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Personnel

Review Employee selection: a


28,1/2 question of structure
Jean M. Barclay
134 Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK
Received October 1996
Keywords Employee selection, Interviews, Selection, United Kingdom
Revised/Accepted
October 1997 Abstract The first part of a larger study into organisations’ use of structured interviewing
techniques. Discusses reasons for continued popularity of interviewing in selection, despite its
shortcomings. Considers the use of two structured interviewing techniques to improve selection:
behavioural and situational questioning. Presents the findings of a large scale survey of UK
organisations’ use of these techniques. The use of structured interviewing is rapidly increasing and
is used by all sizes of organisation. Behavioural interviewing is being used more than situational
interviewing, and many respondents use both techniques. Structured techniques are most
commonly used for management posts. Discusses links with competency based HRM and roles of
line managers and HR specialists in selection. Areas for further research are outlined.

Introduction
Interviewing is still the most commonly used method of selection in
employment, in spite of the fact that many studies have shown it to be a very
flawed technique. Given the preference of managers and human resource
practitioners for interviewing, structured interviewing techniques have been
suggested as a means of improving validity. Much of the research into these
interviewing techniques is experimental in nature, and the aim of the present
study was to identify and explore the use of two particular structured
interviewing techniques by various organisations in the UK. This is seen as the
first stage of a larger study. The next stage will provide more detailed analysis
of how the techniques are introduced and applied, together with benefits and
problems in practice. This study relates specifically to selection interviewing
although it may also have relevance to other interviewing situations such as
discipline, grievance, appraisal and exit interviewing. It is also likely to be
relevant to other situations where interviewing techniques are important as a
means of inquiry, such as research, criminal investigation and social work.

Background
Many studies have demonstrated the weaknesses of interviewing in staff
selection (Hunter and Hunter, 1984; Reilly and Chao, 1982). The common
deficiencies in interviewer decision making have been summarised by
Anderson (1992) and by Taylor and O’Driscoll, (1995). These include, for
example: stereotyping of candidates; primacy effects; similarity effects; and
negative information weighting bias.
Personnel Review,
Vol. 28 No. 1/2, 1999, pp. 134-151,
Owing to its many limitations the traditional, unstructured interview has
© MCB University Press, 0048-3486 been found to have poor predictive accuracy, and various alternative selection
methods have better predictive validity than interviews, such as psychometric A question of
tests and assessment centres (Anderson and Shackleton,1993). structure
Popularity of interviewing
Despite the evidence over many years discrediting the interview as an effective
selection technique, studies also show that it is still the most popular selection
technique in use in Britain, in both the public and private sectors: (Robertson 135
and Makin, 1986; Shackleton and Newell, 1991; Williams, 1992).
Several reasons have been suggested to explain this apparent paradox
(Arvey and Campion, 1982; Kumra and Beech, 1994):
• It seems that some human resource managers are unaware of the
research evidence discrediting the interview (Kumra and Beech, 1994).
• While some human resource managers are aware of the interview’s
shortcomings, they nevertheless believe it to be effective in their own
experience (Kumra and Beech, 1994). Interviewers maintain great faith
and confidence in their own judgements and create an “illusion of
validity” (Einhorn and Hogarth, 1978).
• The interview is “really” valid to the extent that it can be a useful
technique for assessing certain interpersonal skills which are manifested
in the interview, such as sociability and verbal fluency.
• Another perspective suggests that psychologists overemphasise the
importance of “assessment” in the selection procedure (Herriot, 1987,
1989). Even if the interview has poor predictive validity, it serves other
purposes well, such as “selling” the job, negotiating the contract,
answering candidates’ questions, and providing a public relations
function for the organisation (Herriot, 1987; Kumra and Beech, 1994).
Related to this is the impact that the selection process can have on candidates,
on the candidate’s image of the organisation and thus also on the likely
acceptance of a job offer. Interviewers can influence applicants’ job choices by
increasing the perceived attractiveness of the job, not just by indicating
obvious factors such as salary, but also through more indirect “signalling”
(Rynes, 1989). Interviewers are viewed as “typical” of the company
employees, and candidates pick up cues from them about friendliness,
competence and formality. Practitioners therefore need to be aware of the dual
purposes of applicant attraction and selection in interviewing (Eder, 1989;
Townley, 1991):
• Interviewing is also a popular choice for practical reasons. The use of
“more sophisticated” selection methods such as tests tends to be limited
to those jobs with a large number of incumbents, where the costs of
developing and evaluating the technique can be justified.
• Williams’ study of local authorities also identified the main reason why
interviews were used simply as “tradition” (Williams, 1992).
Personnel Interviewing therefore seems to enjoy continued popularity because it is a
Review flexible, personal, two way process which is often used for social processes
28,1/2 which go beyond mere selection information gathering, and in addition it is
“expected”. There is clearly an attachment to interviewing as a selection
method and the evidence is that this will continue.

