Conducting Inclusive Interviews

Research has shown structured and standardized interviews help marginalized candidates get the position.[i] This is because structure tends to remove the tendency towards bias, implicit or otherwise. As the interview process becomes less structured, the evaluation of the class of candidates becomes more ambiguous. If it is ambiguous whether one candidate is better than other candidates, then it is more likely that the selection committee will make the decision relying on their own biases and then rationalizing it in a way that reflects merit.[ii]

The following components of structure have been associated with effective interviews:

One area in which bias creeps into the selection process is by forming pre-interview impressions of the candidates through an informal “rapport building phase.” The rapport building phase can occur either directly before the interview or in scheduling the interview. This is because a “rapport building phase” can form a decisive impression of candidates prior to any interview designed to find a qualified candidate.[iv]

Iowa State University can improve the assessment quality of its interviews by using structured interview questions. In general, there are different types of structured questions:

(1) situational questions - queries a candidate about scenarios that could occur if they received the job,

(2) past behavior questions - ask candidates about specific examples from their past work experience which aligns with the desired job requirements;

(3) background questions - focus generally on credentials such as past work experience, educational achievements, and certifications that may bear on the desired job requirements,

(4) job knowledge questions - ask applicants to demonstrate specific technical mastery of the subject matter used in the desired job, and

(5) job simulations.[v]

These types of questions stand in contrast to less structured questions which ask about a candidate to essentially give self-evaluations on nebulous criteria such as goals and attitudes.

Consistently asking predetermined questions in a fixed order decreases discrimination in the interview process.[vi] This is because it makes it easier for interviewers to make comparisons and avoid cognitive overload.[vii]


Many interviewers believe that follow-up questions can improve the information gathered from applicants because it allows for clarification and justification of previous answers. Research has shown interviews more consistently rated applicants when they were not allowed to conduct follow up questions.[viii] Structured or pre-planned follow-up questions may provide structure and avoid these pitfalls.[ix]

Hiring committees should make sure each interviewer is assessing candidates for the same job position. This is because interviewers tend to have different criteria for evaluating candidates and the absence of one interviewer can influence scores in a way that introduces bias.[x]


This component can be achieved either horizontally by having multiple interviewers on a panel participating in one stage of the hiring process or vertically by adding additional interview stages. A higher number of interviewers increases validity by increasing the number of perspectives, improving information recall, and reducing biases held by any one interviewer.[xi]

Horizontal structures may have more reliability because the panel gets the same information from the candidates at the same time. Vertical structures may be more reliable because it gives the opportunity to ask additional questions, although this benefit is limited by the following component of longer interviews.[xii]


Longer interviews tend to add structure and remove ambiguity from the determination of the most qualified applicant. Length of an interview can be measured either by the amount of questions asked or by the amount of time it takes to conduct the interview.[xiii] As the interview becomes longer there is a larger amount of information that can be gathered from each applicant. Candidates who lack the qualifications necessary for the position will also have more difficulty exaggerating or misrepresenting their qualifications to appear qualified. The strengths for longer interviews are more apparent for positions which require more skills because there will be more information to evaluate.[xiv]

Limiting a candidate’s ability to ask questions during the interview itself may have positive effects. Allowing a candidate to ask questions in the interview can radically change the structure and content of the interview in unpredictable ways and can change the control dynamics of the interview from the interviewer to the candidate. A candidate will want to ask questions about the job itself and clarifying questions about how to respond to an interviewer’s questions. Search committees can permit clarifying questions during the interview itself without experiencing the negative effects of permitting all questions. Search committees can also reserve a time after conducting the interview for questions the candidate may have about the job.[xv]


The Equal Opportunity Office recommends rating each answer as the interview occurs according to a pre-determined scale for each question.[xvi] This practice makes rating the candidates more accurate because there are not the memory problems inherent in recalling the interview after it has occurred. Studies have also shown that judgments regarding individual components tend to be more reliable than overall ratings.[xvii]

Anchored rating scales provide a basis point to compare ratings on the candidate’s answers in order to reduce ambiguity in the rating that occurs between interviewers and to focus the assessment.

There are at least four components that may or may not make up an anchor:

(1) example answers,

(2) descriptions of what is sought as the ideal answer,

(3) a range of example answers with ratings (e.g., meets, exceeds, poor), or

(4) comparisons to other candidate answers by percentage (e.g., answer given by the top 10% of candidates).[xviii]

Anchored scales can also be developed by questioning coworkers and supervisors aligned with the role. One difficulty with using anchored scales is that they are difficult to develop without conducting many previous interviews for the same position to gauge which answers align to a successful candidate.[xix]


The Equal Opportunity Office recommends interviewers take notes during the interviews for several reasons. Notetaking focuses interviewers on the candidates answers and stores their impressions to decrease problems associated with memory. Notetaking reduces recency and primacy effects which would otherwise make selection more arbitrary in nature.[xx] It may also focus the candidates on job-related factors associated with the candidates’ answers and away from illegal factors.[xxi]


There is a limited amount of research regarding this factor of structure, so it is unclear how much benefit is derived from limiting discussion between interviews. In theory, limiting discussion between interviews strengthens other components of structure such as having multiple interviewers. This is because discussion could contaminate other interviewer’s opinions.[xxii]


In some ways training is not and separate component but is a means of undergirding other forms of structure in the interview process. A training program can reinforce the benefits of certain components of structure and ensure they are implemented effectively. However, training can also ensure that interviewers are aware of concepts related to equal opportunity laws such as reasonable accommodations, job-relatedness, and questions demonstrating bias.[xxiii]


One way to provide more structure to the interview process is to be transparent about the process to all applicants. For instance, an employer can provide the factors it is looking at to determine whether they are qualified and provide applicants the list of questions prior to the interview. Some studies have found that higher levels of transparency in interviews led to higher interview ratings and higher perceptions of fairness.[xxiv]