‘Transparent’ interviewing can bring benefits for both candidates and recruiters

Job interviews can be painful no matter which side of the table you’re on, but a new way of conducting them could help redress the balance, as Nyree Grierson explains

I’ve always found job interviews to be painful experiences no matter which side of the table I’ve been on. We all know what it’s like to tie ourselves in knots over which questions might come up, and the anxiety this can bring even days before an interview. From my perspective as an interviewer, I’ve seen candidates, through no fault of their own, crumble when they’ve used examples in the wrong places, or struggled to recall something that would likely have come to them the minute they leave the interview room. Why does it have to be like this?

When recruiting last year for an officer-level role, I realised I wanted to try and redress the balance by providing interview questions in advance, having never done so before as a recruiter or experienced this as a candidate. The panel and I had much debate about when to provide the information. Should it be done 15 minutes in advance or earlier? What details should we provide? Did we want to share exact questions or just broad topics? Should we leave some questions undisclosed to see how candidates coped under pressure? 

In the end, I decided to send the exact questions 24 hours in advance and for there to be no surprises. In other words, completely transparent interviewing. What I discovered as a result was illuminating.

With the element of surprise removed, no one was thrown by the nuances of the questions and candidates could reflect and choose examples which best fit the questions. For instance, a question about time management practices could likely have been anticipated from the person spec, but I specifically wanted to know about when their time management had gone wrong and what they had learned from this. I was thus able to probe much more effectively to get further richer information, rather than fall back on the usual prompting just to keep candidates on track. 

From the perspective of decency, it also felt pretty good not to have unnecessarily wasted the time of unsuccessful candidates. One such candidate had worked a 50-hour week in a care home and appreciated that on their day off they had time to relax as well as prepare for the interview. 

Interestingly, another candidate assumed the entire exercise was a trick designed to catch them out, which speaks volumes about the kind of fear and paranoia with which interviews can sometimes be perceived. Yet another candidate withdrew. Having reflected on the questions, they decided they were not suitable, saving themselves and everyone else much time and rigmarole in the process. 

Most significantly, no one had to ask for any cognitive-related reasonable adjustments (RAs), which can bring about conscious and unconscious bias. In inclusion theory, there exists the idea that when there is no detriment, RAs should become standard practice. Not only does this reduce the burden on candidates who might otherwise have to request them, RAs offered to all mean that everyone benefits equally. 

In relation to both neurodiversity and candidate wellbeing, the standard practice of putting candidates on the spot was just not necessary and bore no relation to the pressures of the role. After all, we were not looking to hire someone to appear on Newsnight.

All things considered, transparent interviewing seemed to allow candidates to perform at a higher level, much more able to give me a better understanding of their suitability for the role. The process respected candidate wellbeing and time, and was a small step towards reducing the inherent biases in the selection process. 

The 2020s have taught us the importance of compassion, and we are seeing a growing appetite for a fairer society. It’s time to look at the way we’ve always done things and make sure our profession is in step with these changes; transparent interviewing is a great place to start.

Nyree Grierson is organisation development manager at Edinburgh College