Unstructured Interview: Definition, Advantages, Disadvantages & Example

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  • 0:01 Definition
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Have you ever been interviewed for a job? If so, you've probably participated in an unstructured interview. Learn more about unstructured interviews from examples and test your new knowledge with a quiz in this lesson.

Definition of an Unstructured Interview

An unstructured interview is an interview in which there is no specific set of predetermined questions, although the interviewers usually have certain topics in mind that they wish to cover during the interview. Unstructured interviews flow like an everyday conversation and tend to be more informal and open-ended. This is in contrast to a structured interview, when a list of predetermined questions is used.

Despite not having a list of predetermined questions, unstructured interviews are still purposeful and somewhat directive. If interviewers hope to gain insight and valuable information from the person that they are interviewing, they cannot conduct an unstructured interview without having detailed knowledge or proper preparation.

Interviewers must always be mindful of the purpose and scope of the topics that they are hoping to discuss. Though they want their control over the conversation to be minimal, interviewers still need to know how to steer the conversation so that the person being interviewed stays on topic and discusses things that are relevant. As you can imagine, individuals who are skilled at conducting unstructured interviews go through extensive training.

Example of an Unstructured Interview

If you have ever been interviewed for a job, chances are that you have participated in an unstructured interview. Many times, employers bring in prospective employees and ask several questions with the goal of figuring out if the person being interviewed is a good candidate for the position.

The employer may review your records beforehand, then ask questions related to your previous experience. Or, they may ask you questions about how well you work with teams. These interviews usually take a conversational tone and the focus could change at any minute. Every person who is interviewed for the position may be asked a different set of questions, and even if asked some of the same questions, the responses will be unique. Let's look at another example.

Suppose you are a researcher interested in the experiences of first time mothers who are also college students. Since you do not have experience of being in this situation and don't think the same set of rigid questions would apply to every subject, you decide that a structured interview wouldn't work. Instead, you conduct an unstructured interview, since it allows you more freedom to change your questions as you go along, and you can follow up with more detailed questions whenever you deem it is appropriate. Furthermore, it allows respondents to use their own language and go into more details than a structured interview would allow, so you get a fuller picture of the person's experiences.

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