Structured vs Unstructured Interviews

Which one wins?

The goal of an interview is to evaluate candidates based on their skills, personality, and knowledge. You want to choose the BEST candidate from your candidate pool, so the interview is something you can’t mess up. As you begin planning your interview process, one of the major decisions you’ll face is whether the interview should be a structured vs unstructured interview. So let’s take a dive into the differences and sort out which circumstances warrant which interview process.

Structured vs Unstructured Interviews

Unstructured Interviews

“a free flowing exchange of information that relies on a loose interview process”


  • Can dive deeper in conversation
  • Can improvise and make questions more relevant
  • Candidate may feel more comfortable
  • Adapt better when topics change


  • Easy to go off topic/not gather the important information
  • Hard to objectively compare candidates
  • Requires the interviewer to be skilled
  • Have little validity and poor predictive accuracy

Structured Interviews

“relies on standardized and premeditated questions and interviewing processes”


  • Interviewing multiple candidates goes by faster.
  • Can compare candidates easier
  • Reduces unconscious biases
  • You are prepared beforehand.


  • Requires A LOT of planning and testing
  • Lessens opportunities to dive deep
  • Limited flexibility in questions
  • Can be intimidating for candidates being interviewed

Why do structured interviews ALWAYS win?

I could go into a long, more-in depth spiel on the structured vs unstructured interviews debate. However, I am going to cut to the chase and say

structured interviews always win.

As with anything, both processes have their own advantages and disadvantages. But when you put structured interviews against unstructured interviews, again

structured interviews always win.

Based on research, here’s why.

  • Structured interviews are twice as effective as unstructured interviews in predicting performance.
  • A recent case review states that only 13% of structured interviews were found discriminatory. Meanwhile half of unstructured interviews were discriminatory.
  • Unstructured interviews are significantly more susceptible to bias than structured interviews.
  • Systematically comparing candidates – which is a feature of structured interviews – helps steer interviewers away from stereotypes and bias, while also creating a baseline to compare candidates.

Why Would Someone Choose an Unstructured Interview?

Now my whole structured interviews always win rant wasn’t meant to discredit the usefulness of unstructured interviews. In fact, unstructured interviews can be beneficial in special circumstances, especially when evaluating knowledge, personality and behavior.

You are hiring for culture fit.

If your main priority is hiring for culture fit, then you will likely have less emphasis on experience and a bigger focus on knowledge and personality. In this case, you’ll want to use an interview process that allows you to scratch the surface of their skills and knowledge, while also diving deep in evaluating their personality. Because unstructured interviews create a more relaxed environment, you can improvise questions and change the direction of the interview at any moment. This will help give you insight on how well the candidate converses, adapts, and responds on the spot.

You already know the applicant is qualified enough.

Similar to hiring for culture fit, unstructured interviews are also good if you have little interest in evaluating skills, experience, and talent. This may come when you are deep in the hiring process – second or third round of interviews. At that point, you have decided that all of the remaining candidates are equally skilled enough to be successful. However, a major indicator of success stems from soft skills.

While you can evaluate soft skills during structured interviews, your evaluation will be more shallow than if you evaluated using an unstructured interview. This is mostly due to the fact that unstructured interviews provide more flexibility. Instead of asking question after question, you can engage in conversation and really pick the candidate’s mind.

You want to develop your own talent.

Last but not least, if you want to develop your own talent in-house, then unstructured interviews are a useful method. Again, in a situation like this, you are less focused on skills, experience, and qualifications. Instead you want to evaluate the candidate’s willingness to learn, evolve, grow, and be put in uncomfortable situations. Of course you can ask standardized situational interview questions, but you also have the flexibility to role play situations. That way, you can get an idea of how the candidate will act and perform during their developmental years.

Structured vs Unstructured Interviews: Which Should I Choose?

Semi-structured interview process is what you get if you combine a structured and unstructured process.

At the end of the day, structured interviews are always the best and most efficient method for interviewing and hiring. There are only certain circumstances where unstructured interviews are beneficial. Even in those situations, it can be costly to use solely an unstructured interview process. This is due to the fact that comparing candidates can be difficult and unconscious biases do exist. If you are hiring with a diverse team, then maybe you can mitigate the risk of bias and lean on unstructured interviews. However, if it is a one- or two-man show and you need the benefits of an unstructured interview process, then maybe you should combine structured and unstructured to get a semi-structured process.

Standardized Interview Questions for Structured and Semi-Structured Interviews

General QuestionsTell me about yourself.
What are your strengths/weaknesses?
What is your greatest professional achievement?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What do you know about our company?
Behavioral QuestionsTell me about a time you failed.
Tell me about a time when a situation was not going as planned.
How do you handle disagreements? How does it affect your relationships with your colleagues?
Have you had to learn on the job before? Tell me about it.
How do you handle jobs that are characterized by routine tasks?
Knowledge and Skill EvaluationHow did your education/certification prepare you for this job?
How would you rate your key competencies for this job?
What are your IT strengths and weaknesses?
What is your experience with using… (insert coding language, software, etc.)?
What is some of the latest news you’ve seen in the industry?

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