Why you should consider sharing interview questions with candidates
When I’m working with organizations on their hiring practices, one recommendation I often make is to share their interview questions with candidates in advance of the interview day. What often comes next is the question “Isn’t that cheating?, or the hesitant “Yes, but I don’t think my company will go for it.” As more and more companies look to diversify their talent pools and create intentional and equitable hiring practices, many talent leaders are struggling to get buy-in on this particular approach. Here’s what I’d offer those of you who have the potential to make this change in your organization.
Interview questions are getting more complicated and difficult to answer “on the spot.” Interviews don’t look like they used to. Companies are starting to hone in on specific skills and traits and they are looking for evidence with more complex and detailed questions and scenarios. It’s a good step toward evidence gathering and it’s likely creating an unintended advantage for candidates who are skilled at processing externally or those that can develop on-the-spot responses. As an introvert myself, some of my best work happens when I have time to sit with information or a question and be thoughtful, reflective, and deliberate about my response. Rarely in a work situation do any of us have 2 minutes to develop a response to anything, so why should our interview practices be any different? Some roles require that people are able to respond on the spot (e.g., press secretaries) but that is not the primary function of most roles. Giving candidates questions in advance lets them think through their response/ examples, allows them to give stronger responses, and positions you to get the best evidence to evaluate in your interview process.
A great candidate experience is a win-win. Sharing your interview questions will help your candidates know that you are invested in helping them succeed (rather than waiting for them to fail). As a former talent director, I strived to ensure candidates walked away feeling invested in our work, and our brand. I became fiercely passionate about the experience our candidates were having, and how I could help them bring their very best selves to the interview day. Part of that work was shifting to be as transparent as possible with candidates about what they could expect and sharing interview questions in advance to give them the opportunity to prepare so that on interview day, we could see them at their very best.
It’s time to acknowledge and disrupt traditional power structures that exist in interviews. As talent leaders we have a responsibility to acknowledge the power dynamics that exist in the sheer nature of interviewing and do our part to disrupt this pattern. I believe the way we can do that is with transparency. When we share interview questions (and other insights) with candidates, we help them know what to expect, how best to prepare, and what the company is looking for. We help them decide if they want to opt-in, and we help those who aren’t a match self-select out. We pull back the curtain to create space for a candidate to think about their skills and match rather than fretting about what’s coming next or trying to prepare for every interview question they could possibly be asked.
But really, isn’t that cheating? To that question, I offer you this. No, it’s not cheating to give all of your candidates the courtesy of a transparent and thoughtful process. The answer is still theirs and representative of their work. And the reality is that we give candidates “a leg up” all of the time...when they know someone, when they have an opportunity to chat with a hiring manager casually, when they have an “in” at the company who can share insight and info. This happens all the time, and it’s usually happening with referral candidates. And those referred candidates are most likely reflective of the staff demographics that already exist at the company. So unless you are a really diverse organization, you’re likely creating unintentional but real discrepancies in your hiring process. By offering everyone the same level of transparency and consideration, you are leveling the playing field and supporting a more equitable, fair, and candidate-centered approach.