Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Structured Interviews: What They Are; Why You Should Use Them

Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee (MFC) interviews should be structured to increase the likelihood of accuracy and fairness. However, when I've made this recommendation, I've received some rather strong reactions that appear to be based on differing understandings of what is meant by "structured" interviews.

Interviews may be structured in many ways. Here's a way to do so for professional positions that increases the likelihood of fairness and accuracy while giving interviewers latitude to improvise and to inquire in depth.

The consistent questions (i.e., those asked of all candidates who are expected to possess a competency) in a structured interview tend to be broad and serve as jumping off points for more detailed, individualized questions. For example, a broad question might be the following: "What has been a significant challenge in your anti-oppression work and how did you overcome it?"

We can imagine that answers to this question will vary greatly depending upon the social location and life experience of the interviewee. Follow-up questions, tailored to the interviewee's response, might be one or more of the following:

  • Were there other consequences to your actions?
  • After your this initial success (failure), were other actions undertaken at a later date?
  • What role did collaboration play in your success?
  • What, if any, networking and research did you do before acting?

Contrasting this strategy for structuring interviews with other types of examining may help put it more in focus. Interviews structured in this way are not:

  • Standardized tests.
  • Foolishly consistent.

Structured Interviews vs. Standardized Tests
Someone expressed the concern that structured interviews were standardized tests and would be subject to cultural bias. As noted below, while some authorities equate "structured interviews" with "standardized interviews," that's not how I'm using the terms here. Furthermore, when most of us thing of standardized tests, we think of multiple choice tests.

Standardized testing risks cultural bias in both questions and the answers. The risk is often greater in the answers than the questions because in many forms of standardized testing, such as multiple choice tests, there is only one right answer.

No form of examining based on content validity (i.e., the test is designed to see whether candidates have the knowledge required for the position) is immune from the risk of cultural bias. However, there is less risk with structured interviewing than with multiple choice tests because in the former interviewers can ask follow-up questions designed to more thoroughly elicit the candidate's competencies and because there is no single right answer to a structured interview question.

Structured Interviews vs. Standardized Interviews
Another interlocutor was concerned that a structured interview would tie the hands of the interviewers. This concern is quite understandable because some authorities use "standardized interviews" and "structured interviews" synonymously.

For some kinds of research, standardized interviews in which all the interviewees are asked the same questions in the same sequence is a strategy for increasing validity and reliability. It also permits the use of interviewers with minimal training.

This strategy is not likely to be effective in interviewing for professional positions. In such interviews, you do not wish to assure accuracy and reliability in a manner that does not permit you to draw upon the experience and expertise of your interview panel.

A structured interview is a wonderful midpoint between free-form interviewing and standardized interviewing. It provides a degree of consistency while allowing the interview panel to delve more deeply in to the qualifications of the interviewees.

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