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Coursework beats exams any day

First published on the NAVCA website

When recruiting a new team member during the Covid 19 pandemic, VODA (NAVCA member from North Tyneside) attempted to redress the traditional recruitment power-balance by sharing the interview questions with the applicants in advance of the interview. After all, it’s not an exam is it? The results were fantastic.

Josie Robinson, a member of VODA’s Leadership Team, explains why she believes this was the right thing to do.

“I am not ashamed to admit that traditional forms of interviews fill me with dread. Whichever side of the desk I’m on, I always feel very uncomfortable. If I’m interviewing for a role, no matter how confident I feel about my ability to fulfil that role, being put on the spot just doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m good at what I do, but I struggle to articulate myself during formal interview situations.”

I can’t stand that stereotypical interview scenario which consists of an intimidating panel trying their best to be friendly but ‘professional’. Welcoming in a terrified interviewee who has no idea what the next 45 minutes is going to look like. That tokenistic glass of water as a peace offering before an onslaught of questions. There’s always one who asks a ‘quirky’ question just to see what sort of person you are… like ‘please tell us how do you fit an elephant into a fridge?”

So when it was suggested that we trial a new approach to recruiting staff I was sold. Providing candidates with the questions we intended to ask in advance offered up an opportunity to create a really unique environment for the interviews. As a panel member, I personally felt more relaxed, knowing that I wasn’t delivering curve ball questions left right and centre to candidates caught in the headlights. It levelled out the power dynamic in the (virtual) room, giving candidates the chance to consider is this the organisation for me? Just as much as whether we’re the right organisation for that person.

“It gave me a really interesting insight to see how people prepared for these questions in advance. There’s the people who saw it as a test; which involved frantically preparing cue cards, post-it notes and scribbles on notebooks which were to be used as a prompt if they felt they hadn’t given the perfectly rehearsed answer. For other candidates having questions in advance was an opportunity to plan, reflect on their achievements and respond in a manner that was not only human, but heartfelt and genuine. The latter are the candidates I was most interested in, it showed me that these people shared the values of our organisation and could bring with them their own unique professional and personal circumstances.”

The interview process resulted in VODA recruiting two new members of staff to their Good Neighbours project.

Emma Brookes:

“I was going through quite a difficult time before I saw the job advertised with Good Neighbours at VODA. I had left a job that I had loved and been there many years, to start what I was hoping would be a new career. A few months into starting this new job, during a lockdown and restrictions, was very challenging and I realised that the job just wasn’t for me. On top of that, at one point I was afraid to leave the house unless I went out with my partner.

“An old colleague pointed out the Good Neighbours’ vacancy and said I would be perfect for it. I was hesitant to apply at first as I had lost most of my confidence in myself and my abilities after struggling for some months. However, I talked myself into it and applied. I received a very prompt response inviting me to an interview over Zoom with questions supplied in advance of the interview (which I have never had for previous interviews). This almost immediately alleviated a lot of my anxiety about this interview. It gave me the opportunity to prepare properly and to be able to present myself and my abilities effectively. I don’t believe I would have performed as well without having the questions beforehand. I was successful and it gave me some of my confidence back.”

Jen Mars:

“I really appreciated getting the interview question in advance – applying for jobs during a pandemic is overwhelming as it is. Getting the questions in advance put me at ease before the interview, as I knew what to expect. In addition, with now having time to prepare for the specific questions, I felt as if I could properly evaluate my most applicable experience and skills. The focus in the interview would lie more on the quality of those skills and past experiences than on my ability to answer questions on the spot.”

This recent experience has been such a success that VODA intends applying it to all future interviews.