136 Structured interviews


Many studies have assessed the validity of different types of interview. Several
meta-analyses of these studies have shown that structured interviews have
more predictive validity than unstructured interviews (Huffcutt and Arthur,
1994; McDaniel et al., 1994; Wiesner and Cronshaw, 1988; Wright et al., 1989).
There are several ways in which interviews can be structured. This may include
using job analysis to make questions relevant to the job, asking the same
questions of all candidates as well as using systematic scoring procedures. A
particular issue which has received attention is question type, with two specific
questioning techniques producing different types of structured interview:
(1) The situational interview focuses on future oriented questions and asks
candidates about their anticipated behaviour in hypothetical situations:
(“what would you do if…?”). Responses to each question are then
compared with a set of predetermined “standards” to produce a score for
each answer. Situational interviews are based on the premiss that a
person’s stated intentions are related to subsequent actual behaviour.
Several aspects of this approach contribute to its usefulness: the
situation descriptions are developed in relation to the situations likely to
be encountered in the actual job; each candidate is presented with the
same list of situations to respond to; no probing or digression from the
list of situations is permitted; the standards for scoring and evaluating
responses are developed by analysing the responses of actual good and
average performing job incumbents.
(2) The behavioural interview focuses on past oriented questions and asks
about past behaviour in actual situations: (“Give me an example where
you have…”).
Here, responses to each question area (competency) are evaluated in
relation to those expected. Behavioural interviews are based on the
principle that “the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour”
(Green and Horgan, 1982). This approach seeks examples of past actual
behaviour rather than hypothetical responses. It asks for behaviour in
relation to defined job competencies rather than particular situations.
This approach is more personal than situational interviewing as it allows
candidates to discuss their own experience in detail. It is also more
flexible, in that it allows more thorough probing and elaboration. Scoring
and evaluating of these responses, however, can be more difficult.
A fuller discussion and comparison of these two techniques can be found in
Eder and Ferris (1989) and in Taylor and O’Driscoll (1995).
Research has demonstrated the reliability and validity of these interview A question of
techniques over more traditional approaches. Situational interviews were structure
shown to have good validity in several studies (Arvey et al., 1987; Latham and
Saari, 1984; Latham et al., 1980; Robertson et al., 1990; Stohr-Gillmore et al.,
1990; Weekley and Gier, 1987). Other studies have demonstrated improved
validities using behavioural interviews (sometimes called patterned behaviour
description interviews) (Janz, 1982; McDaniel et al., 1988; Orpen, 1985). A few 137
studies have considered using both of these techniques together (Green et al.,
1993), and a few have made a direct comparison of these two techniques
(Campion et al., 1994; Pulakos and Schmitt, 1995).

