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The Pre-Interview Stage - A New Stage in the Path to Employment

This idea benefits youth job applicants and employers. The path to employment for youth includes completing an online application and waiting to be contacted for an interview. For many youth an interview may be an intimidating, uncomfortable experience. They may feel that it is not a reflection of their true self and their capabilities. The path to hire for employers is, place an ad with the job requirements, receive and review applications, conduct personal interviews, make a selection. The "Pre-Interview Stage" creates an opportunity to increase the chances for a positive outcome for both applicant and employer. How? By providing a platform which includes observation and reflection with the potential to foster connections.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

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How might we re-think the recruiting process to align the needs of employers with potential employees' talents?  


A Three Step Pre-Interview Process

For the candidate the steps are:

Observation - Collaboration - Reflection 

For the employer the steps are:
Observation - Review - Assess

Process For Employers
1)  After screening CVs invite selected candidates in as groups.

2)  Prepare to have the candidates observe the work environment in some capacity.  Examples -  Have them attend a meeting.  Have them observe a sales team.  Alternatively have them watch a video of a work situation. 

3)  Present the group with a scenario based on the work situation they have been observing.  Ask them to collaborate around a specific question as it relates to their observations. 

4)  Observe the group interaction.  What role does each candidate play?  What can we learn about each applicant as they interact with their peers? 

Process For Applicants
1)  Arrive at the appointed time to the potential employer's work site.

2)  Be put into groups with other applicants, or perhaps current employees.

3)  Observe current staff doing their jobs either in real time or on a video.

4)  As a group collaborate around a specific question or problem posed,  as it relates to what you have just observed.

5)  Reflect on the experience as a whole.  Create a narrative focusing on whatever aspect of the experience you choose.  There are many possibilities including observations of employee interactions, applicant interactions/collaborative exercise, and reflection on the problem presented are just a few.  The exercise will be merely to "reflect on your experience here."  (The exercise is meant to be a reflection and not an evaluation of one's writing skills.)

6)  The day ends here.  The next step will be a call back for an interview.


Brainstorming with a friend we had a lively discussion about the recruiting and interviewing process for young people in the current employment market.  I suggested observing youth candidates as a group working around problem solving.  My friend opined that this would be limiting for youth that are introverted and uncomfortable jumping into group discussions, particularly with strangers.  She was adamant that there will be many good applicants that may be pushed aside in these situations.    

She proceeded to share a story with me of a young college student who shadowed her in her medical/surgical practice briefly last year.  The girl's mother is one of her patients.  She and her husband were at an appointment and they proudly told the doctor that their daughter is pre-med.  The physician offered to host their daughter in her office for a few weeks, giving her the opportunity to shadow and get some real world experience.  The young woman jumped at the chance.
The young woman came to several office sessions.  The physician and her medical assistant introduced her to their patients and explained the basic workings of the office.  She observed doctor/patient interactions.  The physician noted her to be quiet.  She did not ask questions, was not proactive and when prompted to do a task was slow in doing so.  The doctor and the medical assistant wondered to themselves if this young woman was choosing the correct career path as she seemed passive, the opposite of engaged and energetic.  At the end of the experience the student asked the physician for a letter of recommendation for medical school.  Not having much to go on the doctor asked her "to write the letter herself describing what her experience was like and some of the things she got out of it."  She would then use this to compose a letter.

She received the write up a few days later.  She was surprised at what she read.   "She had been observing all along the human interactions, the subleties, how I explained things at the patient's level, what the set up was in the office, the doctor's ability to communicate effectively with patients."  The letter was "observant and well written."
"She was much more aware than we gave her credit for."  Upon reflection the physician recalled that this young woman was raised in a strict religious family.  She wondered if within this culture young women were not encouraged to step in and ask questions.  "I learned from that experience.  She was amazing as far as what she observed about me and I was amazed at what she observed about the process."  In retrospect the physician remarked, "I might have been giving her tasks at a higher level than she was at.  She did not speak up."  

