It’s important to be prepared. But there is such a thing as being overly prepared.

Don’t get us wrong – by all means, plan the campus or on-site venue to a tee, do your research on a candidate, and ensure you have all the proper documentation ready. But the one thing you don’t want to overplan are the questions you’ll ask a candidate.

Newer recruiters are the most prone to this. After all, the number one thing everyone thinks of when it comes to interviews are the questions. But overplanning the questions in advance can risk you not getting all the information you need out of your candidate – and more importantly, it may interfere with your efforts to connect with them.

If you’re still not convinced, we have a whole list of reasons why you should ditch the notes and add some improvisation to your interviews.

It’s not a Q&A. It’s a conversation.

The truth is, interviews today are changing – students are no longer tasked with coming up with the “right” answers, but rather, presenting themselves as a worthy candidate by creating a memorable experience. However, even the best young professionals can only do so much when their conversation partner’s mind is stuck in their rigid schedule of “which question to ask next”.

Conversations change direction, and so should you.

It’s important for interviewers to be flexible in what they’re going to ask next. After all, candidates can be unpredictable in their answers, and you need to be able to come up with a probing question to have them expand, or even redirect the conversation if the candidate goes off track. Focusing on a certain set of questions limits your “flexibility” in this sense.

The phrasing of a question matters.

There is a huge difference between asking “Why are you interested in this role?” and “Why are you interested in this career?” Both similar questions, but each will likely yield a different answer from your interviewee. This can be especially problematic for recruiters who are hiring a high volume of candidates, and have a standard set of questions they can rattle off the top of their head – you need to ask your questions the right way in order to get the type of information you’re looking for.

You need to validate their presence.

For an interviewee, there’s nothing worse than feeling like they’re just another disposable candidate. Even if you are hiring at a high volume, it’s important that each interaction is tailored personally to that individual – again, if you are asking “one-size-fits-all” questions, that’s not going to cut it for them.

How to conduct your interview questions (without pre-writing questions).

If you’re convinced, and ready to make the switch, we have some great tips for you:

Create a “road-map”.

A road map will dictate the points you want to hit. You may want to travel from Toronto to Ottawa, and you’ll know what cities you have to drive through. But you probably won’t make plans to stop at a specific gas station in a specific city at a specific time.

Use this analogy when planning your interviews. Know what topics you want to hit and what information you want to draw out of them. But you don’t need to plan the wording and the phrasing of each point. For example, if you know from their resume they have experience in customer service, and you want to know if they have experience hitting sales targets, make a note of it.

Keep a checklist, and review it at the end.

After you create your “roadmap” and you create a list of items you want to cover, create a simple checklist to bring with you to the interview.

During the interview itself, don’t check off anything. Let the conversation take its course, and do your best to steer that conversation to naturally hit as many points off your list as you can. At the end of the interview, take a moment and review your list while your candidate is still there. If you have missed anything, ask them those remaining questions then.

Listen to what they’re saying, and use it in your next question.

If a candidate gives you an answer, and you want to hear more, don’t feel pressured to come up with elaborate phrasing. Think of yourself as a “prompt” more than someone who comes up with impressive questions.

Try using simple phrases like “tell me a bit more about that,” or “Earlier, you mentioned X. Could you elaborate?” This will keep the focus on the candidate, and take the pressure off you so you don’t have to come up with a bunch of information-loaded questions.

Discussion: Do you prefer to conduct “freestyle” interviews or pre-planned interviews?