Why structure improves interviews


The traditional or more “casual” interview fails because it often focuses on the
“here and now”: how the applicant responds to the stresses and demands of the
interview itself, which is too narrow a focus. Interviewers may not have a clear
picture of the qualities required for successful job performance. Even where
interviewers do have a clear picture of what is required, and seek to assess an
applicant’s technical competence and ability to work with other staff, research
suggests that what they actually do in interviews has little relationship to the
job requirements (such as asking about opinions, and generalities) (Janz, 1989).
Structure improves interviews because it makes interviewers focus more on
the job and makes the questions asked more likely to be job related. A strong
relationship between the content of the job and the content of the selection
method improves the validity of the selection method (“point to point”
validation theory: (Smith and George, 1994)). So structured interviews “work”
because they force attention on to job relevant variables, rather than irrelevant
variables such as race or sex, and also “prevent a degeneration of the interview
into a quasi-personality test” (Smith and George, 1994). Behavioural
interviewing “zeros in on what applicants have accomplished (or failed to
accomplish) and how they went about doing it in situations similar to ones they
will face on the job” (Janz, 1989).

Reasons to favour structured interviews


Cost and time. Taylor and O’Driscoll (1995) suggest that structured interviews
are “less complex to develop and less time consuming and expensive to conduct
than alternative approaches” (such as work samples and assessment centres).
Fairness and impact. The use of psychometric tests have been the subject of
several legal challenges concerning alleged unfair discrimination. They have
also been questioned on ethical grounds (Baker and Cooper, 1995; Barclay,
1993) as well as their on grounds of acceptability to candidates (Silvester and
Brown, 1993). Interviews, on the other hand, are not only more acceptable to
candidates, they are expected. Structured interviews have been shown to
increase the probability of candidates accepting job offers (Taylor and
Bergmann, 1987).
Personnel Ownership of selection methods and decisions. The use of psychometric
Review tests in organisations is usually carried out by human resource specialists or
28,1/2 by consultants, because of the expertise required, and it can then be difficult
for line management to accept decisions based on these outcomes if they
have not been directly involved in the process. Interviewing skills, on the
other hand, even for structured interviewing, can be more readily developed
138 by line managers who have good knowledge of the particular job and the
behaviours required for success. So structured interviewing is less likely to
marginalise line managers, particularly relevant for organisations which are
trying to devolve human resource management decisions and roles to line
managers.
Competencies and human resource management. There has been a huge
increase in recent years in the use of competency frameworks not only for
selection but in all aspects of human resource management (HRM). Structured
interviewing techniques are designed to elicit evidence on defined competencies
which are relevant to the job, so these techniques fit well with the competency
approach to HRM. Psychometric tests on the other hand, do not readily relate to
competencies (Fletcher, 1996), and whilst assessment centres do measure
competencies, these can be very time consuming and costly.
Limits on structure. While structured techniques can improve selection
decision making, there may be a limit to the amount of structure which is
desirable. Very structured, standardised interviews and the pursuit of
“objectivity” can also involve rigidity (Anderson, 1992). The interviewer’s role
can be reduced to that of a “personally detached information gatherer” losing
the advantages of flexibility and two-way discussion.
A recent study also points to a limit on the usefulness of structure (Huffcutt
and Arthur, 1994). This found a ceiling effect, showing that while some
structure improves the effectiveness of interview decision making, too much
structure is not necessary. This is particularly relevant for practitioners who
must weigh costs against anticipated benefits when deciding how much to
structure an interview, since higher levels of structure typically involve
increased development time and costs.

