Understanding semi-structured interviews (with examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

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.

In your job search, an employer can ask you to participate in a semi-structured interview. Understanding what this entails can help you feel more confident and lead to better performance during your interview. This is important as a better interview potentially leads to a higher chance of receiving an offer of employment. In this article, we learn what a semi-structured interview is, when they occur and what to expect when attending this type of interview.

What is a semi-structured interview?

A semi-structured interview is a conversation-based interview used by hiring managers to better understand their job candidates. The interviewer often has a list of topics or a list of open-ended questions prepared, but they do not use these lists as a script. The conversation aims to cover the candidate's interest in the role and their qualifications. The discussion naturally progresses, and your interviewer may or may not ask prepared questions.

The difference between a structured interview and a semi-structured interview

Semi-structured interviews have a different format than standard structured interviews, meaning you prepare for each interview style differently. The difference between a structured interview and a semi-structured interview is how the conversation takes place. Below are some of the key differences between these two styles:

Structured interview

A structured interview has a pre-set list of directed questions asked in order. Interviews with each candidate are mostly the same. These interviews are faster than other interview types.

To prepare for this type of interview, they expect candidates to research typical interview questions and practice answering them aloud. Having a friend read these questions to you and listen to your responses can help you feel prepared.

Semi-structured interview

In contrast, a semi-structured interview is conversational and based on open-ended questions. Employers sometimes ask these questions out of order or even omit them entirely. New questions may arise during the interview based on the interviewee's responses. Interviews with each candidate are likely to be very different. These interviews are typically longer than structured ones.

The topics covered in a semi-structured interview are broader. To prepare for this type of interview, it's recommended that you review all aspects of the position and think about why you're a good fit. Having a practice conversation with a friend can be useful in this situation.

Purpose of semi-structured interviews

A hiring manager may choose to use a semi-structured interview format to personalise the interview. A structured interview requires the interviewer to ask specific questions which may not apply to every candidate. Unstructured interviews may get off-topic or not provide the interviewer with all the information required to make a hiring decision.

The conversation format of a semi-structured interview allows the interviewee to expand upon their specific experiences, skills and aspirations related to the job. This interview is purposeful and guided while still allowing for flexibility to speak in further depth about chosen topics. A conversation-based interview also allows the interviewer and candidate to get to know one another more authentically than in a standard question-answer setting. A semi-structured interview doesn't limit the conversation and often makes both parties feel more comfortable opening up and sharing.

Related: What are open-ended interview questions?

When to expect a semi-structured interview

In a multi-interview process, the first interview is usually a structured interview used to screen potential candidates. The aim here is to filter out candidates that aren't a good fit for the job based on qualifications and work experience. The second and third interviews are usually more in-depth and exploratory, intending to get to know the interviewee. To achieve this, the interviewer may use a semi-structured interview format. When an interviewer meets with a candidate once during the interview process, this situation might also call for a semi-structured interview. This allows the interviewer to get to know the candidate better in a short time.

While you won't typically be told by the interviewer what type of interview format to expect, you can still prepare by doing your research. Many job-search sites offer reviews from current and past employees. You can sometimes find out what past interview types were and what to expect during your interview. These reviews sometimes share additional information such as how long the interview lasts, what questions to prepare for and how long it may take to hear back from the employer after the interview.

Related: The interview process: a complete guide

Advantages

There are some advantages to taking part in a semi-structured interview. People often exhibit less nervousness when partaking in this interview type. Feeling confident and clear-headed, interviewees can perform at their best.

Candidates participating in interviews of this format have the flexibility to focus the conversation on their strengths and positive, relevant experiences. Open-ended questions allow you to include as much context and detail as you want. There is also more opportunity to develop rapport with the interviewer than in a structured interview.

Disadvantages

The downside of a semi-structured interview is that it can be more difficult to know how to prepare. These interviews often last longer and don't adhere to the standard interview questions. Performance can hinge on social skills and abilities. If this is something you struggle with, you can work on developing your social skills to achieve higher success in your future interviews.

What to expect in a semi-structured interview

In a semi-structured interview, expect to answer open-ended questions relevant to the open position. In contrast to yes and no questions, open-ended questions allow you to give free-form answers. These questions have potentially unlimited responses.

Semi-structured interviews typically last thirty minutes to one hour but can last longer because of the conversational nature. Questions and conversation topics vary but likely relate to:

  • The company: you can research information like the company's history, mission, vision, values and goals on their website, job boards and online forums. Be prepared to answer questions about why you want to work within their company.

  • The position: prepare yourself to talk about the responsibilities and expectations of the candidate who fills this role. You can practise by stating why you want this role and how you plan to execute the job duties successfully if offered this position.

  • Skills and qualifications: know what skills and qualifications the candidate needs in this role and prepare relevant stories to show you have the necessary experience. You typically find the required skills and qualifications on the job listing, but if they aren't, infer what skills apply based on the listed job responsibilities.

  • Past experiences: think about your past related work, volunteering and educational experiences. Be prepared to share these stories and explain what you learned in these past roles and how your experiences relate to the role.

  • Yourself: most interviewers want to know who you are beyond your work-life. Company culture is important to many employers, and the interviewer might want to ensure you fit well with your potential co-workers.

In addition to the above topics, anticipate a few standard questions throughout the interview. The interviewer also expects you to ask them questions. This proves you have done your due diligence and have a genuine interest in the role. Have a few questions prepared to ask throughout the interview and at the end.

Related: Questions to ask at an interview

Example of semi-structured interview questions

Every semi-structured interview is different depending on the interests of the interviewer and the responses of the candidate. There are common conversation starters and questions used by many interviewers in this format that you can expect to hear and prepare for, such as:

  • Can you tell me about yourself?

  • What are your interests?

  • What values do you have?

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • Are you familiar with our company?

  • How do you feel about our mission or services offered?

  • Why are you interested in this role?

  • What expectations do you have about the position?

  • How would you execute the required tasks for this position?

  • What is a typical day for you at your current job?

  • What are your career goals?

  • What interests do you have outside of work?

  • What similar experiences have you had?

  • What would you do if you found yourself in a workplace conflict?

Prepare for other questions and topics depending on the type of role you're interviewing for. For speciality positions, the interviewer may want you to talk specifically about your area of expertise to confirm your qualifications and competency to fill the open role.

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