How to succeed in unstructured interviews (with examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're in the process of applying for jobs, you might come across a few different interview types, such as structured or unstructured interviews. An unstructured interview doesn't have a predefined structure or format, allowing for more flexibility during the interview. This gives both the interviewer and the candidate an opportunity to explore different topics without constraints, resulting in more tailored and effective responses. In this article, we look at what unstructured interviews are, offer some examples of unstructured interviews and provide tips to help you excel in this type of interview.

What is an unstructured interview?

An unstructured interview is a job interview format that uses the flow and theme of a conversation to guide the interview itself. Unlike a structured interview that relies on standardised, predefined questions, an unstructured interview is more flexible and has no defined questions. With an unstructured interview, the only defined aspects are the time given for the interview and the individuals involved.

Unstructured interviews are at their most effective when the interview is relatively informal, which gives the candidate greater opportunity to showcase their personality. It's a format that's useful for all types of job interviews, including creative roles and technical ones. They tend to be more relaxed, which is helpful because it puts both the interviewer and candidate at ease, allowing for responses that more accurately reflect the personality of the candidate.

Related: 100 questions for what to ask your job interviewer

How to succeed in unstructured interviews

If you're wondering how to succeed in unstructured interviews, follow the steps below:

1. Adapt to the interviewer's personality

Try to build rapport with the interviewer quickly by adapting to their personality. Focus on their interests and how they present themselves and mirror their behaviour. If they're quite upbeat, for example, try to be upbeat too. If you can, learn about the interviewer and discuss their passions, interests and hobbies to nurture a positive relationship with them.

2. Don't be afraid to lead the interview

An interview is a two-way conversation, so at times you might want to guide the interview towards themes or topics of your choosing. This is particularly useful for unstructured interviews as there are no set questions. It's quite common for unstructured interviews to deviate from the core topics at hand, so don't be afraid to redirect the discussion towards the job you're applying for.

3. Offer suggestions on improving the business

Due to the nature of an unstructured interview, you have more freedom to explore topics that you wouldn't normally discuss. This gives you an opportunity to offer suggestions and feedback about the company, which demonstrates what you can provide to the business if they hire you. You can outline some basic ideas about how the business functions, consider new markets to enter or other aspects of the business you think could benefit from improvements.

4. Show them how useful you are right away

To help the recruiter visualise you in the role you're applying for, discuss your initial steps when entering the role if you're successful. You might want to mention automation tools you can use to improve efficiencies or new tactics to find clients or generate revenue. Try to clearly define what approaches and outlooks you can bring to demonstrate how you can have a positive impact in the role.

Related: 8 common problem-solving interview questions to understand

Types of unstructured interviews

There are a few different types of unstructured interviews, which are usually chosen based on the stage of the recruitment process. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, so as a candidate it's useful to know the differences. Below is a summary of the most common types of unstructured interviews:

Unstructured telephone interviews

An unstructured telephone interview is performed via telephone, so there isn't any physical interaction between the interviewer and the candidate. This is usually a preliminary interview to assess whether or not the candidate is suitable to progress towards a face-to-face interview. They're usually quite conversational and, lending to the format of an unstructured interview, quite informal in nature.

Unstructured panel interviews

A panel interview features a panel or team of interviewers who work together to interview a candidate. This can work well using an unstructured format as it gives the interviewers a chance to ask their own questions to the candidate. In some cases, interviewers go into the interview with a plan to reach a specific outcome, such as asking targeted questions about a particular topic. Interviewers may even have a specific topic they focus on, such as introductory questions or skills-based questions.

Unstructured group interviews

Group interviews can also follow an unstructured format, where multiple candidates come together in a single interview. These types of interviews tend to ask candidates to work on tasks as a group, which is a useful way for individuals to demonstrate their leadership and teamwork skills. As it's unstructured, there's a lot of room for natural social interaction between candidates, giving the interviewer a good opportunity to learn about their behaviours and suitability for the role.

Unstructured face-to-face interviews

An unstructured face-to-face interview is probably the most well-understood interview structure, as it follows the traditional format of an interviewer speaking with a candidate about their suitability for the role. This normally takes place in an office environment, but it can also be in a more relaxed setting such as a cafe or break room.

Related: 9 critical thinking interview questions plus sample answers

Tips to succeed in an unstructured interview

To help showcase your talents during an unstructured interview, consider the following tips:

Be genuine in your answers

An unstructured interview gives you the opportunity to really show recruiters who you are, so make sure your responses are genuine. This might encourage a more natural flow in the interview and gives you the freedom to explore different topics in an organic way.

Speak about your strengths

To ensure the dialogue remains positive, try to focus on your strengths and core competencies, rather than weaknesses or things you don't enjoy. If you find the conversation goes towards topics that aren't your strengths, don't dwell on this area for too long. Instead, use it as a chance to discuss your growth and advancement before moving into an area where you're strong.

Tailor the topics to the job

An unstructured interview might not have any predefined questions, but recruiters are going to want to discuss specific topics or areas of conversation. A good way to determine what topics to touch on is by looking at the job description and other details about the company and role. Align these topics with your skills and the skills required for the role.

Related: A guide on how to ace an interview (with tips and examples)

Examples of unstructured interview questions

Although there aren't any predefined questions in an unstructured interview, there are certain topics that are usually touched on. An open-ended style of question is common to allow the candidate to explore their answer thoroughly. Consider the following example questions and answers:

Tell me a bit about yourself

This is a common question to start the interview with, as it's open-ended and acts as a useful introduction for the candidate. A good way to answer this question is to relate your response back to the role and showcase your suitability for the job. You might want to expand on your skills or experience here or discuss your passion for the industry or role you're looking to enter.

Example answer: 'I'm a good communicator with a strong background in sales and a good amount of experience in the retail industry. Having worked in retail for a number of years, I've developed a range of skills in relation to customer services, such as rapport building and empathy. My time as a sales advisor showed me I really enjoy helping others, which has led me towards various volunteering efforts in my local community.

I'm interested in this role because it aligns with my passion for helping people. I think my experience in customer service and sales makes me a great fit for the role of sales manager and my experience as a team leader is further evidence of my suitability. Ideally, I'd love to bring my volunteering experience into the role too by setting up fundraisers and other social activities.'

What's your dream job?

This question is a useful way for interviewers to find out about your work values and what you're looking for in a career. This allows them to assess your suitability for the role and ensure your values align with those of the company. Try to focus your answer here around your core strengths and what you'd like to see in a working environment. If you have any clear career goals or aspirations, you might want to discuss them too.

Example answer: 'My dream job would be an editor for a scientific magazine because it places me on the cutting edge of research. My passion has always been writing, which is why I studied Journalism and why I work as a copywriter. During my studies, I had an internship at a science magazine and loved the content, so I would love to work in that type of environment.

I think the role I'm applying for is quite similar to this, as it focuses on creativity and unique content. It seems like the company also offers a perfect working environment that allows writers to focus on their writing rather than staff meetings or rigid work schedules.'

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