This young woman observed in detail interactions the MD had with her patients.  She described their communication noting how the physician was able to convey complex medical information in a way that was straightforward and simple so that an ill patient could understand it.  She described with empathy how patients received difficult news.  She clearly was present and not distracted.  She saw and heard everything that transpired in that room capturing it in her writing with great sensitivity. The issues here were -  she was young, inexperienced, uncomfortable as an "intruder" in a very personal space.  Cultural issues may have been at play.  For her level of education she was completely on target.  Her focus was on the interpersonal aspect of medicine.  That is what she was able to understand and she reflected on it beautifully.

This story reminded me of a meeting I had with a young woman who also had plans to study medicine.  In this case I was interviewing her for admission to medical school.  On her application she noted, amongst the many activities she participated in, that she had shadowed a family practitioner in her local community for a few sessions.  I asked her to reflect on her experience in the office.  What did you see?  learn?
"Nothing really.  Just checking throats...."  She told me she plans to become and obstetrician and that she really learned very little in the doctor's office.  This young woman did not exhibit the same skill set as the one in the story above, at least at that point in time.   

From our discussion we came up with an idea to add to the observation step and subsequent collaborative exercise, a reflective exercise in which youth write about this experience.  Using this approach there are multiple ways for an applicant to express oneself and therefore different opportunities for the employer to observe and assess.  

Going one step further, what does this community think about including a lunch in this process?  Will this add an opportunity for applicants to get a better look at the culture of the work site, as they interact with employees less formally?  It can also be an opportunity for employers and their teams to further observe applicants.  
Medical residency interviewing is a full day process.  There are educational sessions with faculty, lunch and tours of hospital facilities with resident physicians, and several formal interviews.  As an applicant in this process I found it exhausting, at times anxiety provoking, sometimes educational, and upon occasion exciting to connect or reconnect with peers.  In restrospect the process was an important opportunity for both applicant and future employer to look, see, observe in a variety of settings over the course of a day.  It helps both.  If feasible it might be a good idea to borrow some of this structure in other recruiting settings.  One part of this process that stood out for me was that our personal statements were reviewed and considered by the department.  Personal experience:  On one interview day I was surprised when the Dept. Chair greeted and welcomed me by name as he entered grand rounds first thing in the morning. (We had never met. All the applications had attached photos.)  That afternoon I had a personal interview with him.  He let me know that I had written something in my personal statement that caught his attention.  As a young person I found this experience extremely validating.  
How can we create opportunities for youth to express themselves in ways that stand out to potential employers?  Is the Pre Interview Stage such an opportunity?

Reflecting on one's experience, sharing it with potential employers, creates opportunities for employers to "see" applicants in ways  that the current recruiting process does not.  Experiencing a work site creates opportunities for applicants to gain knowledge about a possible job.

Interview User Experiences
A conversation with a 30 year old about his interview experience for his present job lead to interesting insights on different approaches to interview processes that he experienced overtime.
He describes himself as an introvert. 

Descriptions of two interview processes he has experienced and his reflections on them.

Current position in human resources at a community health center.
1 - Applied online.
2 - Received a group of questions by email to answer in response to his application.
3 - Called in to interview
4 - Interviewed in person with a group of 3 manager level staff.
5 - Interviewed in a second stage by the organization's CEO.
He described the experience as "okay - a bit nerve wracking."  "Answering questions online first was a good start to the process."

Earlier on his employment trajectory -
23 year old college student looking for part time work.
Applied for a position to work in guest services at a tourist destination site in NYC.  
The interview was in a group.
A facilitator was present.  
He had the group introduce themselves to each other.  
He asked questions of the group which were answered individually by raising one's hand. 
Interaction and discussion within the group was also encouraged.

"I liked that the focus of the interview was not completely on me 100% of the time during the interview process."

"I liked that I could pick and choose which questions to answer and to participate as much or as little as I wanted to."

"I hate interviews.  This was one of the better ones."

The group interview was followed by individual interviews.  He landed the job!
Good user experience!

