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How Transparency Can Level the Playing Field (and What It Means for Employers)

3 min read.



Employer Branding, Talent Attraction

Is it a good idea to let candidates see questions ahead of an interview? UK retail institution, John Lewis thinks so. But what are the implications for the efficacy of the selection process and what value does it bring to recruiters?...


The job interview, once the ultimate nerve-shredding, dread test of employee competence and suitability, may be on its way to becoming a thing of the past. In the form we are all currently familiar with, at least.

The pre-prepared scenario questions (“tell us about a time you succeeded under pressure?”), the ‘gotcha’ questions that can leave even the sharpest minds floundering(“If you were a piece of fruit, what would you be?”), often seem to have very little bearing on your ability to perform the role in question. Unless you’re up for a job as an ingredient in a smoothie.

And if John Lewis Partnership’s recent move to publish all of its candidate interview questions on its website is a clue, then employers seem to have noticed that the process might need a refresh too.

“Anyone who has ever recruited will know that there are sometimes candidates who would be capable of performing to a high standard in a role but don’t always give the best performance at an interview,” said Lorna Bullett, talent acquisition manager at JLP.

“It made us question why we couldn’t do something different with the assessment process and [so] we decided to publish our interview questions.”

“Interviews can feel daunting, and for some — particularly those who are neurodiverse — nerves can seriously impact performance,” she continued.

“We want the right people, from a variety of backgrounds with the best talent to join our organisation. It makes absolute business sense to find ways of helping candidates to really demonstrate what they can do so that we get the right fit for the role.”

To be clear, it doesn’t mean that it is abandoning the interview as part of its filtering process. There will still be follow ups to those set questions. But it is a new attitude towards the function of the interview process.It highlights a shift towards transparency and preparation in hiring practices. While such measures aim to alleviate the stress of interviews and level the playing field, they also bring about new challenges and considerations for employers.

The success of a recruitment campaign requires a well-designed candidate experience, not just for the applicant but for the employer as well. It forms a significant part of the employee value proposition, reflecting how the company values its staff.

Customer service roles, for example, might well benefit from high-pressure question scenarios during interviews to gauge important qualities such as composure and empathy. Conversely, positions like researchers or data analysts, who thrive in calm, thoughtful environments, might find rapid-fire questioning counterproductive and intimidating.

A one-size-fits-all approach is simply not efficient as a filter when there are such a wide variety of roles even within individual organisations.  

Aligning the interview process with the nature of the role not only helps in identifying the right candidate but also sets them up for success in their potential new environment.

Challenges of Pre-Published Interview Questions

But while pre-publishing interview questions tackles issues like nervousness and unpreparedness, and makes for a more open and authentic process, it could introduce several complexities:

Ease of Preparation: With resources like ChatGPT and Google, candidates can craft perfect responses like never before, making it harder to assess their genuine capabilities.

Misaligned Job Expectations: Providing questions in advance might misrepresent the actual pressures and demands of the job, potentially setting false expectations on the part of the candidate.

Uniformity of Responses: When candidates present similar, polished answers, distinguishing between them becomes more challenging, increasing the risk of bias based on personality or appearance.

Lengthier Process: A more thorough screening might be required to differentiate candidates effectively, potentially prolonging the hiring process.

To counterbalance the pitfalls of pre-published questions, employers might consider incorporating unexpected follow-up inquiries to probe deeper into a candidate's thought process and adaptability. This might, however, be at odds with the original intent to reduce interview anxiety.

Moreover, as we increasingly rely on digital communication, there is a risk that we might be undermining essential social skills and confidence, crucial for personal and professional interactions. Lowering the stress level of interviews to make them more accessible might inadvertently lead to a dilution of recruitment standards.

The Value of Authentic Interaction

While making interviews less daunting is beneficial, it's essential not to conflate ease with effectiveness. Observing how candidates handle stress and unfamiliar situations can provide critical insights into their resilience and real-world problem-solving capabilities. It's important for interviews to matter—to the candidates and to the hiring team. An interview situation can reveal much about an individual’s motivation, passion, and potential fit within the company culture.

So, while initiatives like that of John Lewis are to be applauded for their inclusivity and forward-thinking, employers must carefully balance these with the need to accurately assess a candidate’s suitability and readiness for the role.

As we innovate recruitment strategies, and align them with new sets of expectations, we must ensure they not only make the hiring process easier for the recruiter and more appealing to candidates but also maintain the integrity and rigour of the assessment process, ultimately benefiting both the candidate and the organisation.


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