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  • Writer's pictureBen Kettle

Now What? Getting Started with Structured Interviews

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

or, The One Thing - Part 2 💚

Hey everyone, welcome to part two of a three-part series on structured interviews. Last week we talked about the “Why” and “What,” this week, we’re talking about the “How.”

Also, did you notice the banner?! My very talented friend Sarah did it, and I couldn’t be happier. Thank you, Sarah!

Now What? Getting Started with Structured Interviews

I hope last week’s post motivated you¹ to start using structured interviews in your organization.

You’re going to need that motivation. Why? Well, conceptually, using structured interviews is relatively simple. But you know what? It’s conceptually easy to lose weight too. Both activities require lots of discipline. The great news is that implementing a structured interview process has a near-guaranteed payoff - your commitment will be rewarded.

So let’s get started. In this post, I’ll discuss the steps for setting up a structured interviewing process, provide you with a real-life example, and go over a few key insights that will help along the way.

Three Steps to Structured Interviews

How to do structured interviews
Trying my hand at GIFS.....


First, you and your team determine the 3-4 characteristics you will evaluate, then you agree on how you will score them in a rubric.

In my experience, this step runs the risk of being the most revealing and contentious. Without fail, someone (maybe even you) will advocate for a vague trait or indicator that needs to be challenged. Examples include: “experience,” “professionalism,” and “friendliness.” The key is to figure out the specifics of what you’re going after. The scoring rubric can be a huge help when zeroing in on a trait. For example, how do you score “friendliness” in an interview setting? Pretty tough to do, right?


Next, everyone on the team agrees to follow the structured interviewing plan.

If the people on the hiring committee have bought into using structured interviews and feel like they’ve had input in the Align phase, this step is surprisingly easy.

Another trick to increasing discipline is to make collecting feedback as easy as possible. In the past, I’ve made a google form and attached it to the calendar invite. That way, the interviewer can quickly remember the questions and criteria, then immediately score afterward.


Change is part of this process. Dropping traits that are poor indicators of candidate success and adding new ones as you talk to more candidates is important to your long-term hiring success.

After the first few interviews, it will be apparent that some traits are helpful and some are not. Go ahead, change them; you and your next hire will be better for it!

Another thing to keep in mind is that different companies will likely have different values and use alternative traits for the same role. That’s a feature, not a bug. Knowing what makes someone successful at your organization is the point.


That Real Life Example I Mentioned

I’ve hired many salespeople for startups, and one thing that contributes to them being successful is the ability to hold themselves accountable and self-coach.

So, to evaluate this trait, I ask, “What’s something that you wanted to improve, personally or professionally? Can you walk me through your process and tell me whether or not you were successful and why?”

When the candidates start talking, I listen for the following:

  • They sought outside expertise.

  • They sought out or created a community to hold them accountable.

  • They collected and used data.

  • They were able to separate their outcomes from the process.

Many times I have had to ask clarifying questions back to the candidate. That is, technically anyway, not a structured interview. But it’s more unfair to expect the candidate to guess what I’m looking for. After all, many people take their own problem-solving approaches for granted.

After we’ve had a conversation, I score the candidate’s response. As you can imagine, I received a wide range of scores for this question, but that’s OK. Each item is worth one point so that a candidate could score anywhere between 0-4. Yes, there’s a wide variance, but that variance is crucial to determine each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

One of the most surprising things about this question, in particular, is that answers are independent of a candidate’s background. Many times candidates who appear strong on paper can’t answer this question. Conversely, I have had candidates with less experience and weaker resumes nail it. That’s part of the magic of structured interviews - they force you and your organization to evaluate candidates on merit rather than the preconception of superiority.


Some Other Things to Think About

  • Obtaining team alignment is tricky. I get that. If you want to get started with structured interviews, use them yourself before advocating for your team to adopt them. The upside is that you will be much more data-driven and thoughtful when you start advocating structured interviews more broadly, plus you’ll develop your own discipline.

  • Don’t be afraid of uncovering your own biases. It’s not uncommon to be easily persuaded by someone who looks and acts like you; it’s human nature. Understand that you might uncover some uncomfortable truths concerning how you see people once you set up your process. That’s OK as long as you compensate for them. A win isn’t protecting your ego. A win is determining who is best for your organization.

  • This one might be tough to swallow, but here’s the deal, you have enough friends. It’s OK to like someone personally and think that they are a poor fit for the job. You’re trying to hire people who will be successful, not make new friends. Trust me; you’ll find yourself making lots of notes like, “Really nice, pleasant person, seems great personally, but just doesn’t have the traits we need.” Again, this is cool and to be expected.

If you’re currently hiring and have further questions about using structured interviews, please reach out to me. I’m happy to help.

Alright, thanks for reading! As always, please subscribe if you haven’t already and, please share with someone who is currently hiring.

Next week I’ll be posting my monthly round-up of Good To Know. I’ll be back in August with Part 3 of Structured Interviews, where I’ll discuss the common objections to structured interviews and how to handle them.

See you next week, and don’t forget to share or subscribe!


1 If you’re not sold, please go back and give it another read. And if you’re still not sold, send me an email and tell me why.

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