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Sending interview questions in advance: pros and cons

I was in a few interviews last year. One of the things to come up was the question of whether to share interview questions in advance. Opinions seemed split.

This isn’t a comprehensive post and I don’t have any iron-clad answers. If you happen to read this and have any compelling arguments either way, I’d love to hear them.

Let’s start with the pros.

You level the playing field. Not everyone is comfortable answering questions on the spot while under pressure. Plenty of people will have fantastic answers to the common question format of “tell me about a time when…” but freeze when the spotlight is on them. If the role in question seldom requires immediate answers to difficult questions, your process is filtering people out based on an irrelevant skill.

You get more relevant answers. If you ask me to tell you about a time I resolved a difficult disagreement with a coworker, I’m going to have a better answer if I have five minutes to think about it than if I feel the pressure to say something within 30 seconds or blow the interview.

And the cons?

The interview becomes a script reading exercise. There are a couple ways to reduce this risk:

  • Send topics rather than verbatim questions.
  • Ask follow-up questions. There’s no reason you can’t use the candidate’s answer as a jumping off point to probe deeper.

The candidate might over-prepare. This concern was actually raised by potential candidates. This could be mitigated by stressing up-front that the questions are jumping off points.

The candidate might cheat. In theory, a candidate with prior knowledge of the questions can pull the wool over your eyes with brilliantly prepared examples based on totally fictional experience.

My only thought here is that it’s common for a company to have a probationary period in which you should be able to tell if someone has lied during an interview and take the appropriate action. If your company isn’t equipped to detect that someone isn’t qualified during that period, they probably didn’t need the unfair advantage in the interview.

Overall, I think giving candidates some opportunity to prepare in advance is going to result in higher quality interviews with happier candidates. How about you?

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