Previous surveys
A limitation of the existing research into structured interviewing techniques
is the reliance on an experimental approach. Studies typically apply the
techniques on a “one-off” basis, some using existing employees or teaching
assistants as “candidates” and non-managerial employees or teaching
assistants as “interviewers”, who conduct the interviews under instruction
from the experimenters (Janz, 1982). While these studies suggest that
structured interviewing offers potential benefits to recruiters, little is known
about the actual use of structured interviewing in practice within
organisations.
Previous surveys of organisations’ recruitment and selection practices
(Robertson and Makin, 1986; Shackleton and Newell, 1991; Williams, 1992) have
tended to take a broad view of different selection methods, and have not A question of
considered specific interviewing techniques (other than one-to-one and panel structure
arrangements). These surveys also focused on management selection. A more
recent survey which did investigate use of interviews in the private sector
obtained only very limited data on the use of structured interviewing
techniques (Kumra and Beech, 1994).
139
The survey
The survey reported here was designed to address this gap. The author wanted
to gain information about the use of structured interviewing practices in both
the private and public sectors and across all levels, not just management
grades. How long have these been used, for which positions, and at what stage
in the selection process?
As well as these questions, there were several expectations about the use of
structured interviews:
• Behavioural interviewing and situational interviewing have been
highlighted, and their different approaches outlined. These are two
different techniques, each requiring different strategies regarding
preparation and development as well as conduct and evaluation. It was
expected that organisations might use one or the other of these, but not
both.
• Behavioural interviewing is a more flexible and acceptable technique
than situational interviewing. Because of this it was expected that
behavioural interviewing would be more prevalent than situational
interviewing.
• Since structured interviewing involves development time and costs, and
since larger organisations tend to have more resources than smaller ones,
it was expected that larger organisations would use structured
interviewing techniques more than smaller organisations.
• Management recruitment tends to be more expensive than other grades
of staff, and so any investment in improving the selection decision for
these posts would provide potentially greater returns and savings.
Hence it was expected that structured interviewing would be used more
for management selection than for other posts.
The objectives of the survey were to identify organisations using structured
interviewing techniques, and then to explore the interviewing practice in these
organisations. The first issue was how to identify organisations using
structured interviewing. Since relatively few organisations were using
structured interviewing techniques any random sample would be unlikely to
yield much positive information. (For example, in a recent survey of 400
organisations taken from the Times 1000, only 12 organisations indicated that
they were using behavioural interviews (Kumra and Beech, 1994)). A particular
Personnel approach was selected, therefore, in order to increase the likelihood of targeting
Review organisations which were using structured interviewing techniques.
28,1/2 A questionnaire was sent to a number of UK organisations in Summer 1995.
These organisations were known to have used a particular training video on
behavioural interviewing for selection. There is only one such video on the
market in the UK (and none specifically on situational interviewing as far as is
140 known). Some organisations may well be using structured interviewing without
recourse to the video mentioned and so these organisations cannot be
represented. However, by focusing the survey in this way it was felt that a
significant number of relevant organisations could be targeted reliably. The
questionnaire was sent to the named individuals in the organisation which had
used this video over the previous eight years, with a request that it be passed to
the appropriate recruitment specialist for completion. Some organisations had
hired the video before purchasing it and so were included twice on the original
database. Additionally, in some cases the video had been hired by different
divisions of the same organisation. By discounting all of these “duplicates”,
questionnaires were sent to 889 organisations. Of these, 70 per cent were private
sector organisations, 25 per cent public sector and 5 per cent from the voluntary
sector.

Responses
Of the questionnaires returned, 282 were usable, with a slightly lower response
rate from the private sector (65 per cent). For a “one-shot” postal survey this
overall response rate of 31 per cent is not unexpected. Possible reasons for non-
return of questionnaires are that some of the named contact individuals may
have left the organisation since the original time of obtaining the video, or the
organisation itself may have moved, merged or closed. The time of year may
also have been a contributing factor, with staff on holiday.
Although this survey did not use a representative sampling approach, the
number of survey responses makes it significant (282), as well as the number of
employees represented (over 200,000). The number of responses is considerably
more than in other recent surveys (see Table I).
The 282 respondents in the present survey represent almost all economic
sectors and range in organisation size from below ten to over 5,000 employees.
(See Figure 1 and Table II.)

