What is a Semi-Structured Interview?

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When you are job searching, you should be aware that you may encounter many different types of interviews as you go through the hiring process at different companies. One common type of interviewing technique is a semi-structured interview.

A semi-structured interview is a meeting in which the interviewer does not strictly follow a formalized list of questions. They will ask more open ended questions, allowing for a discussion with the interviewee rather than a straightforward question and answer format.

The interviewer may prepare a list of questions but does not necessarily ask them all, or touch on them in any particular order, using them instead to guide the conversation. In some cases, the interviewer will prepare only a list of general topics to be addressed, called an interview guide.  

Semi-Structured Interview Technique

The employer usually conducts an analysis of the requirements for the job and builds a profile of the ideal candidate. They will then develop questions and conversation starters to draw information from the interviewee about their qualifications. Depending on how the candidate answers, the interviewer may ask follow up questions to gain a more in-depth understanding.

For example, an employer hiring a senior public relations representative might identify the following characteristics as vital to success in that role within their organization:

  • Proven track record of media placements
  • Extensive set of media contacts at key outlets
  • Success in landing new clients
  • High level skills with writing press releases
  • Proficiency in developing content for online media
  • Evidence of orchestrating successful events
  • Strategic planning skills and strong supervisory skills

As a candidate, you would need to be prepared to expand on these themes, with anecdotes from your experiences that highlight these qualifications.

Open-Ended Interview Questions

A common practice in semi-structured interviews is to lead with open-ended questions and then spontaneously devise follow-up questions to draw out more specific evidence about the candidate's assets.  

An interviewer might lead with a general question like "What were the keys to your success as a PR representative for Jones and Company?" and then ask more specific questions based on the response of the candidate to assess strengths in key hiring criteria.

So, if you responded to the question above and mentioned landing new clients as a key to your success, the interviewer might ask "Can you describe the approach you used to land the major client you just mentioned?" to give you the opportunity to share some of the skills you use to engage clients.

By tailoring her questions to the specific interviewee, the interviewer facilitates a more fluid conversation.

Interviewee and Interviewer Communications

The semi-structured interview format encourages two-way communication; both the interviewer and the candidate can ask questions, which allows for a comprehensive discussion of pertinent topics. Because of the conversational tone, the candidate may feel more comfortable expanding on techniques and experiences that will highlight the traits that make them a good fit for the position.

Semi-structured interviewing is most effective when practiced by a well trained and experienced interviewer. Interviewers with less experience may have difficulty extracting all the necessary information to assess whether a candidate meets the full qualifications for the job without a set list of questions.

Novices using a semi-structured interview style should prepare a well planned interview guide to ensure that all the job requirements are addressed.

Preparing for a Semi-Structured Interview

While you may not know for certain what the structure of your interview will be, if you are thoroughly prepared, you should be well equipped to handle any questions the interviewer may have for you. Your interview is your chance to sell yourself for the job, so make sure you make a good impression.

  • Review the required and recommended skills in the job posting, and think of examples of when you used have used these skills successfully
  • Research the company; knowing what they do, how they do it, and any innovation that sets them apart from their competitors is excellent material to bring into the conversation during the interview
  • Review common interview questions that you might be asked, and think about any follow up questions your answers might trigger
  • Have questions for the interviewer that relate to the company and the position, and which open the door to discussing how you would be an asset there
  • Practice with a friend or mentor- they can ask questions you might not expect, giving you the chance to think on your feet and get comfortable engaging the interviewer
  • Dress appropriately for the position
  • Follow up after the interview with a thank you email to reiterate your interest in the position, and to clarify or add to any information that came up during your conversation

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