If you’ve ever felt your mind go blank as a candidate in a job interview, you might be a fan of this new recruitment trend.
Some employers are now sharing interview questions with their potential employees in advance. And as recruitment experts here at Recruitment Bootcamp, we can see the benefits for everyone involved.
‘Isn’t that cheating?’ Might be your initial reaction. Well, not really. It’s the difference between those of us who preferred exams, versus those who preferred coursework at school and university.
If the opportunity to be tested under pressure (ie. exams) suits you better than longer-term, deeper, projects (ie. coursework) then you might not welcome seeing the playing field evened out. Because that’s really what we’re talking about here. Opening up the selection process to a wider range of different learning and personality types. And evening things out to make them fairer and widen the pool. Which can only be a good thing for the marketing and communications industry in our opinion.
It’s about diversity
The world of work, including recruitment, is generally designed to best suit the majority. And that’s why noticing imbalances that negatively impact a company’s diversity is important. For someone who is neurodivergent or experiences bouts of anxiety, then interviews aren’t always the best way to showcase their suitability for the role. Which is one of the reasons forward-thinking comms agencies, such as Be Yellow and Agenda are both taking this alternative approach.
Hayley Knight is co-founder and Communications Director at Be Yellow. She says:
“We want to find the best people possible, and want people to come to the interview process as prepared as they can be, and on their A game. I suffer from chronic anxiety, and have never enjoyed interviews, and like to be prepared.
“We want to make the process as accessible and enjoyable as possible, and reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with it.”
And it’s not just communications firms who are working in this way. In a People Management article last year, Nyree Grierson – organisation development manager at Edinburgh College – reflected on what happened when the college trialled this approach. She wrote:
“All things considered, transparent interviewing seemed to allow candidates to perform at a higher level, much more able to give me a better understanding of their suitability for the role. The process respected candidate wellbeing and time, and was a small step towards reducing the inherent biases in the selection process.”
The civil service careers website lists ‘providing interview questions in advance of the interview’ as an example of reasonable adjustments that have been offered to candidates in the past, and the website explains how to request this.
Meanwhile, the organisation Royal Berkshire Maternity and Neonatal Voices already do this for all candidates, according to its chair, Emma Hawes Taylor. Another employer trialing this practice of sharing interview questions with candidates in advance is the NSPCC. In a recent report by Third Sector magazine, Jack Lewis, senior fundraising manager at the NSPCC, explained:
“Having recently conducted a round of interviews for senior philanthropy managers across the UK, I was pleased to have a go at sharing questions in advance, with all candidates.
“Such a simple tweak to the interview process, and yet without exception the feedback was positive. Even from those who were unsuccessful. Recruitment agencies also commented that more and more organisations (not just charities) are moving towards this approach.”
The article describes how the organisation are growing into this approach in advance of it becoming standard practice there in April 2024 and ‘is being rolled out after consultation with the NSPCC’s “lived experience groups”, its EDI trustee Sheanna Patelmaster, who is also a strategy manager at the Lego Group, and several of its managers.’
The potential benefits of this approach are many. In addition to the diversity and inclusion aspect, sharing questions in advance also allows any candidate to really go a bit deeper into what is being asked and prepare thoughtfully. It is, we hope, going to help the candidate to give their best interview as they are on familiar ground, rather than having a lot of surprises thrown at them. And from this calmer, more thoughtful position, it’s likely that the potential employer will get to know the real person a bit better. As Nyree Grierson said in her article: “After all, we were not looking to hire someone to appear on Newsnight.”
Of course, there are some occasions when you actually will be looking for a senior spokesperson at that ’Newsnight’ level. Something to consider here is that most spokespeople will get trained as part of their role, and are not expected to be able to jump on national TV or radio on day one or two. Giving them their job interview questions in advance is probably ok too!
So, are there any downsides to sharing interview questions in advance? Perhaps. It may of course be hard to assess how an employee might think on their feet if every question is known upfront. But there’s no reason why the questions can’t include asking for examples of innovative thinking and problem-solving. Let’s consider what it is we’re really trying to assess here. An interview is about finding the best fit for the role and for the employer, and vice-versa.
The traditional model of throwing unexpected questions and the occasional curve ball at candidates feels outdated way of leading an organsation in today’s world. An interview process is not designed to find out if you’re good at interviews, it’s designed to find out if you’d be good at and passionate about the job itself. So trusting the candidates with the questions beforehand can be a great way to showcase your organisation as one that fosters mutual trust, treats employees with respect and prioritises diversity and inclusion in all that you do.
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