Going Against the Grain: Sharing Interview Questions In Advance

Have you ever had an idea or theory that went against prevailing wisdom, but you knew it would work, anyway?  This is one of those ideas!

Today’s idea is sharing the bulk of your planned interview questions with the candidate in advance (i.e., when the interview is scheduled) — instead of springing questions on them under the “hot lights” of the interview setting.  The goal is to put the candidate in a position to tell you the most relevant information about their skills — avoiding a game of “gotcha” where the most quick-witted (but not necessarily most skilled) candidates beat out the reticent (but possibly more qualified) candidates every time.

Is “Only Extraverts Need Apply” A Good Plan? (No).

My good friend and colleague, Bill, is fond of saying, “We stand from where we sit.”  I’m not sure if this is really a southern expression or just something he made up — but the truth of the statement rings true.  That is, we all see the world through the lens of our own life experience.  I fully acknowledge that this holds true in terms of my views on interviewing.

Having conducted dozens of interview training courses over the years, I’m very comfortable training managers on writing “behavioral” interview questions (e.g., “Tell me about a time you experienced such-and-such — and how did it work out?) … and considerably less comfortable answering such questions. Having 20 years experience in HR, having stories to draw from isn’t the problem — but picking stories that perfectly fit relatively random questions is a problem for me.

For the longest time, I thought this “disability” was unique to me.  Then I read a brilliant new book — Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can‘t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  In this compellingly written and deeply insightful book, I learned that this problem not only isn’t a dysfunction, it isn’t at all rare.  It turns out that introverts (including yours truly) tend to prefer — and function better — in situations where they are able to give thoughtful, well-considered answers to questions, and tend not to excel in situations where time for thoughtful reflection isn’t permitted.

Putting An Idea Into Practice

This revelation helped thrust forward an idea that had been forming in my mind for a number of years.  That is, what would happen if we gave candidates a number of the questions we intended to ask … in advance?  For the extraverts amongst us, this would likely have no impact one way or the other (they don’t need the advance warning and do just fine thinking on their feet).  For the introverts, though, this might set them up for success to the benefit of all involved.

As candidates, they would have (and appreciate) the time to reflect on and formulate answers that provide the best and most relevant information about their skills and experience.  And we, as the interviewers/hiring managers, would benefit by getting information about the candidate that is most indicative of their true skills and experience — rather than having to make hiring decisions (already an inexact science) based on information that may not reflect the candidate’s full experience and capabilities because they couldn’t immediately come up with a snappy answer to an out-of-the-blue question.

Reality Check

Admittedly, I don’t know of any companies or organizations that currently provide their interview questions to candidates in advance … but I truly do believe it would work and help companies (and candidates) reap the benefits of a more substantive, reflective process.  What are your thoughts?

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3 responses to “Going Against the Grain: Sharing Interview Questions In Advance

  1. Really interesting post, MIchael. What’s the harm in letting candidates know the type of questions you’ll be asking (and therefore, what you’re most interested in)?

    I remember my very first job interview my senior year of college. The night before there was an information session, and the company’s Managing Director was there to do a briefing. And he told exactly what he was going to ask – and then told us how to answer the question. He also told us what to wear to the interview (business casual, and not a suit – since that’s how they dressed at the office).

    The result? Time to prepare, track down any missing information, and rehearse. Less awkwardness during the interview and much less time wastes for both parties.

  2. My father is an extreme extrovert and my mother is an introvert. When I take personality tests like MBTI, sometimes I score slightly extrovert, and sometimes slightly introvert. Day to day, it’s strange, as sometimes I’m just like my dad, but mostly, I’m more like my introverted mother.

    I’m not exactly sure what my point is, but your post got me thinking. Maybe I’ll post about this on my blog when I finish the thought.

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