Most business professionals understand that employment tests must meet specific legal guidelines (as outlined in the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures). But people often don’t realize that employment interviews are held to these same legal standards.

How do you ensure that your interview meets these guidelines and that it provides a fair process for all applicants?

Below I’ve outlined the basic ingredients of all good interviews, along with specific studies and court cases that illustrate why each ingredient is so important.

3 Essential Ingredients of a Legally Compliant Interview 

  • Structure
  • Standards
  • Consistency

To ensure that every candidate has the same interview experience, interviews need structured questions, standards for evaluation, and consistency of administration. This point was highlighted in the court case of Montana Rail Link v Byard.

Montana Rail Link was accused of discrimination due to its use of unstructured interviews. An industrial psychologist concluded that using subjective standards without written guidelines could open the door to interview bias and negatively affect minorities. That’s why structure and standards are so critical.

Structure and Standards  

In last week’s blog, we highlighted the advantages of using a structured interview process with standardized rating criteria. But why are unstructured interviews such a problem?

For one thing, candidates strive to make a good impression in an interview and may try to frame themselves in a better light (this is known as impression management).  In a 2009 study, Barrick, Shaffer and DeGrassi found that appearance, impression management, and both verbal and non-verbal cues all had influence on interviewers’ ratings. This study showed that candidates were most influential in the unstructured interview, where applicants could guide the interview process.

Researchers also found that candidates who showed strong social skills (e.g., eye contact, firm handshake) had much higher ratings than those who showed poor social skills.  However, these high interviewer ratings had little connection to later ratings of job performance.

To overcome impression management in your interview process, use standardized questions and rating criteria. The best, most useful questions are based on actual job information.

Structure in documentation is also important to a good interview because effective notetaking can help you distinguish between candidates. Interviewers should only note actual behaviors, not inferences. Behaviors are objective, observable and specific, while inferences are subjective, assumptive, and vague.


A legally sound interview is structured not only in format, questions, and rating criteria, but also in the consistency of administration.

In a study by Williamson, Campion, Malos, and Roehling, researchers found a link between interview structure and legal outcomes.  After analyzing more than 100 disparate treatment claims and court cases, they concluded that interview structure and standard administration significantly enhanced interview reliability and validity (accuracy), leading to stronger legal defensibility.

To ensure standard administration and consistency in your interview process, rely on trained interviewers. All interviewers must be familiar with the questions and rating criteria and should be comfortable taking notes while having a conversation.

A best practice, if reasonable for the organization, is to conduct two separate interviews and then have the interviewers meet afterwards and reach an agreement on ratings. Not only will trained interviewers stick to the structured interview script, they will also be aware of interview questions to avoid. These include questions about marital status, ethnic or racial origin, religious practices, and age-related issues.

Using structure, standards, and consistency in your interview process will help your organization meet legal requirements and avoid potential bias. As an added bonus, these elements will also improve the overall accuracy of hiring decisions, ensuring that you find the best new talent for your organization.


Now that you know what’s required for legally compliant interviews, stay tuned for our next blog which will take a peek at some of the latest trends and emerging technologies in interviewing.