Is your interview process leaving good candidates behind?

And the one hiring practice I think all orgs need to start doing

Years ago, when I was at Government Digital Service, I applied for a promotion. At the time, I was a mid-weight User Researcher, and I was applying to become a Senior User Researcher. I’d been working toward it for nearly a year and had lots of evidence and experience to show I was ready for the next step. My manager, my program lead, my product owner and colleagues all felt I was ready.

I had spent hours preparing for the interview, but when the time came and I was in the hot seat, feeling anxious and overwhelmed, I found it difficult to understand what the questions were really asking, and I struggled to mold the work examples I had prepared to fit the questions.

In the end, I didn’t pass the interview. It was a tough blow to my confidence.

A month later, they advertised for a Senior User Researcher again, since they hadn’t filled it in the previous competition. I felt so embarrassed to try again, but I knew I deserved a chance so again, I applied. Because it was so soon after the previous interviews, I took a bet that they would ask the same questions, and I prepared to answer those exact questions. My bet paid off; they did ask the same questions. I ended up nailing that interview and finally got the promotion.

Here’s what felt so frustrating to me (and still does): In that month, nothing about me or my qualifications or my experience had changed. The one difference was that I had time to think about the questions beforehand. It made the interview process I had gone through, and the stress it had caused in my life, seem futile and irrelevant.

Two years ago, when I applied for a job at the BC Government, I was happy to discover that they already did something that I’ve long thought everyone should do, but no one did.

They gave me the interview questions before the interview.

For me — and for a lot of other talented but anxious introverts and neurodiverse people — this is a game changer. Because no matter how hard I prepare for an interview, I’m still always crippled by anxiety and too overwhelmed by the situation to be able to think on the spot and formulate my thoughts into a logical sequence.

I can’t help but wonder: What are the actual benefits of saving the interview questions until the interview? The only good reason I can think of is that it validates a candidate’s ability to come up with a clever and articulate answer on the spot. But, unless you’re a politician or a PR spokesperson or some who has to make critical split second decisions, thinking on the spot is not actually a requirement of many jobs. I’ve never had a job where I’ve not been able to say, “let me have a think about that and get back to you on that.”

On the other hand, I can see plenty of potential risks of not providing interview questions beforehand:

  • You risk excluding neurodiverse and disabled candidates
  • Your hiring process is biased towards extroverts
  • You miss out on good candidates for without a good reason for doing so, (and in the current job market in Canada, I don’t think we can afford to miss out on good candidates)
  • It’s harder to evaluate on-the-spot responses because candidates haven’t had time to organize them in a logical way

Maybe it’s time for the practice of giving out interview questions in advance to become the standard in government? I’d love to know what others think about this, and if this is being done anywhere else.

a white chair with no one in it, against a black background
Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash