The Interview Equation: How Much Should We Prepare Our Candidates?
Interviews have been and will always be pivotal moments in the recruitment journey. They serve as the bridge between the initial candidate search and the final job offer, giving employers a closer look into a candidate’s competence, motivations, and fit. But as crucial as they are, interviews come with their own set of challenges, both for the candidate and the employer. One of the age-old debates within the recruitment realm is this: How Much Should We Prepare Our Candidates?
So, how much information and prep should hiring managers provide candidates before their interviews? Read on!
The Philosophy of Proper Preparation
Having been in the recruitment industry for over two decades, I’ve seen many interview styles, from the meticulously planned to the utterly spontaneous. Yet, one thing remains constant – the undeniable impact of candidate preparation. My belief, rooted deeply in my experiences with Revise Recruitment, is that knowledge truly empowers. When candidates walk into an interview room with a clear understanding of what to expect, it gives them the confidence to present their best selves.
I recall one instance at Revise when a candidate, let’s call him Mark, was interviewing for a high-profile role within a peak body organisation. By providing Mark with detailed insights into the company’s values, the structure of the interview, and the kind of questions he might face, we witnessed a transformation. The usual pre-interview jitters were replaced with a calm assertiveness. Mark later shared that the preparation made him feel valued, seen, and more connected to the role even before the interview commenced.
But while my experiences lean heavily towards the benefits of comprehensive preparation, I recognise the merits of the other side too. How do we strike a balance? In this blog, I’ll be unpacking the pros and cons of both approaches.
Understanding the Full Preparation Spectrum
The spectrum of candidate preparation is vast and varied. On one end, we have recruiters who furnish every last detail, even going so far as to coach candidates on potential answers. On the other, some believe in leaving candidates entirely to their devices, throwing them into the proverbial deep end.
Full Transparency: The Empowered Candidate
At Revise Recruitment, I’ve always gravitated towards a more transparent approach. When candidates know what they’re walking into, the power dynamics of the interview shift. Instead of a one-sided evaluation, it becomes a two-way conversation where both parties are assessing the potential fit.
- Reduced Anxiety: Knowledge is a potent antidote to anxiety. By giving candidates a clear roadmap, we eliminate the fear of the unknown, allowing them to focus on showcasing their expertise.
- In-depth Responses: With prior insight into the questions, candidates can provide more comprehensive and thought-out answers, demonstrating a depth of understanding and passion for the role.
- Mutual Respect: When we equip candidates with information, it sends a message: “We value your time and want you to succeed.” This mutual respect can set the tone for a long-term professional relationship.
- Over-preparation: There’s a fine line between being prepared and rehearsed. Sometimes, too much information can lead to robotic responses, devoid of spontaneity and genuine reflection.
- Potential Bias: If a candidate is too well-coached, it might be challenging for employers to gauge their authentic responses and inherent skills.
Minimal Guidance: The Raw, Authentic Candidate
On the other hand, there’s some good in allowing candidates to showcase their adaptability and thinking-on-the-feet skills. By providing little guidance, hiring managers can observe how candidates navigate unfamiliar terrains, which gives them a first-hand insight into how they will perform within the role when something unexpected happens.
- Authenticity: When candidates aren’t prepped with precise questions, their responses tend to be more candid, offering a glimpse into their genuine personalities and thought processes.
- Adaptability Check: In today’s business landscape, adaptability is a coveted skill. An unscripted interview can be an excellent way to assess this trait.
- Potential Miss: Without a heads-up on what to expect, even the most qualified candidates might fumble, and employers might miss out on a potential star hire.
- Increased Stress: The anxiety of facing the unknown can be counter-productive, preventing candidates from performing their best.
Finding the Middle Ground: A Balanced Approach
In the staffing world extremes rarely prove beneficial in the long run. Drawing from my journey at Revise Recruitment and countless interviews facilitated, I’ve come to appreciate a middle path. This balanced approach aims to empower candidates without overloading them, allowing for genuine interactions while still setting them up for success.
Crafting a Guided Yet Open Experience:
When setting up a candidate for an interview, I prefer giving them a compass rather than a detailed map. Here’s what this looks like in practice:
- Framework, Not Scripts: Provide candidates with a broad overview of the topics and areas the interview might cover without delving into specific questions. This primes them to think about their experiences and skills in those areas, while still leaving room for spontaneity.