(I wonder if this company used a group format here because their industry is tourism, and therefore they wanted to observe candidates in a setting where they interact with others.)  


Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

This benefits all youth that do not have an opportunity to show themselves fully in the current job application process. This benefits employers that are interested in gaining a better understanding of who the applicant is as opposed to what their credentials are. How to get the word out? Pilot this idea within different work places and industries. If employers get results they will adopt it more widely. How to share their findings? Human Resource community social media, employees, any other great ideas?

How is your idea specifically increasing access to employment opportunities and pathways for young people?

A user's experience changes with this path to employment because it enables the applicant to exhibit qualities not necessarily reflected on their CV. It enables them to show qualities that they may not recognize in themselves. They will be observed as they actively listen. They will be observed as they interact with peers in a collaborative exercise. Their ideas and thoughts will gain notice as they will have the opportunity to reflect, to write about their experience. For youth who are shy or introverted and do not express themselves well in a group of strangers, or perhaps in an interview, this can be a terrific opportunity to exhibit their insights, ideas, observations. A recruiter may see a completely different person on the page than they did during the exercise. This person might be the exact one that fits the open position. The choice of narrative may reflect on aspects of the applicant's character. It can reflect their work ethic, values, humor, point of view, empathy - qualities that may not be exhibited by a youth who has limited experience being interviewed and is nervous throughout the process. This creates opportunities for employers to see youth in different ways and to select the candidates that best fits their needs.

The idea emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm

How do you envision your idea being implemented?

  • Keen to be involved in prototyping but need partners at some stage


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Tino, Sarah, Aparna - Welcome to the team! Aparna will be trying out some aspects of this idea during an upcoming hiring process with youth. As she shares any insights/learnings and posts the team will get notifications. In this way we can all learn from the process! Thanks Aparna!

Photo of Aparna Bhasin

Hi Bettina,

Being new to OpenIdeo I'm not sure how the timelines on this work - as I know that this will move to the next phase soon, however shortlisting and inviting candidates will take a little time here, should be able to run some trials before the end of the month.

One of the positions I am hiring for is a Program Coordinator for an education technology program - and a large part of their role will be focused on basic teacher trainings

I thought a good way to try out the idea would be to have selected candidates come in as groups of 3-4 and observe a team training for our field staff. The training emulates trainings conducted with teachers. Following this I would give them a chance to work together to design the next workshop, perhaps give them more context and show them videos of previous workshops etc. I would observe them working on the assignment, and have them conduct a mock training to present the final idea. Following this their reflection narrative could be in the form of an email that they send by the next day, and I think a simple format suggestion might be useful.

Do let me know if this is in line with the idea and I welcome any suggestions that could improve the process/test.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Aparna!
There is no timeline for building on an idea as this is an open innovation platform. Anyone can borrow and build anytime! There is a timeline for the challenge. This one is almost over. Collaboration and idea development can continue after the challenge ends. You jumping into the challenge and actively engaging with ideas is great! Thanks for offering to test this idea. I put the commenters here onto “the virtual team” so as you post feedback we can all learn from your experience. (Everyone on the team gets a notification from OpenIDEO when comments are posted.) That can lead to impact itself as others might build off your learnings, incorporating them into their work as interviewers or building their projects going forward. Posting feedback can lead to more conversation, collaboration, prototyping, iterating…. impact – a new and improved interview/recruiting process on the path to youth employment?

As per your plan above - It looks good. What kind of questions are you considering for the narrative? I am curious to hear how that goes. What surprises you? What changes? After reading it how important will it be in your decision making? Will you feel the need to call an applicant in for a second interview because you learned something new based on this narrative - something concerning or something special? Looking forward to hearing how your team experiences the process as well. Would it be appropriate to get feedback on the experience from the applicants? I am not sure. Perhaps only from the person offered the position?

Great conversation! Thanks again for testing the idea. Excited to hear your learnings! Welcome to OpenIDEO!

