Unstructured vs Structured Case Interview

If you are looking to apply to become a consultant, you might have heard of an unstructured and structured case interview. In fact, when consulting firms ask for an interview, they might tell you to prepare yourself for an unstructured and structured case interview. So what’s the difference? Unstructured vs. structured case interview, is there any difference? 

Unstructured and structured case interviews are commonplace for consulting firms. Both of these interviews are used to simulate an on-the-job experience. Unstructured and structured interviews are different approaches to how you gather data. 

Unstructured and Structured?

A structured interview is a method where collecting quantitative information is used to solve a problem. It means gathering data that can be quantifiable, which involves numerical values, graphs, or time. On the other hand, an unstructured case interview is a more qualitative approach. You are gathering data using concept words instead of numerical values. It can be categorized based on labels, emotional states, or attributes. 

A structured approach is when a teacher grades a student on math. On the other hand, an unstructured approach is a teacher handing out an essay and assessing it by commenting on each student’s spelling, grammar, and punctuation. 

The key differences stated between unstructured and structured above are the basics. There are more things a researcher must understand about the methodologies of unstructured and structured case interviews. You, the candidate, must the differences to be able to ace your upcoming interview. 

What Is A Structured Interview?

A structured interview is a quantitative approach for a case interview. It is when questions are premeditated ahead of time. All candidates will be asked the same question during their respective interviews. 

Later down the line, the structured approach is still applicable for job use for collecting information. If your research subject needs numerical values to solve the problem, then a structured approach is important. Due to how the structure is created, the same data can be replicated and use for reference for different research subjects.

During the interview, the questions will come through a series of specific sequences. They are likewise arranged in a specific order. The sequence will follow through as the interviewer ask some inquiries regarding the research subject. 

Why A Structured Interview?

Since a structured interview can easily be replicated and is standardized, companies can use it repeatedly. Interview each candidate, compare the results against each other, and then pick the best candidate. Through this method, companies can make a fairer judgment with a justifiable reason. 

The downside to structured interviews is that they are complex to make. Different candidates have different thought processes. So it can be difficult to ensure that interviewers follow the premeditated sequence. Before interviewers can go through with interviews, they themselves needed to be tested first.

On top of that, since questions are standardized, a leak is a definite possibility. Some potential candidates can come prepared for the interview. Moreover, a standardized approach can be too rigid. Interviewers might miss the other potentials of a candidate. 

Structured interviews needed to be a one-size-fits-all to see which candidate has what it takes. It makes the interview a lot more complicated. 

What Is A Unstructured Interview?

Unstructured Vs Structured Case Interview

An unstructured interview is a qualitative approach for a case interview. Rather than preparing questions ahead prepared ahead of time, there is none. Instead, the questions go along as the interview goes along. It’s like having a conversation, which means that each candidate is asked different questions in their respective interviews. 

Here, unlike structured interviews, there is no specific sequence. The questions are not standardized, and there are no strict protocols to follow. Although questions are not standardized, the interviewer still asks questions that are still in tune with the presented context or problem. 

Questions are spontaneous, and they follow up to gather information to solve the current presented context. It’s informal, and it resembles a lot like a casual conversation.

Why A Unstructured Interview?

When compared to structured interviews, unstructured are not standardized. So it’s a lot more personalized approach. It can be useful to identify how each candidate approaches the presented context or problem. Perhaps, they can approach the context with their own out-of-the-box ideas that might solve the problem much more efficiently. 

On top of that, since the interview is a lot more casual, it puts candidates at ease, allowing them to provide a more honest answer. But there is a downside; it can be difficult to see which is the better candidate. They have their own answers, so it can be difficult to objectively compare and judge to see which is the better candidate. 

It’s not standardized, so candidates might be picked due to the preferences of the interviewer and not skills. It’s subjective, and not many consider the method as reliable. To avoid this, interviewers need to have a lot of experience to be qualified to judge the candidate. In unstructured interviews, it can be hard to justify why one candidate is better than the other. 


So when you go out there for your interview, you now know what to expect. Typically, in most companies, especially for better job positions, structured and unstructured interviews are both utilized. 

Structured interviews help identify the basic skillsets of the candidate. Does the candidate understand how the job works? Do they have enough skillsets for the job? 

On the other hand, unstructured interviews help identify the ‘feel’ of the candidate. How will the candidate fit in our company? Are they flexible enough that they can handle unfamiliar subjects? What are their other characteristics? 

Typically, the first stage would be structured interviews to gauge your abilities. Next, would be unstructured interviews, and you will most likely be interviewed by more experienced interviewers. It will gauge how flexible you are for the job. 

In some cases, both unstructured and structured interviews are performed at the same time. It’s called, semi-structured interview, and by design, it is meant to get the best of both worlds. They will ask standardized questions and also will ask spontaneous questions.