Hardly anyone likes to go to a job interview.
While some people can thrive in an interview, the interview process itself, and in particular the anticipation of the interview, brings, for the majority of people, an overwhelming sense of dread and stress.
Moreover, even for those unfazed by the very idea of an interview, the fact that the stakes are so high – only one person will get the job after all – may mean that anticipation and the threat of professional embarrassment are very real and can impact performance on the day.
As such, it’s been interesting to see the concept of sharing interview questions with candidates before the interview gain more and more traction in recent years.
I am a strong proponent of such an approach and, having interviewed several times using this approach, it is something I believe other leaders and their schools should seek to adopt.
How to do
The first point to consider is the practical aspects – of which there are many.
For example, how much and when do you want to share with respondents? Ideally, this should be decided by your school’s hiring committee, but should have some level of input from department heads.
To the question “when”, you can choose two routes. The first is to do it about an hour before the interview and give candidates a room to prepare. However, I have seen other schools share questions days in advance.
From my perspective, sharing them too far in advance can lead to overthinking and later stress for the candidate.
Knowing that they will know the same day takes the pressure off and would be my suggestion for optimal wellness benefits.
I think there are benefits to both, but whatever you do, make sure this is clearly communicated to candidates when you tell them about their interview and that you apply it to everyone else too.
Once you have decided on the “when”, you need to think about the type of questions you want to share.
To do this, you want to think about questions that require independent research and that require the application of the candidate’s experience.
For example, if you are asking about the school and why the candidate wants to work there, you can ask this “cold” to see if the candidate has done their research.
However, more practical questions that require candidates to delve into their own experiences and apply them to the question are much more appropriate to know in advance. An example of this might be: “How have you led change at the departmental level over the past three years?”
It’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that someone can go blank under interview pressure or fail to set the best example because they cling to the first thing that comes to mind. Having this time allows them to review and select the best answer.
As noted, you want to retain certain questions that will help demonstrate that a candidate has properly researched the school or role.
Some may still not be convinced to share questions before an interview but, for me, the benefits are many.
The purpose of the interview process is to find the most suitable candidate for the advertised position. Therefore, sharing questions with interviewees before the interview will allow them to prepare better answers.
As a result, the interview panel will have a better overview of each candidate’s fit for the job. This will not be determined by the candidate’s ability to verbally express themselves under pressure.
Unless you’re interviewing for a position that requires such a skill set, sharing questions ahead of time seems like a sensible and more sensible approach to an age-old process.
The most obvious rebuttal to such a suggestion would be: “The answers are going to be manicured to such an extent that it will be difficult to determine the best candidate.
But I’d rather have to make a decision based on which excellent response was better, as opposed to who performed better verbally under pressure and who was mute.
Also, knowing in advance what is going to be asked does not, in my opinion, affect the reliability or usefulness of the process. In all likelihood, what you will be asking the candidate for is to give specific, concrete examples related to the topic you are asking the question about.
Therefore, the ability to think it through in advance does not mean that the candidate can manipulate the process. Either they have the experience and are able to demonstrate how it demonstrates suitability for the criteria, or they don’t.
Possibility of dialogue, no monologue
With a new approach comes new opportunities. Since the candidate has enough time to prepare his answers before the interview, it is more appropriate to intervene with follow-up questions.
This will give you a much better opportunity to go deeper and scrape below the surface. I find that when I interview without sharing the questions before the interview, I’m much less likely to jump in because I don’t want to interrupt the interviewee’s concentration.
If the questions are shared in advance, it means you have a better chance of creating a dialogue with the candidates, rather than listening to an impromptu monologue.
Consistent with all of the points above, you’re much more likely to get better dates in the long run. Surely that is the purpose of the process?
As headteacher, I am aware of the significant expenditure on recruitment and the importance of retaining the best staff.
So much time, resources and money go into this process and anything we can do to earn an extra percent or two is worth it.
Among those nominated through this process, there is a general feeling that it was a kinder, more sensible approach that allowed them to deliver the best version of themselves that day.
This is why sharing questions before the interview is something I would recommend all senior teams across the country consider if it would work at your school.
Paul Gardner is Deputy Principal of Methodist College Belfast and author of So you want to teach abroad published in March. He previously worked in international schools in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Russia and Spain