Reaction: The Importance of Structured Interviews

Added to Medium, September 6, 2018

On September 5th AAM released a blog post written by Laurie Davis, the Talent Acquisitions Manager at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum & Foundation, about structured interviews and why they are important for reducing hiring bias. To have our museum field grow and be more diverse, one of the ways we can accomplish this is to have an unbiased workforce. Davis’ blog post for AAM stressed that having structured interviews would help reduce unintentional hiring bias in the field. After I read the blog post, I thought about my own experiences being interviewed for positions in the museum field. While I see flexible interviews as ways to express museums’ unique team dynamics to find individuals who will be the best fit with the team I also believe that structured interviews would benefit interviewees more since not only they will be able to be more prepared for interviews but each interviewee will be given an equitable chance to be selected for the position within the museum.

Museums should at least consider structured interviews to hire potential candidates without unintentional bias. Also, museums will be able to see the what candidates have to offer that will help museums move forward. Interviews can help museums find the best candidates for their teams but structured interviews can help museums have a better process in selecting candidates to fill the vacant positions. According to Laurie Davis’s post, she stated that

“The structured interview simply means that questions are planned out in advance and that every candidate is asked the same set of questions, in the same order. The goal is to ascertain skills and competencies, rather than seeking commonalities with the candidates which often come about from non-structured interviews (“I see you’re originally from Colorado? Me too! Where about? Do you enjoy skiing?”). Now, this is not to say that a few icebreaker questions to put a candidate at ease and gauge their communication/social skills are taboo. But research shows that structured interview questions most accurately and fairly evaluate the actual skill set of a candidate and predict future job performance.”

Finding commonalities is important to help candidates feel comfortable in the interview process and see how the candidates will get along with the team. Structured interviews, however, can provide consistency for both interviewers and interviewees. Museum professionals who conduct interviews should be trained to make sure they can select the best candidates without bias for a more diverse workforce and field. In the blog post, Davis shared a few resources to support her argument for structured interviews.

Davis revealed a New York Times article “With New Urgency, Museums Cultivate Curators of Color” written by Robin Pogrebin which discussed the need for diversity within the museum field. In the same article, she pointed out that a 2015 study from the Mellon Foundation was cited in the blog post emphasizing the need for more diversity in the museum field.

Another resource shared in the blog post was an article from the Harvard Business Review about the ways to reduce bias in the hiring process. While there is only one example referenced in the blog post, Davis pointed out that there are an overabundance of articles that cover the concept of unconscious bias in interviewing.

There is also a guide from the US Office of Personnel Management on various topics including structured interviews with information on crafting interview questions, creating a rating scale to objectively and equitably evaluate candidate’s interview performance, and training others in the organization on this technique. Also, museum professionals can benefit from the guide since it helps museums follow guidelines that will help them find the right candidates for the positions. If all museums use this guide and train their staff to conduct structured interviews, the museum field would be able to have a more diverse and equitable workforce. Consistent interviews would especially be beneficial for job candidates, and my personal experiences are examples of why it is important to have structure in interviews.

During my career in the museum field, I have participated in varying types of interviews over the years and I learned that each museum has different methods for conducting interviews and each interviewer chose methods they are more comfortable for them. I also learned from my experience that while it is important to be as prepared as possible before the interview it is also important to be flexible since one may still be surprised; for instance, one may prepare for a more structured interview but at the interview one finds out it is a flexible interview. It is important that the structured interview should also have resources for job candidates to have so they can prepare for these interviews. Resources shared on museum association websites direct to resources for general job application and interview processes, and it can be confusing for job candidates since most guidelines are not clear on how relevant they are to museum interview processes. By having structured interview processes, museums and candidates benefit from consistent practices that promote equitable workplaces.

I open this discussion to all of you reading my post: How do you feel about structured interviews? What are your experiences conducting interviews and being interviewed?

“With New Urgency, Museums Cultivate Curators of Color” by Robin Pogrebin:

US Office of Personnel Management:

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I am a passionate and dedicated individual who is determined to provide local and national history for future generations to appreciate their roots and teach the next generation. My love for museums began from a very young age. When I was a child, my family encouraged myself and my sisters to visit various historic sites and museums including Plimoth Plantation and Salem Witch Museum, and continued as I grew up when I saw places such as the Birthplace of Abigail Adams. My lifelong passion for history led me to earn my Bachelors degree in History from Western New England University and my Masters degree in Public History from Central Connecticut State University. While I was in the Central Connecticut State University Public History graduate program, I worked on the Connecticut Historical Society’s “Cooking by the Book” exhibit that my group came up with the original proposal for. I also helped set up art exhibits at CCSU’s art galleries, and wrote a lesson plan on women contributions to society in the eighteenth century as a final project in the program for the Stanley-Whitman House museum. Along the way, I gained various experiences within school activities and museums. My experiences include working with students in school programs at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, Connecticut’s Old State House, and Connecticut Landmarks Hartford properties. I also volunteered at the Franklin Historical Museum in Franklin, Massachusetts where I provided tours for visitors, helped organize public programs connected with town events, and kept an inventory of the museum’s collections. I became a full time Museum Educator with the Long Island Museum where I teach programs, and take on administrative roles such as schedule programs. Today, I am an independent museum professional working on various projects. For instance, I joined the Long Island Maritime Museum and Three Village Historical Society volunteering in the education and visitor services departments. I continue to look for opportunities in which I educate school groups and the public on the significance of the arts, history, and sciences in our society through the museum education field.

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