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The Hiring Manager’s Guide to Interviews, Part One

Interviews are the major milestones of your hiring process. As you create a hiring process that works for your business, you’ll need to decide on the right formats and questions that will help you make the right hires.

Interviewing is a wide, deep topic, so I’m going to break this up into three posts. In this post, I’ll cover different formats and the types of job interviews. In future posts, we’ll talk more about common interview questions, evaluating answers, and best practices. 

Interview Formats

There are three broad ways to approach the interview process: structured, unstructured, and a little bit of both (hybrid). 

Structured Interviews

What: When you lead structured interviews, you come prepared with a fixed set of questions that you ask the candidate and you do not deviate. Ask a question without follow-up or filler and ask the same questions, in the same order, of each candidate. 

Why: This (admittedly rigid) approach allows you to assess all candidates equally based on the same criteria. It mitigates against common hiring biases and gives inexperienced hiring managers a playbook to follow with a specific list of questions. 

Why Not: This approach may limit you from learning everything about a candidate when you’re not asking custom or follow-up questions. 

Unstructured Interviews

What: Leading an unstructured interview is like having a conversation with a candidate. There is no formal interview guide. Rather, you tailor your questions to the individual and let their answers and the natural back-and-forth lead you. 

Why: This approach allows good interviewers to follow their curiosities the organic beats of the conversation freely. You might learn essential information about a candidate that would not have come up in a structured interview.

Why Not: In unstructured interviews, it can be easy to get lost in the conversation and veer away from the core criteria you’re evaluating for the open position. This approach also leaves the interview wide open for unintended bias (or the potential to ask illegal questions. Check out our hiring compliance post for some basics here.) 

Hybrid Interviews

What: A hybrid interview is a mix between a structured and an unstructured interview. The definition could be broad. Here’s how I implement hybrid interviews in our hiring at CareerPlug:

  • A structured interview scorecard with permission to deviate
  • The option to ask follow-up questions or new, unique questions if relevant
  • In general, you ask the same primary questions to each candidate. 

Why: This is a way to take a structured approach to hiring with the flexibility to dive deeper or customize when appropriate. Since you’re always returning to the main structure, you’re less likely to miss evaluating the core criteria. 

Why Not: You risk being too wishy-washy here and having hiring managers not understand when it’s okay to deviate and when they should stay on course. For first-time interviewers, I recommend starting with a completely structured format. 

Interview Types

Once you decide on your general format, there are a handful of different interview types you can apply to your hiring process. 

Phone Interview or Phone Screen

What: A short, 15-30 minute tele-interview.

Why: Understand basic job requirements and job preferences before either candidate or hiring manager commits to moving on further.

Why Not: Your hiring process may require only one interview — and in this case, we recommend vetting face-to-face.

A Success Story from CareerPlug: We have found enormous value in conducting phone screens as the first step in our hiring process. They help us determine very early on who may not be a good fit. We have also found that placing the phone screen upfront, as opposed to an assessment, helped us curb our applicant drop-off rate. Now we let applicants know an assessment will be coming after the phone screen when we’re both (hiring manager and candidate) invested in moving forward in the process. 

Face-to-Face Interview 

What: An in-person or video interview that will vary by length and format.

Why: Dive deeper into past experience, job skills, and potential to succeed in the role in a face-to-face conversation.

Why Not: There’s no reason not to conduct a face-to-face interview. We recommend always having one, even if it means a video chat if you can’t be in the same location, before making a hiring decision.

Panel Interview

What: A group of interviewers and one interviewee.

Why: Allow multiple people to meet and interview a candidate at once instead of doing individual meetings. This can help prevent candidates from answering repeat questions and allow interviewers to collectively learn from the questions and answers during the interview.

Why Not: A large panel may be overwhelming for a candidate. Also, interviewers may not have enough time to ask all their questions in a group setting. 


What: A group of candidates interviews together.

Why: This technique is used mainly for high-volume positions where there is a large applicant pool or a large number of positions that need to be filled.

Why Not: It can be difficult to evaluate individual candidates fully in a group setting. 

Out of Office 

What: A coffee meetup or lunch/dinner interview that is usually more informal. This typically occurs at the start of the hiring process (discovery phase) or later in the process after more structured interviews have been completed.

Why: Meeting outside of the office with candidates is a good way to have an unstructured interview and mutually learn about one another.

Why Not: You could fall into the same pitfalls of unstructured interviews and miss out on evaluating core criteria for the role. 

Take Action

  • Decide on your approach: structured, unstructured, or hybrid. We recommend a structured or hybrid approach. Until you find your rhythm, lean towards structured. 
  • Decide on the right types in your hiring process. Do you need a phone screen? Would a group interview help you deal with your high applicant volume? Keep both the hiring manager and candidate experience in mind.

For the next installment in this series, check out The Hiring Manager’s Guide to Interviews, Part 2.

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