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great encouragement, Bettina! Aparna – as Bettina mentions, you are welcome to try out any ideas (or parts of them) from our challenges – that's the awesomeness of our open innovation process. Of course, we hope you'll chime in here so Sarah, and this ideas's team hear about your progress and learnings.

If you've got a particular milestone or update that you think our wider OpenIDEO community would love to hear – you'll be able to post it to our Impact phase which will open when our challenge winners are announced or shortly after. Here's some tips on posting to our Impact phases:

Photo of Aparna Bhasin

Hi Bettina, Meena,

Thank you for clarifying. Am setting up the process to try out the idea, will post again with reflections and feedback once it is done!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Aparna.
Happy New Year! Just following up on our past conversation here. Would love to hear any feedback from your experiences with the interviews. Curious to hear how they went and what you learned during the process!

Photo of Aparna Bhasin

Hi Bettina,

Really like the idea (thanks for directing me here), and think it could ease a lot of people in the interview and hiring process (both interviewer and interviewee).

I've tried a few different pre-interview assignments or questions over the last few years and thought I would share my experience with you, I hope you find it relevant!

The most successful for me has been a real case study type assignment, linked to something we are working on. It requires candidates to do the research and ideating and the send in a completed assignment. However, what has proved even more useful than the written part is the discussion on the assignment with the candidate. I find that it not just puts them at ease to discuss something they have had time to research, but it really helps as an interviewer to gauge interest, level of commitment and most importantly the approach someone takes - as its not the answers that are most important but the actual thought that went into them as they reflect on it in the interview.

Another relevant example of something we tried was for a project in rural India, we were looking to work with unemployed youth in an entrepreneurial teaching model and we held initial orientation camps that served as a sort of pre-interview phase. The idea was to give youth an introduction to what the role entailed over 2-3 days and simultaneously have them work in groups on relevant projects and developing ideas, which they later presented. Additionally, we worked to create an evaluation framework that all observers could fill out for each participant, to ensure that we were getting different perspectives on their involvement, attitude, and work style. This process enables us to observe but also allows youth to make an informed decision of the work they are getting into.

As I had mentioned, I am about to start a hiring process for a new education project, and we are looking to hire some fresh young folks, so would be happy to try any version of this idea!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Fantastic! Please try any and all of the idea! It would be great to see how it might work in real time! (Thanks for posting these very relevant ideas...... I am running now but will return later to post thoughts) Great conversation Aparna!

Check out Tino's comments here, on Sarah's post, and on my other IDEA - What's Your Scene? - Improv Interview Prep Workshops. He does interviews regularly for his work as an associate director for admissions at a business school. You may get some ideas/insights from him as well!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Aparna!
I agree that the thought process that one exhibits during an interview is important. Your process with the work based assignment and follow up conversation is a great idea. Similar to this one but at home. Both help to set the stage for the personal interview and yes ease applicant and interviewer into the process. (I have been interviewing a bit myself this year. I think I will try your idea next time!)

Did you have success with the orientation camps? Were the youth compensated for their time during these camps? How many youth participated? It sounds interesting and fun. It also sounds like a commitment of time and resources for your company. Do you work with a large group? Do you think this model would be useful in an urban setting as well? Since you highlighted that you did it in a rural setting I am just wondering if there is a specific reason other than that the subsequent work would be in that area as well.

Thanks for sharing these approaches. I think gathering all of this information is great and will help anyone on this site looking for innovative ideas around the interview/hiring process.

Please update us here as you try out any aspects of this idea during your upcoming hiring process! Thank you for offering to test it! Excited to hear about your learnings, insights and what you would change going forward!
I am going to put everyone in these comments onto "the team" so if you post going forward we can all get the feedback! Thanks again Aparna!

Photo of Aparna Bhasin

Hi Bettina,

I was a part of designing the orientation camps, and managed to have a chat with the team that actually conducted them. They were pretty successful, I think particularly because they were quite rural. It is harder to spread the word, and access to information and the internet is much lower. Therefore the camp also serves as an opportunity for young people to learn more and understand the role before getting further involved. It does use a fair amount of resources, but I think hiring in general uses resources so its a matter of how you choose to use them. The youth were not compensated and I think approximately 20-25 participated in the camp that was held over a few days.