Response rate Number of


Survey Year (per cent) responses

The present survey (Barclay) 1995 31 282


Table I. Kumra and Beech 1994 28 114
Response rates in Williams 1992 61 276
recent surveys of Shackleton and Newell 1991 61 73 (UK)
selection practices Robertson and Makin 1986 36 108
A question of
structure
Key
% Responses

141

N = 282

ECONOMIC ACTIVITY CODES:


C MINING & QUARRYING
D MANUFACTURING
E ELECTRICITY, GAS & WATER
F CONSTRUCTION
G WHOLESALE & RETAIL
H HOTELS & RESTAURANTS
I TRANSPORT, STORAGE & COMMUNICATION
J FINANCE
K REAL ESTATE, RENTING & BUSINESS ACTIVITIES
Figure 1.
L PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION & DEFENCE
Survey respondents by
M EDUCATION
economic activity (using
N HEALTH & SOCIAL WORK
standard industrial
O OTHER SERVICES
classification)
Source: Central Statistical Office

Employees Number of responses Responses (percentages)

0-100 37 13
101-500 97 35
501-1,000 54 19 Table II.
1,001-5,000 68 24 Survey respondents
over 5,000 26 9 grouped by number
Note: N = 282 of employees
Personnel Results
Review Structure in interviews
28,1/2 The survey asked about the use of structure in interviewing for different
categories of staff. Results are shown in Table III. This illustrates that more
structured interviews are more likely to be used for management posts, thus
confirming expectations.
142 The survey then asked about specific structured techniques used. A
description of behavioural interviewing was provided together with examples of
this type of question. Similarly, situational questions were outlined, with
examples. In each case organisations were asked to indicate whether they used
these types of question in interviews and if so, whether these were used
systematically or not. Responses indicated that behavioural interviewing was
more popular and was also used more systematically than situational
interviewing, again confirming expectations (although it is likely that this may
be due, at least in part, to the nature of the survey sample). (See Figures 2 and 3.)
An unexpected finding was the large proportion of respondents (36 per cent)
who indicated that they used both behavioural and situational interviewing
systematically. (See Table IV.)
Table III. More than half the organisations which use behavioural interviewing
Interview structure systematically also use situational interviewing systematically. It is possible
used for manual,
non-manual and
managerial staff.
Percentage of
unstructured, Unstructured Semi-structured Structured N
semi-structured and
structured interviews Manual 12 38 50 184
used for each category Non-manual 3 37 60 253
of staff Managerial 1 27 72 264

70
62
60

50
Percent

40
34
30

20

10

0
used systematically not used
used not systematically don’t know
Figure 2. use of behavioural interviewing questions
Use of behavioural
interviewing all respondents
N = 281
70 A question of
60 structure
50
43
39
Percent

40

30
143
20 17

10

0
used systematically not used
used not systematically don’t know
use of situational interview questions
Figure 3.
Use of situational
all respondents interviewing
N = 281

Number of (Percentage of
Technique(s) used respondents total respondents)

Systematic use of behavioural interviews only 73 (26)


Systematic use of situational interviews only 9 (3) Table IV.
Systematic use of both behavioural and situational interviews 100 (36) Systematic use of
Total using one or both methods systematically 182 (65) behavioural and
Note: N = 281 situational interviewing

