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Innovations in Interviewing: Providing Questions in Advance

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To create a more equitable hiring process and hopefully increase diversity as an outcome, some HR and recruiting practitioners have been looking at ways to tweak some of the steps. One of those is blinded resumes – which, as you’ll recall from my previous blog post on that topic, Rethinking Blinded Resumes, doesn’t seem to work very well.

This blog post introduces a process innovation that is perhaps more promising, which is to provide interview questions to candidates prior to the interview.

I’ll stop the immediate protest by saying: This isn’t school, and this isn’t a math test. There isn’t one right answer to interview questions that you can search online in order to “ace” the interview. The point of interview questions is to elicit an interviewee’s individual experiences.

Another common protest, which I have often heard from hiring managers, is, “This job requires people to think on their feet.” That may be true, and it’s important for the hiring team to be thoughtful about whether the job truly does require someone to come up with a quick response to a verbal question. (Certain sales jobs come to mind.) For most roles, though, the ability to quickly provide a verbal response to a verbal prompt – which is what is meant by “think on your feet” – is less about the job duties and requirements, and more about an organization’s culture.

Organizations seeking diversity will want to be inclusive of different communication styles and processing speeds. The way to achieve that type of diversity is to design a hiring process that doesn’t filter based on those qualities. Think about what an interview is like for a candidate if English is not their first language (however fluent their spoken or written English may be!) or for a neurodivergent candidate who has a different processing speed.

Practical Considerations

For the hiring team interested in creating advance preparation opportunities for candidates, here are a couple of practical recommendations, based on my own experiences with these practices.

One, provide the interview topics rather than the specific questions. I had a candidate once who had written out all of their answers to the questions I provided. They proceeded to interview themself, speeding through their entire sheaf of paper. The hiring managers were astonished! As interviewers, we want candidates to come prepared to speak to the topics, not put so much effort into scripting their answers.

Two, provide the topics 24 hours in advance for all candidates. This creates fairness in the process. It’s enough time for candidates to prepare without overpreparing. Be clear in the email as to whether this will be most or all of the topics covered. I might consider including one topic or question that wasn’t sent out, because every job involves some amount of unexpected activity. However, if you’re going to do this, it’s fair to set this expectation ahead of time for candidates who might get rattled more than average.

Tips for Interviewees

If you’re a job seeker who could benefit from receiving interview topics in advance, don’t be afraid to ask! It doesn’t hurt to say, “As an accommodation, would you mind sending me the topics in advance?” Even better, create the conditions for fairness for all of the candidates being interviewed by suggesting, “Would it be possible for you to provide the interview topics to all candidates in advance, to support a more inclusive process?”

If the hiring team does what I suggested above, and provides a list of interview topics that will be covered, that should be enough for you to take my advice on how to prepare your stories.

Keep it conversational. Remember that there is no one right answer; the point is for the hiring team to get to know more about you and your experience. Don’t script your answers word-by-word; be prepared to speak to different facets of the examples you’re giving. Don’t be thrown off if there are follow-up questions that ask you to fill in details of the picture you’re painting.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has experienced this interview innovation! DM me on LinkedIn with your reflections.