Having considered the various ways you can ask questions, it is now time to look at the different interview styles. If you have ever been interviewed yourself, you will know that they vary considerably in the way they are conducted. Some seem more like informal chats than interviews, whilst others are very formal and sombre. Interviews can be friendly, or they can deliberately create stress. So when is each interview style appropriate, and which is best for you?

Unstructured or Informal Interviews

It is common in small organisations to adopt an unstructured interview process. Particularly if you are interviewing alone, it might seem sensible to allow the interview just to ‘flow’, and you might feel tempted to ask questions as they occur to you. You probably trust yourself to cover the ground with each candidate, and you might feel that you are more likely to ‘get to know’ a candidate in a less formal interview situation.

However accustomed you are to thinking on your feet, be careful. There are lots of pitfalls associated with unstructured interviews:

  1. They are hard to control, and to keep to a specific time limit.
  2. You are likely to miss out an important question to ask of every candidate.
  3. You may feel instinctively drawn to a particular candidate without having the factual evidence to support your choice.
  4. You may come away from the interviews without feeling able to appoint any candidate.
  5. You are more likely to have long periods of silence in your interviews while you consider what questions to ask.

Nevertheless, an informal interview can work well in certain situations. For example, you may feel that the informal interview might be the best forum to bring a particularly nervous candidate out of his shell. Is he an inherently nervous candidate, or is he just nervous at interview? If you can relax him with an informal interview, then he may be worth considering. You might have rejected him at a formal or structured interview without establishing the cause of his nerves.

Another good use of the informal interview is to reduce a shortlist. If you have twenty or more good candidates, you could give each of them a 30 minute informal interview in order to reduce the shortlist to the 6-8 for a more formal, structured interview.

Formal or Structured Interviews

A structured interview style ensures that you treat all candidates in the same way, and that you ask roughly the same questions, in the same order. A typical interview structure might look as follows:

  • Welcome – Introduce the interviewers to the candidate. Break the ice with a little small talk. Invite the candidate to sit down.
  • Interview outline – Discuss briefly the structure of the interview with the candidate. How long will the interview be? Will there be any tests to complete? Will the candidate be given the opportunity to ask questions at the end?
  • Question exchange – Ask the questions that relate to this candidate’s match against the person specification. Start with a few ‘open’ questions that will get the candidate talking. Ask also some of the challenging questions that you plan to ask every candidate.
  • Information – Give the candidate the chance to ask questions that he or she may have. Is there anything else they need to know about either the job or the organisation? This is a good opportunity to establish whether the candidate has done any research about your organisation. Are they asking questions about topics that are freely covered on your website, for example?
  • Close – Discuss briefly the next stage. If invited for further interview, when is this likely to be? When do you plan to make a decision about the appointment?

A formal interview is likely to use a list of pre-planned questions that will be asked of every candidate. Some argue that there is less room for spontaneity and creativity in a formal interview, but they do make sure that you treat every candidate equally, and have an objective means of comparing candidates with one another.

Interview Roles

If you are interviewing on your own, you need to be well planned and keep a checklist of all the questions you want to ask, and the points you want to raise, with each candidate. You alone will determine how formal the interview will be, and the style that you plan to adopt.

If there is a colleague, or group of colleagues, who can take part in the interviewing and selection process then so much the better. With two or more interviewers, each of you can take a different specific role during the interview. There are two common interview roles that you might want to adopt:

Good Cop

The good cop is the ‘nice guy’. He or she is the person who takes responsibility for greeting the candidate, putting them at their ease, and asking the gentle, easier questions. The good cop will ask about the candidate’s journey, and during the interview will pick up on the positive aspects of their application.

Bad Cop

The bad cop’s role is to act as a contrast to the good cop. Their role is to identify the gaps in the candidate’s CVs, and ask the more difficult, challenging questions. They often create pressure and stress during the interview, to see how well the candidate handles it. If a candidate struggles to answer a question, the good cop will come to their rescue and phrase the question in a less demanding way. The bad cop won’t. They will enjoy the silence and wait for the candidate to come up with their answer. The bad cop is rarely a nasty person, they are simply performing an important interview role. If a job is full of pressure and stress, you need to be certain that your preferred candidate can handle it. The bad cop can help you to find out if they can.

The candidates themselves are often unaware of the role playing that is going on. An interviewee might emerge from the interview saying that he got on well with one of the interviewers, but that the other one obviously didn’t like him. This may or may not be true, but is a classic example of how a candidate perceives the good cop bad cop dynamic.

Interview style: Checklist

  • Will you conduct formal or informal interviews?
  • Have you considered the various roles that each interviewer could play?
  • Which role are you playing?