- Company Culture & Values: Familiarise the candidate with the company’s culture and core values. Understanding the ethos of a company can guide candidates in tailoring their answers to align with the organisation’s vibe.
- Mock Sessions: Instead of coaching for exact questions, conduct mock interviews where candidates can practice a range of potential scenarios. This not only boosts their confidence but also prepares them for a diverse set of questions.
Why This Works:
- Authenticity Meets Preparation: Candidates walk into the interview room with a sense of direction but without a rehearsed script. Their answers are grounded in prior knowledge but articulated in the moment.
- Flexibility: By not being tied down to a rigid set of expected questions, candidates are better equipped to navigate curveballs and unexpected queries.
- Holistic Evaluation: Hiring managers get a well-rounded view of the candidate. They witness the candidate’s preparation in areas they were briefed on and their adaptability in areas they weren’t.
In the end, interviews are as much about getting to know the candidate as they are about the candidate getting to know the company. By embracing a balanced approach, we create an environment where meaningful, insightful exchanges can take place, benefiting both parties.
The Risks of Going in Blind: The Other Extreme
As we’ve explained the balance of preparation, it’s also crucial to touch on the complete contrast: candidates entering an interview completely unprepared. I’ve witnessed the repercussions of this strategy time and time again, and while some rare individuals might thrive under such pressure, for many (most) it proves a daunting experience.
The High Stakes of Surprise:
- Anxiety Peaks: With no understanding of what lies ahead, candidates often grapple with heightened anxiety. This nervousness can overshadow their true skills and potential, leading to an unfair evaluation.
- Missed Opportunities: Without any prior knowledge of the areas to be touched upon, candidates might miss highlighting relevant experiences or skills that would have been particularly pertinent to the role or company.
- Inefficient Use of Time: Interviews can become a game of cat and mouse, with candidates trying to gauge what the interviewer is seeking and the interviewer trying to draw out relevant information. This can lead to longer, less productive interviews.
Understanding the Why
It’s worth noting that some companies intentionally adopt this approach, believing that it tests a candidate’s ability to think on their feet or handle pressure. And while there are pros to assessing these qualities, it’s crucial to ask: Is this the most effective way to gauge them? And at what cost?
Finding the Balance: The Revise Recruitment Approach
Revise Recruitment firmly believes in empowering candidates, while also ensuring that the authentic essence of an interview remains intact. It’s not about rehearsing answers verbatim, but rather equipping candidates with a holistic understanding so they can best showcase their aptitude and passion.
Advocating for Transparent Communication:
- Setting Clear Expectations: Providing a broad outline of the topics to be covered during the interview allows candidates to reflect on their experiences in advance. This isn’t spoon-feeding them the answers but giving them a direction.
- Research Facilitation: Encouraging candidates to delve deeper into the company’s values, products, or services. This builds genuine interest and showcases their commitment to potential employers.
- Soft Skills Emphasis: While technical queries might be anticipated, the emphasis on soft skills, cultural fit, and personality should remain unpredictable to an extent. This ensures genuine interactions and assessments.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the magic of an interview lies in its spontaneity. While it’s essential to equip our candidates with the tools they need to succeed, it’s equally crucial to leave room for organic conversation. At Revise, our goal has always been to create an environment where candidates feel valued and understood but also challenged in a constructive manner.
Striking the Perfect Balance
Between preparation and spontaneity, the key is to strike the right balance. Remember that the ultimate goal of an interview is not just to evaluate a candidate’s competence but also to envision them in the role, to gauge if they’d be a good cultural add, and to determine how they’d contribute to the company’s growth.
Too much preparation might rob us of those organic moments where true personality and potential shine through. Too little, and we risk clouding a candidate’s brilliance with unnecessary anxiety and ambiguity.
In my 20 years in recruitment, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: Equip your candidates enough so they feel confident but leave enough unsaid so their genuine selves can shine.
So, next time you’re preparing a candidate for an interview or even heading into one yourself, remember, it’s all about balance. Embrace the journey, soak in the learnings, and always be open to evolving your approach. Happy hiring!
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