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Secrets of a Brighter Workplace


Tips on how to understand, recruit and keep the best people for your business


How a transparent assessment process makes for better hiring decisions

Letting the cat out of the bag

How we assess candidates was once something to be kept secret and hidden.

We felt, perhaps, it would make things too easy for people if we let them know what was going to happen during an interview or assessment. Perhaps we thought people’s spontaneous answers to our questions were more indicative of their character/attributes/behaviours than a prepared answer.

But times have changed. The world is a far more transparent place than it used to be. The internet enables us to research any company, any individual in just a few clicks. We can see what a place is really like to work for by checking Facebook, Twitter and Glassdoor. We expect, demand even, more information, more contact, more transparency.

Plus, science tells us that interviews aren’t a great predictor of performance. More often than not, what you’re really testing is someone’s ability to perform in an interview. Whether their skill at coming up with the right answers at that moment translates into the right behaviours for the role and for your business, is somewhat moot.

A transparent assessment process will help candidates to prepare in advance. Which will help them perform better. And mean you have the evidence you need to make the right hiring decision for your business.

Here’s my advice on how to make your assessment process more transparent.

What to share about your assessment process

So, for cultural and practical reasons, I recommend being transparent about your assessment process. It will help you get to the real person behind the ‘face’ we all put on for an interview.

I recommend you share with candidates before interview/assessment day:

  • your competency framework
  • the exercises they’ll be asked to complete at the assessment centre
  • the timings of exercises e.g. ‘there’ll be a role play of about 15 minutes in length with some time to prepare’
  • what’s being measured by what exercise, e.g. ‘in the interview we will be looking for evidence of collaboration, leadership and analysis’
  • introduce them to the STAR technique i.e. how to formulate their interview question answers.

Why you should share this information

  • Because it means you can assess candidates on the evidence they provide, rather than on their ability to do well in an interview
  • Because that means you can compare like with like – rather than comparing the effect of nerves with the ability to generate answers to unexpected questions off the top of your head (useful for some jobs but not predictive of performance in most!)
  • Because it levels the playing field – everyone’s been given the same information and the same opportunity to prepare – which helps those who have more reflective styles of thinking or people who are more detail focused, or who like stability and predictability (all useful qualities in some jobs but you need to give them a chance to emerge)
  • Because it reduces the likelihood of cheating – candidates often share their interview/assessment experiences with others, but that’s not an issue if you’ve already done so
  • Because it removes ‘exercise style’ effects – if you’ve never done a reasoning test/role play before it’s going to affect your performance. By having advance notice, candidates can get mentally prepared. And anything that can mentally prepare you helps reduce anxiety
  • Because it helps with diversity – less confident or introvert candidates have the opportunity to prepare better. An extrovert is at a natural advantage at a face-to-face assessment – given some jobs are better if done by an introvert, preparation gives them a fair crack at the whip!
  • Because it makes for a better candidate experience – people feel like they’re being treated like adult human beings, rather than test subjects. They’ll spread the word about their positive experience of your organisation – I’ve seen candidates recommend other people to apply even if they didn’t get through themselves as they had such a positive experience in the recruitment process.

What not to share

You don’t have to tell candidates the actual questions you’re going to ask in interview. Although one of my clients does so, 10 minutes before the interview starts. That’s because the role requires ‘reflectors’, people who like to consider things before acting. Candidates are therefore given the chance to reflect on the questions, and their answers, beforehand.

Definitely though, don’t share the full details of your scoring guide. How you evaluate people’s answers, how you assess their performance should be kept confidential.

You can share the competencies you are measuring, but you need to be mindful that sharing the specifics of each and every indicator and the scoring scale you’re using can lead to candidates playing, what I call, ‘buzzword bingo’ in an interview. I.e. they make sure their answers include the key words from the indicators. Often they focus so much on this, they fail to provide any evidence about their personal experience.

For example, compare these two answers to a competency question measuring leadership:

Q. Tell me about a time you led a team through a challenging situation.

A1. “The company had to cut staff. I led my team through this really difficult time and they often came to me for guidance and decisions about it. I consulted with my team and provided innovative and creative ideas to the Board to support the future strategy of the business. I told my team I had an open door policy on the issue if they wanted to talk to me. I showed strong leadership capabilities through this tough time.”


A2. “At my last company, we faced a really difficult financial time and I was responsible for leading my team through it. When the announcements were made around redundancies I firstly sat them down and talked them through what we knew. I asked for their views and worries. We talked about how they could help improve the team’s financial performance and together we identified some actions I could take back to the board. I reassured them I would keep them informed throughout the changes. We then booked in one-to-ones and a team meeting for a month’s time to discuss updates about the situation. Plus when I saw people struggling I made sure I spent some time talking to them more informally and gave them the support they needed, Kelly, one of my team members, found this time particularly hard as her partner had recently been made redundant. Where I could I provided reassurances about the future. They knew it was a tough time for everyone but they knew I would do my best for them.”

The first answer initially looks okay, but is basically just using ‘buzzwords’ to hit the leadership behaviours. The second is much more personalised, more specific and demonstrates leadership in action rather than describing what leadership is. The second answer provides stronger evidence of capability.

And finally, on the logistics, don’t forget to:

Let your candidates know the location of the interview/assessment, the person to contact if they need to, any dress code, the start and finish time.

All things that will make their lives a little easier. Meaning they’re in the right frame of mind to do their best at the assessment. Meaning you’ll get much better quality evidence about whether they’re the right person for the job.


Want to improve your interviewing technique? You can access my Interview Skills for Interviewers online course from the Virtual Training Centre here.

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