The pros and cons of receiving questions before an interview

Jun 17, 2024

5 mins

The pros and cons of receiving questions before an interview
Debbie Garrick

Freelance writer and translator, ex-recruiter

While pre-set interview questions are not the norm, career strategist and author of The Ultimate Interview Guidebook, Ana Goehner thinks they’re a great idea and wishes more companies would switch to this model. Her reasoning is clear, there are benefits for both the hiring company and the candidate, from equity to authenticity and efficiency.

While in her experience it might be rare, she feels it could be the way forward to stream-lining the recruitment process and hiring the best candidate for the job. When research finds that 32% of hiring mistakes happened because the recruiter took a chance on a nice person, anything that can help with this type of interview bias is surely a good idea.

Benefits of using pre-set interview questions

To some recruiters, sending interview questions to candidates before the meeting could seem like it defeats the purpose of getting honest answers, and gauging how well an applicant can think on their feet. However, there are many reasons why companies should consider changing to this less common model. So, what are the benefits of sending out questions in advance?

Improved company image

Imagine being the company known among candidates for their honest, transparent recruitment processes. Having pre-set interview questions speaks to all of this. In Goehner’s words, it means that “The interview panel is transparent, they’re telling you exactly what they want to know before you arrive. The candidate knows the expectations and can prepare.” She adds that people want to work for honest, open companies, and sharing your recruitment questions speaks volumes. “I would look up to a company like that, it says a lot about the company culture, they really care about this so they are sharing the questions openly to find out what they want to know about a candidate.”

A level playing field

If everyone is asked the same questions, it’s a great demonstration of fair play. Each candidate starts from the same place and you’re not trying to catch anyone out. Goehner believes this might help level the socio-economic playing field among candidates as it potentially narrows the gap between those who can afford to hire career coaches, resume writers, etc. and those who can’t. It can also help with interview bias because you’re asking exactly the same questions to every candidate. Applicants can feel secure knowing everyone is going through the same recruitment process.

Increased efficiency

Recruitment is a time-consuming process and when you have a position to fill, anything that speeds it along is a bonus. As part of an interview panel, Goehner has had to wait several days for candidates to be ready for an interview, not because they weren’t available, but because they wanted more time to prepare. With pre-selected interview questions, candidates will still want time to prepare, but Goehner feels they should be able to be ready much earlier and not need several days as they know exactly what questions to prepare for. It’s a win-win as candidates save time prepping and companies can shorten the recruitment process. Let’s face it, who couldn’t use a few more minutes in their day?

More authentic conversation

Interview anxiety is real, and one recent survey found that 9 out of 10 people found interviews stressful, with 15% stating the main cause of worry as being stumped by the potential employer’s questions. Goehner says, “People prepare, but when they need to deliver they are too nervous.” She believes that people can be more authentically themselves in an interview if they have the questions in advance and have time to plan. If they don’t need to worry so much about what they’re going to be asked It would feel less like an interrogation and hopefully more like a conversation. People would show up to these interviews more authentically, they would think of it more as a conversation that allows them to have more real, targeted, in-depth examples to share as they aren’t being asked to come up with anecdotes on the spot.

When you know what the interviewer wants to know, it’s easier to come up with examples from your experience that might showcase your skills. Yes, some people are amazing at thinking on their feet, but almost everyone will benefit from time to prepare.

Where pre-set questions can go wrong

There’s no denying the many benefits of pre-set interview questions for job hunters and recruiters alike. However, no strategy is perfect, so what are some things to watch out for in an interview where you have the questions in advance?

Over-rehearsed answers

Having the questions in advance can be great. It gives you the chance to rehearse your answers and wow a recruiter. However, Goehner cautions against writing them out too explicitly or memorizing your responses. Instead, make a list with the key points you want to share and practice answering the question a few times in different ways. You don’t want to fall into the trap of overly rehearsed responses, they won’t sound authentic and you risk being stumped if nerves cause you to forget exactly what you wanted to say.

Reliance on AI

According to Goehner, “AI has no emotions and cannot tell your story better than yourself. You are the one who lived that experience, doing the job, achieving the accomplishments, working inside the team or with your manager and there’s no way AI can do that job for you. I feel like a lot of people might use AI but that’s not your story.” By all means, use AI to get some idea of what to say, but personalize everything. What would happen if the hiring manager asked you a follow-up question and you didn’t know how to answer? AI can be a helpful tool, but it’s no replacement for your own knowledge and experience.

Not expecting follow-up questions

Just because a company was kind enough to share pre-selected questions, doesn’t mean they won’t ask you anything else. Be prepared for some follow-up questions, think about what else they might want to know, and come up with a few more examples.

Deciding to wing it

Goehner explains that if the company is going out of its way to give you the questions, winging it is never a good plan because vague answers won’t cut it. Especially if the recruiter gave you questions in advance, they are going to expect a greater level of preparation and depth than if you were simply answering questions on the spot. Treat it like any other interview and use the advantage of knowing exactly what they want you to prepare.

Tips for preset interview questions

  • Don’t write and memorize full answers, stick to bullet points for a natural flow.

  • Know what’s on your resume and cover letter and try to expand on it, rather than repeat it.

  • Leverage AI if you need inspiration, but always personalize it.

  • Craft your stories with care: Goehner suggests using the STAR method (situation, task, action, result) or the CAR method (challenge, action, result) to make them more compelling.

  • Use concrete examples.

  • Prepare for potential follow-up questions.

  • As with all interviews, research the company, turn up on time, and dress appropriately.

  • Be clear and concise.

  • Practice, but don’t over-rehearse.

When it comes down to it, Goehner says, “Recruiters and hiring managers are always looking for a specific answer. They want to know if you can perform the role. Anyone can write a beautiful resume. When you have the interviews you want to showcase what you’ve done in the past and how you can do that in the future. They want to add somebody to the team who can come in and run with that job.”

“Between two candidates it’s not necessarily the most qualified person that gets the job, it’s usually the person who was able to deliver their stories, share how they’re going to help the company based on what they’ve seen in the job description, demonstrate how they intend to perform that job and talk about how they’ve done things in the past. It’s about how you tell those stories, how you make the interview conversational, and the questions you ask.”

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