In small to medium sized organisations, the interview may be the only selection tool used in recruitment. In larger organisations it may be one of several tools used to select suitable candidates for a job. Generally, work-related interviews are more highly organised than a regular conversation. In fact, they are often of a structured or semi-structured format. The goal of an interview is to work through a sequence of topics and questions to introduce the interviewee to the position and the organisation, and find out particular details about the interviewee. The interview might also serve to provide information about the future performance of a new recruit.
The type of information which may be sought from interviews can include:
- Personal data e.g. background, interests
- Qualifications and training
- Work history - past and present
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Personal and company goals
- Suitability for job roles
Of course, interviews may be conducted for specific purposes other than recruitment and the type of information sought will be directly related to that purpose.
Interviews are also a valuable way to assess interviewee attributes. Some of the attributes that may become apparent through an interview is the person’s verbal and interpersonal skills, the way they present themselves, their social skills, their level of motivation, and to some extent an impression of their intelligence.
It is, however, important to be aware that interviews do have their flaws, and may not be a true reflection of the resulting job performance. Problems may result from poor interviewing skills, subjective bias, inaccurate perceptual judgements, over influence on negative information, and effects from order of interviewees.
Interviews may be structured or unstructured according to the nature of the job, with each type having its strengths and weaknesses.
Unstructured interviews are more free-flowing than structured interviews. This means that interviewees have more control over the direction of interview since they can move from one area of discussion to the next. This greater flexibility allows the interviewer to assess how the interviewee organises their responses and can lead to greater exploration and increased rapport. Unstructured interviews are better suited for general information gathering, whereas structured interviews are more appropriate for specific information gathering.
Unstructured interviews use a lot of open questions which ask for more explanation and elaboration on the part of the interviewee. Examples of open questions are; "What are your main areas of interest?", "How did you feel about supervision?", "What do you see as being the key roles of a manager?" Unstructured interviews are useful in that they provide a great deal of in-depth information, but they make comparisons amongst interviewees difficult.
Unstructured interviews can also be quite time-consuming and the information gathered may be laborious to obtain, analyse, and interpret. The aim of unstructured interviews is to focus on personal views. This is normally done with three types of questions.
- Main questions – these are usually the most important, so there may be several.
- Probes - these are used when a participant says something interesting, but will not expand upon it. Probes would include; “Could you tell me more about that?”, or “That’s interesting, please tell me more.”
- Follow-up questions – these are questions arising from something the person brings up during the interview, so they may push the interview into a different area than anticipated. This may be useful. It may not. The interviewer must determine this and bring the interview back on track if necessary.
Unstructured interviews require practice and reflection. The interviewer may make use of other techniques to put the interviewee at ease, such as:
- Icebreakers – techniques used to make the interviewee more comfortable.
- Not agreeing or disagreeing - the interviewer should try to remain neutral and not express their own opinion or judgment of a particular issue or response of the interviewee.
- Encouragers – the interviewer should encourage the individual to talk freely and openly. The interviewer can do this by being friendly and relaxed, and by phrasing questions in a way that is encouraging to the interviewee, and which make them feel valuable and interesting.
The problem with unstructured interviews is that they do not have very good reliability or validity. Also the interviewer must be aware not to force their own point of view onto the participant. Not all job candidates or employees will get the most out of them, and not all interviewers will be able to interpret the information gained with ease or accuracy.
Controlled interviews are more usually prepared and these fall into two types:
Structured interview techniques exert more control over the direction of the interview. Structured interviews use closed questions which require a simple answer. Examples of closed questions are; "When did you complete that course?", "How many years did you work there?", "What did you do?", "How old were you?", or "Where were you?" Closed questions can be used to quickly and easily gather specific information.
Structured interviews are useful in that they provide a standard set of questions in a fixed order. Questions often also have a restricted number of answers e.g. yes/no, agree/disagree. They also allow replication and comparison between people because each interviewee answers the same questions. Structured interviews are also helpful for eliciting responses from interviewees who may be less talkative and who tend to perform better in a questions-and-answer type interview rather than one which encourages them to express themselves openly.
Structured interviews minimise problems of interpretation related to asking open-ended questions. As such, the material used in interviews follows the same structure which not only restricts the use of judgements made the interviewer but also allows for more valid comparisons of an individual's data with a broader population.
Semi-structured interviews combine open and closed questions. It may be useful to have an element of the interview which is less structured in order to build rapport and to discover more about unique aspects of a candidate's previous work history.
The structured component of interviews allows for specific goals to be set, and is a means of uniting the outcome of a job analysis with the interview content. The KSAs identified in the job analysis can explored through structured interview questions. Nevertheless, some capabilities cannot be measured in interviews and need to assessed using other means such as aptitude tests.