Is Interview Preparation Cheating?
Someone asked me why employers would want recruiters to prepare candidates for interviews. "Isn't that like cheating? Wouldn't they get a better vantage point to see how people really are if they don't know what to expect in the interview?"
In fact, I actually had a new client unexpectedly call my candidate BEFORE the scheduled appointment so he wouldn't be "prepared" and so he could see a "real picture" of this candidate. The candidate did okay because he was very senior level and had the experience this client needed, but he certainly could have done significantly better if he were prepared. The employer and I had a good discussion about it afterwards, and I thought if there were other employers who share this opinion that they might be interested in the topic as well.
Let's say you were back in college with a full load of classes, everything from Economics and Philosophy to Ancient Religions. Hypothetically, tomorrow was test day, and you had an exam that would count for 50% of your entire semester grade. What if the school refused to tell you which subject the test would be on? Do you think you would be able to give the school a better, or a worse, illustration of your abilities on that subject if you didn’t know what was coming?
In the reality of life, you would not only know which professor would be giving the test for which class, you would know which chapters of which textbook to study. Having that knowledge would allow you to prepare yourself and perform at YOUR individual best. In school, everyone is given the information about the subject to prepare for, and they separate themselves by their abilities with full preparation.
Real World Situation
How often do you walk into a business meeting having absolutely no idea what subject matter will be discussed? "I have a meeting at 3pm today, but I have no clue what we'll be talking about." The answer to that SHOULD be, "Not very often, if ever at all." I know there are some people out there who show up to meetings completely unprepared, but most often that’s by choice.
Realistically, a majority of the time you will know what is going to be discussed ahead of time, allowing you the opportunity to prepare.
Why prepare for that meeting? So you can perform at YOUR individual best.
So why then do we expect interviewees to come in blind, and yet we expect to see a BETTER assessment of their abilities because they are unprepared? That doesn’t make sense. That not only puts the candidate at a disadvantage, it puts the employer at a disadvantage because they will not see the full potential of the candidate's abilities in the short time they must evaluate the candidate and decide to invest hard-earned company dollars in them.
What do you really want to know?
When we ask someone to arrive unprepared, what are we really assessing? Are we assessing their ability to do the job, or their ability to improvise in an unprepared situation?
When people are faced with the unknown, and the consequences of failure are great, that's when nerves set in!
When we're nervous, it can affect the way we think, the way we process information, and the way we respond in certain situations. The fact is that if each candidate has the opportunity to prepare, knowing the itinerary, how many people they will be meeting with, and the subject matter they will be asked about, then they will be able focus on the expectations of the conversation confidently and the employer will be able to see each person at their individual best.
Instead of comparing each candidate on their ability to improvise, they are comparing the best of what each candidate has to offer on how they will fulfill the job opening. Ever wonder why some companies make so many bad hires? This is a HUGE contributor; they aren't assessing the correct set of skills from the candidates.
If the job requires improvisational skills, excellent, keep them in the dark. However, in my experience, the companies that make sure each candidate is prepared equally tend to make the best decisions.
Here's your plan:
If you are in a position to hire, create an interview agenda; not just for the interview itself, but for the entire process. What information will they be given ahead of time? If you have a consistent plan, you’ll be able to compare skills on an equal plane, and ultimately make better hiring decisions.
As a candidate, seek out this information. You are not cheating! You are ensuring the employer sees your best regarding the specific skill THEY NEED, not your ability to improvise.