that the two techniques may be used by different interviewers, at different times
or for different categories of staff. Alternatively interviewers may be combining
the techniques during interviews. This is explored further in the discussion
section.
These results also show that a substantial proportion of organisations seem
to use behavioural interviewing or situational interviewing in an unsystematic
way. This may mean that interviewers are just trying out a few novel questions,
or it may reflect some adulteration of the approach. This is likely to weaken the
usefulness and might lead to false confidence on the part of selectors. On the
other hand, some use of these structured questions is likely to be better than
none at all. The way that these interviews are used may also relate to concerns
about the impact of too much structure in practice: concerns about being too
impersonal and rigid, and a desire for a more comfortable approach.
The next section provides more detailed information on the use of structured
interviewing, and includes only those responses which indicated use of
behavioural interviewing systematically. (Very few organisations use only
situational interviewing.)
Personnel Systematic use of structured interviewing
Review Organisation size. Table V shows the proportion of organisations using
28,1/2 behavioural interviewing in each of the establishment size categories.
This seems to indicate that a larger proportion of small establishments than
large or medium-sized establishments use behavioural interviewing
systematically.
144 Of the organisations in the small category (with 0-100 employees), 65 per cent
of these are consulting or training firms: these seem to be “practising what they
preach”. Of the remaining organisations in this category, however, 77 per cent of
these too are using behavioural interviewing systematically, so the extent of
systematic use is not restricted just to training and consulting professionals.
Organisational size or structure may be a factor in determining the use of
structured interviewing throughout the organisation. In larger organisations
there may be obstacles to human resources developing the use of techniques,
especially in quasi-independent units, which may restrict the application to
central recruitment/promotion decisions (e.g. for graduates and managers).

When behavioural interviewing was introduced


Many of the organisations using behavioural interviewing indicated that they
have been doing so for more than two years (41 per cent), and many for more
than five years (a further 34 per cent). However, this leaves a substantial 25 per
cent which have only been using the technique in the previous two years.

Who uses structured interviewing


The survey asked who used structured interviewing: line managers, personnel
specialists or both. Of organisations, 17 per cent said personnel staff only were
involved and 7 per cent said line managers only. Most organisations, however,
(77 per cent) involve both line managers and personnel specialists, supporting
the contention that structured interviewing is a technique which can be utilised
by all managers.

When structured interviewing is used


The survey asked at what stage structured interviewing techniques were used.
Some organisations use structured interviewing techniques only at the first
stage of interview. Others use structure only at the second or subsequent stage.

Percentage of respondents using


Table V. Size of establishment behavioural interviewing systematically
Percentages of
organisations using 0-100 78
behavioural interviewing 101-500 55
systematically in each 501-1,000 63
size category of 1,001-5,000 60
establishment over 5,000 65
By far the majority of organisations, however, use the structured approach at all A question of
stages of the process (77 per cent for behavioural interviewing and 70 per cent structure
for situational interviewing), suggesting a consistency of approach throughout
the selection process.

Use of structured interviewing for internal/external candidates


The survey asked for which candidates structured interviewing techniques 145
were used. None used structured interviewing for internal candidates only. A
few used the structured technique exclusively with external candidates. The
vast majority, however, apply the technique, whether behavioural or situational
interviewing, across the board with all candidates, again suggesting a
consistent approach with all candidates.

Jobs for which structured interviewing is used


Table VI shows jobs for which behavioural interviewing techniques are used
systematically.
Structured interviewing is used more for management, administrative and
supervisory posts, but particularly for management selection, as expected.
These jobs were also highlighted by respondents as the most difficult posts to
fill.
It is interesting to note that the use of behavioural interviewing is also fairly
high for graduate positions. One of the main benefits of structured interviewing
is that it focuses the interviewer’s attention on specific job requirements, yet
many graduate positions are not linked to specific jobs, and so it is not clear
how appropriately behavioural interviewing is being used in the context of such
positions. Are interviewers seeking evidence of behaviours relevant to a specific
post or more general competencies?

Link of structure to use of competencies


Most organisations which use behavioural interviewing in a systematic way
say that this use is linked to the wider use of competencies (76 per cent). The
link to competencies is substantially weaker where structured interviewing is

Job Percentage of responses

Management 90
Administrative 84
Supervisory 71
Technical 64
Graduates 63 Table VI.
Manual 42 Job category for which
School-leavers 40 behavioural interviewing
Other 15 used: percentage
Notes: N = 73 responses in rank order
Personnel not used systematically, falling to around 50 per cent. The figures for
Review situational interviewing show very similar relationships to competencies. This
28,1/2 is a little surprising: a stronger link between behavioural interviewing and
competencies was expected than between situational interviewing and
competencies. Situational interviewing can be linked readily to specific
situations, whereas behavioural interviewing links directly to the underlying
146 competencies (which may be applied across a variety of situations).

