AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger

There are tons of different interviewing techniques that you may notice throughout your job hunting process. One common type of interviewing is the semi-structured interview.

If you haven't encountered one yet, here's everything you need to know about what a semi-structured interview is, what you expect during a semi-structured interview, the pros and cons of a semi-structured interview and how to prepare yourself for your upcoming semi-structured interview.

1. What is a semi-structured interview?

A semi-structured interview refers to an interview technique that doesn't follow a specific format. For example, an interviewer may come up with a general list of questions they want to ask in the interview, but they won't just simply go down the list. Instead, they'll use their list as a reference point to guide the conversation. This means that, rather than asking the specifically-worded questions they have written down before them, they may bounce around and ask the questions they have in a more open-ended, conversational manner.

Therefore, there's some structure to the interview in that the interviewer knows the end goal and has a general idea of how they plan to guide the interview, but there's also room to get creative. Your answers may spark other questions, for example. They can ask you those questions in a semi-structured interview whereas, in a structured interview, they'd have to stick to the scripts. Likewise, you may answer more than one question in a single response, which means that the interviewer can skip other questions on their list and jump to the next topic.

So what industries or jobs tend to use semi-structured interviews? Creative industries like journalism, photography, design and engineering may use semi-structured interviews. This way the interviewer can ask general questions about your skills, but they can also dive a little deeper about particular projects you might have worked on. 

2. What can you expect during a semi-structured interview?

You might be wondering what you can expect during a semi-structured interview. For example, how long should a semi-structured interview last? It's important to understand that there are no expectations during a semi-structured interview. You're not going to walking into the room and have to fill out a prepared questionnaire or answer a list of questions already set before reviewing your application materials.

Rather, you're going to have more of a conversation with your interviewer who'll likely ask you more open-ended questions. Because of this, the interview may take a bit longer than a traditional question-and-answer session.

So, essentially, you can't expect a specific format for the interview. But you can expect a conversation. And, like all interviews, you can expect to talk about your skills and experience. And you can expect to have to talk about what about the company and/or job interests you — and why you're the best candidate for the job.

3. What are the pros and cons of semi-structured interviews?

There are several pros and cons to semi-structured interviews. Here are just a few to keep in mind.

Pro: Semi-structured interviews feel more like conversations.

Semi-structured interviews can flow more like conversations than other interview techniques like question-and-answer sessions.

Pro: Semi-structured interviews leave room for creativity.

Semi-structured interviews leave room for you to answer questions more creatively and for interviewers to ask you different kinds of open-ended and personally tailored questions as opposed to a general questionnaire.

Pro: Semi-structured interviews can be tailored uniquely to you.

Semi-structured interviews can be tailored to your experience and skillset. This means that the interviewer can ask you questions based on your resume and application materials, as well as based on what you say during the interview. This is opposed to blanket questions that the interview would otherwise use on everyone in a structured interview. 

Con: Semi-structured interviews may take longer than Q&A sessions and other interview techniques.

Because semi-structured interviews can flow more like conversations, they tend to take longer than typically question-and-answer sessions and some other interview techniques.

Con: Semi-structured interviews may forget to ask valuable questions.

Semi-structured interviews may leave out valuable questions if the interviewer or you get carried away in conversation. While sticking to a script can ensure that you hit all the nails on the head, a more free-flowing interview format like a semi-structured interview leaves a lot of room to go off the rail, waste time and miss important questions.

Con: Semi-structured interviews can be biased.

Because semi-structured interviews don't require asking every candidate the same questions, there's room for inevitable biases like sexism, racism, ageism and other biases based on discriminatory factors. A structured interview would ask every single candidate the same questions, regardless of their gender, race, age, etc. But a semi-structured interview will not.

4. How can you prepare for a semi-structured interview?

Preparing for a semi-structured interview is more difficult than preparing for a structured interview in a lot of ways because it's far less predictable. This means that the best you can do is study up on the company for which you're applying and the hiring manager who will be interviewing you (as well as any other potential people within the company who may also sit in on the interview).

It's always wise to practice your answers to the most common interview questions you can find here, as well. "Why are you interested in the role?" "What do you know about this organization?" "Why are you leaving your current job?" "What are your biggest strengths?" "What are your weaknesses?"

By reading about the most common interview questions and writing out and verbally practicing your answers to these questions, whatever your interviewer asks you, you'll be prepared with a professional, thought-out response. 

If you understand the company well — and exactly how you can and would benefit the company if you become part of the team — and you have intelligent, thoughtful responses to the most common questions that will likely be asked of you, you'll have an easier time treating the semi-structured interview like a two-way conversation.

Article resources:

  1. "40 Top Job Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them)." https://fairygodboss.com/career-topics/interviewing-questions-and-answers
  2. "The Best Way To Answer 'What Are Your Weaknesses?'" https://fairygodboss.com/articles/what-are-your-weaknesses
  3. "The Ultimate Interview Guide." https://fairygodboss.com/career-topics/interview-guide

About the Career Expert:

AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist for a gamut of both online and print publications, as well as an adventure aficionado and travel blogger at HerReport.org. She covers all things women's empowerment — from navigating the workplace to navigating the world. She writes about everything from gender issues in the workforce to gender issues all across the globe.

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