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Levelling the playing field

Written by: Natasha Hilton-Keane is director of recruitment at Osborne Thomas
Published on: 21 Mar 2024

Natasha Hilton-Keane takes a look at the increasing tactic of sending out advance questions as one way to get the best out of candidates within an interview

Sending candidate interview questions in advance is a practice fast becoming seen as a way of getting the best out of candidates. What is interesting however is to observe that in reality there has been little comprehensive research undertaken as to the precise benefits for candidates – and also for recruiters. What evidence we have is largely anecdotal.

As executive recruiters we have considered the positives of this activity for both parties.

A fair and level playing field

Sharing questions allows for all competing candidates to have an equal chance of succeeding. It also gives them confidence that they understand what elements the hiring organisation is looking for, and that their preparation is focused on the right things. This in turn enables those interviewing to be sure they can make the most appropriate selection based on the responses they get knowing they have been given more consideration. They will also know they are giving each candidate the best chance possible.


Stress and anxiety are reduced for candidates – both those neurotypical and those neurodivergent. Interviews can be daunting, even verging on terrifying for some. To allow candidates to plan and prepare their responses takes away that fear many of us feel when faced with the prospect of not producing the right answer in a split second. Equally, this aids the interviewers when it comes to any awkward and/or uncomfortable situations where they may feel compelled to provide pointers and/or become emotionally involved, the latter is particularly pertinent; neither party being likely to welcome such feeling.


Sticking with emotion, providing question sets ahead tells candidates you as an organisation/interviewers understand interviews can be stressful and that you wish to reduce this through empathy not sympathy. And for candidates? They are empowered.


By being open about your interview process candidates are receiving strong messages about your organisation; that you are fair, thoughtful, empathetic, and professional. They will value these messages and whether successful or not come away with having had a good experience; elements invaluable to your employer brand and how you are perceived in the market.

When you collect each of these elements together it is our view that the provision of questions ahead of the interview provides very real opportunity to develop a fair and more informative process that encourages and allows candidates to present themselves in the best possible light. And equally, it provides a less threatening environment for candidates to demonstrate their ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and demonstrate their alignment to the given role.

Some might say this can result in over-rehearsed responses being offered, lacking in personality. Aside from the fact that for any candidate to take this approach is clearly inadvisable (and for obvious reasons), if it were to happen it is easy to spot. Interviewers can and should be prepared with follow up questions that probe candidate responses to a deeper level. Questions such as ‘Why did you take that approach?’ or ‘What did you learn?’ or ‘How might you have done it differently?’ are powerful tools to testing any candidates’ genuine thought processes, problem solving abilities, and so on.

Still not totally sold on this concept of providing questions ahead of interviews, but understanding there is definitely some benefit? Where we know this to be the case, alternative suggestions we put forward to our customers include the provision of some of the questions, not all of them, and/or providing specific topics or themes that are relevant to the role, their organisation, etc.

A quandary for many of our customers is at what point to provide any questions, and/or topics and themes. Again, due to lack of any in-depth research, there is no best practice response to this question. Our advice is to consider the complexities of the questions you intend to ask; if highly technical or potentially requiring particular data and analysis we tend to suggest at least 48 hours. If the questions are more standardised a shorter window for preparation is acceptable. Key is to ensure all candidates for any role receive the questions within the same timeframe ahead of the interview – this may require some logistical planning on the hiring organisation’s part where interviews are staggered over a number of days.

The decision in terms of what direction to take is entirely up to you; food for thought however, the decision you make should be aligned with your organisational values and behaviours, the role to which you are hiring, and the candidate experience you aim to provide. n

Natasha Hilton-Keane is director of recruitment at Osborne Thomas