Discussion
The evidence from this survey suggests that the use of structured techniques is
rapidly increasing, with one quarter of organisations only introducing the use
of structured techniques in the previous two years. Many organisations in this
sample seem to be focusing their efforts on improving interviews as well as
introducing other selection methods such as psychometric testing and
assessment centres, suggesting an overall more methodical and comprehensive
approach to selection. As noted earlier, these alternative methods can be
problematic: many organisations may be finding that structured interviewing
helps to balance these problems. The organisations which are using the
structured interviews are not confined to the very large ones. Thus structured
interviewing seems to be an accessible way for many organisations to improve
their selection decisions for a variety of positions.

Type of structured interviewing


Behavioural interviewing is the technique favoured more than situational
interviewing (although the targeted nature of the survey may be an influencing
factor here). Behavioural interviewing is the cheaper and more flexible of the
two approaches, and offers greater scope for active line management
involvement in both question formulation and evaluation of responses.
Situational interviewing, on the other hand, has been likened to an oral
administration of a test, reducing the interview to a “one-way information
collection device” (Anderson, 1992), and restricting candidates’ opportunities to
sell themselves.
Behavioural interviewing is also used more systematically than situational
interviewing. It seems that organisations may like the idea of situational
interviewing type questions, but are less likely to adopt it comprehensively,
perhaps because of its restrictive aspects.

Use of both structured techniques


A surprising aspect of the survey findings was the number of organisations
using both behavioural interviewing as well as situational interviewing
systematically (more than one-third of all respondents). Janz (1989) argues that
the two techniques are conflicting on theoretical grounds. He contends that
opinions offer few clear practical data on which to base predictions of future
performance because applicants are likely to give the opinions they think the
interviewer wants to hear. He classifies hypothetical responses as similar to
opinions in this respect, and therefore opposes the situational interview as it A question of
consists of hypothetical questions. Other research, however, has shown that structure
applicants’ plans, goals and intentions can predict future job performance
(Latham, 1989). A debate has developed as to whether behaviour descriptions or
intentions are the best predictors of future performance. Goodale (1989),
however, suggests that the two approaches can be combined to provide a more
complete evaluation of candidates. It is not clear from this survey, however, how 147
the two structured interviewing techniques are being used together. Further
research is needed to establish whether the techniques are used in separate
interviews or if, and how, they are combined during interviews.

Link with competency based HRM


There is evidence of a link between the use of structured interviewing and the
use of a competency approach to human resource management, clearer with
behavioural interviewing than with situational interviewing. More information
is required on how these competencies are linked, how many competencies are
used in interviews, whether these are determined methodically and whether
these are the same ones used for performance evaluation and reward
management within the organisation. In other words, is the use of competencies
in selection interviewing the first step in an integrated approach to human
resource management by these particular organisations?
With regard to the nature of the competencies evaluated, Townley (1991)
suggests that organisations are increasingly likely to focus on more general
attributes or values of candidates, rather than on more narrow, task based
criteria. As organisations need more flexible workers who must exercise
discretion in their work, they need to select people who have the “right”
attitudes and motivation, attitudes often expressed as “loyalty”, “seriousness”
and “commitment”: or “the good bloke syndrome”.
Other research (Kumra and Beech, 1994) supports this idea. Personnel
practitioners defined “fit” with the organisation in terms of personality,
attitude, flexibility, commitment and goal orientation more often than ability.
Candidates’ demeanour, attitude and confidence during the interview were also
considered important in determining whether candidates possessed the
required attributes. While this gives additional reasons as to why organisations
prefer interviewing as a selection method, it also suggests that there may be a
certain resistance to structuring interviews too much if this restricts
considerations to narrow, task specific criteria. However, it is perfectly feasible
to use structured questioning techniques which seek evidence of “general”
competencies, provided that these are clearly defined and understood.

