in the scope of responsibilities, and the degree of independent action required to be successful.
  • Familiarize yourself with legal guidelines about employment interviewing.


Step 2: Create a structured interview for each position you are seeking to fill.

  • Use the results of Step 1 to customize the questions for each job,
  • Create a rating system evaluate each applicant’s response to every question.
  • Be sure to ask all applicants the same questions.


Step 3: Control your emotions.

  • Do not make any hiring decisions in the first 20 minutes.
  • Probe for information about past performance and personality traits that are verifiable.
  • Base hiring decisions on a consistent set of criteria for each candidate.


Don’t get caught up in the biggest mistake most managers make – selecting a candidate because you like their personality and looks. Personality alone will not make a new hire successful. Past performance is one of the best indicators of future performance. You must evaluate skills and abilities first and subsequently decide if he/she has the right personality traits to fit in your organization.

The following five primary concepts have proven to ensure more successful hires:

  • The “structured interview” has been proven to be more effective than an “unstructured interview” in allowing hiring managers to assess the best candidate for the job.
  • Past performance is one of the best indicators of future performance.
  • Hiring managers must fairly assess the performance traits of a candidate first, and then, subsequently evaluate the personality traits of all candidates to ensure they select successful hires.
  • All hiring decisions must be based on job related criteria and not solely on first impressions.

Remember, the most effective interview process must include a thorough job description with emphasis on the skills and abilities required to deliver measurable goals, a structured interview guide and an evaluation tool.

Using the structured interview approach to evaluate candidates allows the hiring manager to make a well informed and fair decision, maximizing the opportunity for success.

Janet Santa Anna ( is the co-founder, owner and president/CEO of The Resource Connection, Inc., a certified women-owned staffing services firm providing temporary help, temp-to-hire, direct hire and payroll services, with offices in Middleton and Boston, Massachusetts. Her company specializes in administrative and office support personnel. Founded in 1987, TRC is celebrating 30 years of service.  Ms. Santa Anna is a certified staffing professional (CSP) and holds a Master of Management degree in organizational development.  Her Master’s thesis was a study of the employment interview.