The Importance of The Structured Interview

Category: Human Resources
A man and a woman sit across the table from each other and the man shakes another woman, who is standing, hand.
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While most HR/recruitment professionals are well trained in interview practices, departmental hiring managers frequently are not. This factor can lead to unintentional hiring bias, which can ultimately result in departments taking on a very homogenous makeup. Given the existing industry landscape, that can be particularly damaging. According to a recent NY Times article citing a 2015 study from the Mellon Foundation, “Among museum curators, conservators, educators and leaders, the study found that only 4 percent are African-American, and 3 percent Hispanic.” While this situation is multi-faceted in its causes, reducing hiring bias can certainly help.

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There are a plethora of articles covering the concept of unconscious bias in interviewing. One way to actively reduce bias during the recruitment process is through the use of structured interviews. The structured interview simply means that questions are planned out in advance and that every candidate is asked the same set of questions, in the same order. The goal is to ascertain skills and competencies, rather than seeking commonalities with the candidates which often come about from non-structured interviews (“I see you’re originally from Colorado? Me too! Where about? Do you enjoy skiing?”). Now, this is not to say that a few icebreaker questions to put a candidate at ease and gauge their communication/social skills are taboo. But research shows that structured interview questions most accurately and fairly evaluate the actual skill set of a candidate and predict future job performance.*

The US Office of Personnel Management has a full guide to structured interviews with information on crafting interview questions, creating a rating scale to objectively and equitably evaluate candidate’s interview performance, and training others in the organization on this technique. It’s important that everyone in a department is aligned on the competencies and skills needed to successfully perform the job, as well as general agreement on what constitutes a strong, weak or average answer to each question.

Many hiring managers might, in fact, be relieved to have a “go to” list of questions to ask rather than feeling like they need to wing it. Others might give resistance if they are used to being more flexible and fluid with their interviews, so it’s important to help them understand the benefits in terms of validity, reliability and ultimately equity that come from this practice.

Please feel free to comment on your organization’s use of structured interviews or other steps you’ve put into place to reduce hiring bias!


Laurie Davis is the Talent Acquisitions Manager at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum & Foundation. A former higher education professional, career counselor, and Managing Director of Recruitment for Teach for America, Laurie is passionate about increasing diversity in underrepresented industries such as museums and cultural institutions.

* U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Guide to Structured Interviews, 2008. https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/structured-interviews/guide.pdf.

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