Structured Interview Details

In a structured interview, the interviewer asks the interviewees the same questions in a fixed order. As every interviewee answers the same questions, it is relatively easy to objectively compare the answers. Structured interviews require carefully formed questions and ordering.

Interviewers use structured interviews frequently in opinion surveys and market research. They are less commonly used in job interviews but do have their defenders in this field. People who support their use in job interviews point out that, as the interviewer asks each candidate the same question, it is easy to compare the answers and choose the best person for the position. A structured interview is less open to charges of favoritism.

Real World Example of a Structured Interview

Before the US presidential election in 1936, the Literary Digest conducted a simple structured interview of some 2.4 million readers on its mailing list. The magazine had had a good record regarding presidential elections, having predicted the outcome of each one held since 1916.

In 1936, the incumbent president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was being challenged by Alfred Landon, the Republican candidate. The Literary Digest conducted its poll and announced that Landon would win with 57% of the vote against Roosevelt's 43%. The actual result was 62% for Roosevelt and just 38% for Landon.

So, why did the Literary Review get the wrong result? The problem was not with the structure of its simple interview. The question was simply about voting intention, and there was no reason to believe that respondents had deliberately misled the magazine. The problem lay with the readership. The magazine had a large circulation, but its readers did not represent a fair sample of the voting public. Readers of the Literary Digest tended to be well off and least affected by the economic recession. They were, therefore, more likely to vote Republican than the nine million unemployed who were not likely to subscribe to the Literary Review.

Types of Structured Interviews

A structured interview can be complex or reduced to a single question. Whatever the length of the interview and whatever its type, there are two things you have to take into account. First, are the questions well-designed, and second, who are you interviewing?

There are three types of structured interviews:

  • Face-to-face: This type of interview is more personal. It is easier to establish a relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee. However, if the intention is to conduct a strictly structured interview, face-to-face interviews are prone to move away from the program as the interviewer may ask for explanations and more detail.
  • Telephone or Video: The problem with holding these types of interviews is that it can be difficult to get people to answer questions over a phone or video link. Interviewees, to a large extent, tend to be self-selecting.
  • Surveys: Like telephone interviews, surveys can be limited to people who are willing to take part and so may not be representative.

Any structured interview of any kind must carefully consider the import of the responses it receives.