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Learn What an Unstructured Interview Is and How to Prepare

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 29, 2021

Guide Overview

What is an unstructured interview?Differences between a structured and unstructured interviewPurpose of an unstructured interview and scoring systemBenefits of an unstructured interviewUnstructured interview example questionsTips to help you prepare for an unstructured interview

Guide Overview

Prepare for interview success

An interview is an opportunity for you to impress a hiring manager. Although there are many types of interviews, knowing you are going to participate in an unstructured interview can help you prepare and provide quality answers to establish that you are a good candidate for the position. Unstructured interviews are often more relaxed and give you the opportunity to interact more and guide the conversation. Learn what characterizes an unstructured interview, the ways it differs from a structured interview, the scoring system used to evaluate candidates, the benefits, and review some example questions with tips to help you prepare.

What is an unstructured interview?

An unstructured interview is a meeting with a potential employer in which the flow of the conversation affects the structure of the interview. An unstructured interview rarely has a list of predetermined questions but focuses on a time limit and the candidate. More informal than the traditional structured interview, the relaxed atmosphere of an unstructured interview allows for easy communication and establishes a candidate’s attitude and personality as a priority during the exchange. Because the nature of unstructured interviews mimic a regular conversation, as a candidate, you may feel more at ease and produce responses that are genuine and informative. 

Differences between a structured and unstructured interview

Employers use interviews to gauge a candidate’s qualifications for the job and understand how well a person’s character will fit with the company’s established culture. With a structured interview, a hiring manager poses a set of standard questions to each candidate and evaluates them based on their responses and composure during the interview. An unstructured interview’s major difference is that as a candidate, you can guide the conversation to detail your skills, qualifications, background experience, and education that makes you a fit candidate. Because you are in control of the conversation, you can highlight traits and abilities you may not typically be able to during a structured interview.

Purpose of an unstructured interview and scoring system

Although some experts have criticized the unstructured interview as an inadequate indicator of employee productivity and performance, many hiring managers and employers favor the dynamic of an unstructured interview. This interview structure allows for more autonomy and reveals a candidate’s personality in a way that a question-and-answer method does not. Interviewers can get a better grasp of a candidate’s attitude toward the company and their understanding of the job requirements. An unstructured interview also allows for the interviewee to display their ability to communicate effectively daily in an informal environment. The outcome of the interview is largely based on the interviewer’s opinion and is therefore often used as a last interview step to determine a candidate’s culture fit and ability to work with others.

Benefits of an unstructured interview

A candidate benefits from the dynamic of an unstructured interview in the following ways:

  • Flexibility: The exchange between interviewer and interviewee during an unstructured interview is more natural and allows for a fluid conversation. Although this makes the interview last longer, the hiring manager can gain greater insight into a candidate’s qualifications using this method.
  • Comfort: The setting is comfortable and relaxed, which allows for individual personalities to shine.
  • Autonomy: The candidate is empowered using this structure and can best reveal their character traits and use the time to convey their fit for the job responsibilities.
  • Allows elaboration: The fluid exchange gives you an opportunity to provide complete details about your prior experiences and background that make you a qualified candidate. When giving a response, consider using the STAR technique to provide important information.
  • Interactive: The interaction allows you to ask questions and communicate your continued interest in the position and company. Ask insightful questions to understand your potential role and how well you like the company climate.
  • Removes communication barrier: Because the roles in this interview are less constricting, the conversation allows for an honest and spontaneous exchange that is informative for both parties involved.

Unstructured interview example questions

Below are some typical unstructured interview questions that prompt engaging discussion. They are similar in nature to behavioral questions. Consider using the STAR method to provide a strong and informative response. STAR is an acronym that stands for situation, task, action, and results. It is a method of answering where you provide the details of a situation, indicate the task or objective you needed to complete, explain the actions you took, and relate the results of those actions. When possible, use numerical data to provide stronger evidence of the impact of your work. Included are example answers to guide you as you craft your own responses and prepare them. 

Can you tell me about yourself?

Unstructured interviews typically focus on the use of open-ended questions to allow room for explanation and elaboration. In this question, the hiring manager is asking about your characteristics and talents in relation to the job qualifications. Capitalize on this opportunity by responding in a way that shows you have done your background research on the job specifications and on the company and are prepared to join the organization as a good fit.  

Example: Customer service representative

“I enjoy a challenge and am most happy when I have a lot of things to do. Because I don’t like to stay still long, the role of a customer service representative fits me well. I am a natural helper and am skilled at conversing with customers to discover their needs. I learn quickly, so I am typically up-to-date on new products. As an active listener, I can connect well with clients and gain their trust. I am also very observant, and my impatience creates a sense of urgency in me that compels me to take the initiative. 

At my previous company, I noticed that we were not getting a lot of returning customers. I started a customer survey response procedure to gain insight into this issue. We discovered that customers were unaware of many of our products. Along with the marketing department, we implemented different methods to reach customers and educate them about what the company had to offer. My initial observation and our joint efforts resulted in an increase in customer loyalty and a 14 percent rise in net profit for the company.”

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Hiring managers use this question to gain a deeper understanding of your values as an employee and how you measure success. Your response reveals where your priorities lie in relation to your job responsibilities and performance. Provide a genuine answer and contextualize by explaining what the accomplishment means to you. 

Example: Marketing manager

“I value the opinions of my colleagues and the team I work with. Two years ago, my supervisor put me in charge of my first product launch. I worked long hours and dedicated my efforts to lead my group to meet project deadlines and produce quality work for our client. They were all very supportive and focused on our aim. I prioritized expressing my appreciation of each individual and their contributions. Each team member had an amazing quality that strengthened the team. We built a mutual trust and felt like a family. 

I eventually got a promotion at a different company and had to leave. Before I left, the company held a banquet for me, and my team awarded me with a “Most Inspiring” certificate. Being recognized as a good leader and knowing that I impacted my team in a positive way was very fulfilling and is the reason I love my job. I am inspired by the people I work with, and their well-being motivates me to be a better leader and a friend at work. That “Most Inspiring” certificate goes with me to every office and is my badge of honor.” 

Additional unstructured interview questions

Review this list of unstructured interview questions to help you practice and prepare some of your own unique answers.

  • What is your current professional goal? 
  • What attracted you to this industry and career?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • Please discuss a time when you overcame an unexpected challenge. What steps did you take?
  • How do you handle conflict with a coworker? 
  • What is your approach to criticism?
  • Can you explain a time you had to work in a team to complete a project? 
  • How do you motivate your colleagues?
  • Describe a time you encountered a difficult customer or client and the steps you took to solve the situation.
  • What steps do you take to work effectively under pressure?

Tips to help you prepare for an unstructured interview

  • Be genuine.
  • Focus on your strengths.
  • Relate your background to the job requirement.
  • Model active listening skills.
  • Show your communication strengths.
  • Be informed.
  • Prepare some thoughtful questions.

An unstructured interview offers you many advantages and opportunities to communicate your full skill set. Preparing for one will help you interview with confidence and provide the best evidence of your qualifications. Consider exploring additional interview questions that may arise during your unstructured interview. Discover real interview questions asked for thousands of job titles.

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