Role of personnel and line managers


Townley (1991) has suggested that the increasing “technology” of techniques in
selection, while giving added legitimacy to the role of the personnel “expert”
can lead to the virtual monopolising of selection by personnel professionals,
marginalising line managers. The evidence from this survey is that there is
Personnel extensive line management involvement in the structured interviewing process.
Review Perhaps it is less “technological” than psychometric testing or assessment
28,1/2 centres.
Devolution of HRM to line management also raises questions about
standards and consistency. Even with good training provision, any devolution
of responsibility to line managers is likely to result in some adaptation and
148 variation in the way that the techniques are applied. Indeed, research suggests
(Keenan, 1978) that training itself can lead to over-confidence in interviewers
about their own assessment abilities; the “illusion of validity” referred to at the
beginning of this paper. It is possible that some false confidence may have
influenced respondents’ answers in this survey, perhaps producing a more
“systematic” picture than may be justified.

Conclusions
Structured interviewing is increasing in popularity. This can be attributed to
three main reasons:
(1) Social aspects of interviewing: it is flexible, it provides the opportunity to
meet the “whole” person face to face, it involves line managers and
allows some bargaining and influencing to take place.
(2) Limitations of other methods: time and costs and specialist training
required; the potentially adverse effects on candidates; the monopoly of
techniques by personnel specialists leading to marginalisation of line
management.
(3) The benefits of structure in interviewing: more focus on relevant criteria
and candidates’ competencies; hence an increased likelihood of better
selection decisions; more consistency and fairness in treatment of
candidates.
Structured interviewing therefore commends itself to personnel practitioners
and line managers alike. However, it does require that interviewers:
• understand the different types of structured questioning technique;
• know how to use them;
• base decisions on defined, relevant criteria; and
• use a systematic approach to evaluation of responses.
All this requires time and effort, more than might be required for a more
“casual” interview.
These issues of practice will form the basis of future research and some
specific research questions are now considered.

Further research questions


Criteria for assessment
To what extent are structured interviews based on specific task related criteria?
Are competency frameworks used, and if so to what extent are these expressed
in task related terms rather than the more generic attributes or organisational A question of
values such as Townley would suggest? Does this vary for job categories? If structure
structured interviewing is used for trainee positions, is the degree of structure
limited by the fact that there is not a job to “anchor” the specific abilities
required?

Types of structured interviewing 149


For those organisations which are using both behavioural interviewing and
situational interviewing, how are these combined and reconciled ?

Impact on candidates
What are applicants’ responses to structured interviewing techniques? Are they
given enough opportunity to sell themselves to the organisation? Do the
techniques affect candidates’ perceptions of the organisation? Is the impact on
candidates different for behavioural interviewing and situational interviewing?

Impact on interviewers
What do interviewers themselves think about the techniques? Do they help
them to make selection decisions? Do they make interviewers feel as though
they are merely using a script? How much involvement and flexibility do line
managers have in conducting the interview? How much training do they
receive?

Evaluation and decision making


How are responses evaluated? Are the evaluation processes “structured”, or do
interviewers still rely on “gut feel” when reaching selection decisions? How are
structured interviews linked and weighted to other sources of selection
evidence such as tests and assessment centres?
What are the benefits and problems of using structured interviewing in
practice? What evaluation of interviewing and selection decisions is carried out?
This survey has provided some of the initial answers to questions of
structure in interviewing techniques. What is apparent from this study is that
many organisations are certainly asking some of the “right” questions. The next
stage of research will involve a more detailed questionnaire and case studies of
a range of organisations using structured interviewing, to try to learn from
organisations which are using structured interviewing successfully, and to
learn from mistakes that have been made. Questions are not the only issue – we
need more answers.

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