I have been thinking alot about how this model would translate to more urban or generally better connected areas and I think the internet has a large role to play - perhaps we could share videos and documents on work that the organization does before hand and then a simple half day working session would suffice. Any thoughts on a different way?

Photo of Tino Elgner

Hi Bettina, I still need to get my head around the idea, but this prob because I am reading over it in the metro right now. However, it looks similar to what are known to be "assessment centers/days" ( + These "days" are not common practice yet, but a few multinational companies are doing them. However, what I found very interesting is the following response: "I liked that I could pick and choose which questions to answer and to participate as much or as little as I wanted to." Connected to my thoughts regarding your other idea, maybe the "perceived" power of being able to decide how an interview process might look like, will reduce the stress of candidates that is created by the mere situations of "being observed" through putting them in the drivers seat of their own success during the interview stages. In other words, by including aspects that allow to "pick & choose" a candidate might become more relaxed as they appreciate that the interview is designed to give them the possibility to show how they really are based on choice. Thus, assuming that increased choice will lead to better assessments due to reduced stress, maybe the recruiting process should turn into a system of puzzle pieces that candidates can put together they way they want based on their strengths and weaknesses......????? ---> thinking out loud here, sorry for the wordiness

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Tino! Sorry for the late response.
Yes I think co choosing questions can reduce applicant stress as well. It gives a sense of control over one's situation and perhaps a sense that they are "seen" and valued as the employer is including them in the process - not just on a list of candidates to be seen today. Lots of psychology in these subtle interactions!

Photo of Tino Elgner

Hi Bettina, just wanted to clarify on this; I apologize for not being that clear from the beginning. I think, instead of actually co-choosing the questions, it might be better to either co-choose “a topic” or a certain “part” of the selection process, instead of co-choosing the actual questions. By giving topic choices, the candidate will have enough information to prepare on that particular topic without having 100% clarity on what questions will be asked; because in the end, I think it is important that we don’t get into a scenario where candidates basically memorize their answers and focus on how they can make this memorization sound as natural as possible. What I mean by choosing a part of the selection process, it is a little bit aligned to my comment that I made in connection with Sarah´s idea: creating a complex enough selection process that the candidate feels s/he is being assessed from multiple angles. For example: The candidate would be given the chance to participate in an “observation” exercise or a “think on your feet” exercise. Both of the options are given the same importance in the selection process but might be aligned to one candidate´s strengths better than to the one´s of another. Does this make sense?

Photo of Sarah Owusu

Hi Bettina, I love this! Firstly, it gives a real insight into what work and culture in an organisation is really like. And secondly, it gives real content for conversation at the interview stage which is much more relevant than a list of random questions.

As Tino says below, it is reminiscent of assessment centres - but often these just become all-day interviews and test centres (with group exercises from fake scenarios and personality questionnaires). When I finished university, I applied to about a million different graduate schemes and assessment centres were the general approach. That is a while back though, so they may have come a long way. I guess my feeling is that focus on as "REAL" a scenario as possible is preferable... S.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Great Sarah! I agree creating a space where applicant and interviewer can have a conversation that is real can make all the difference. Both can be engaged from the start. And yes, for the applicant, it exposes many things about the work place. This can be empowering for the applicant. Actually now that I am thinking about it again if an employer wants to hire the right person for the job exposing as much of their culture to the applicants would be key. Those that do not like the place would hopefully self select out from the start which would be ideal for the employer.
Fun talk!

Photo of Meena Kadri

Fascinating thoughts, Bettina – and certainly sounds ripe for lightweight prototyping if you can find a willing employer!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Thanks Meena. That would be fun as well as purposeful and interesting. Per chance I had an "interview user experience conversation" today with a young man at my workplace. I am going to update the post with notes tonight!

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great start on exploring with real people in the picture, Bettina :^) We're looking forward to others here joining in on the conversation here about various ways you might scale this exciting idea.