June 16th, 2020

How To Deal With Nervous Candidates

We all get our hearts racing from time to time. From a young age, there are challenges that make us nervous. For example: confessing to a crush, first kiss, going to college, and… going to interviews. If a candidate is feeling anxious, it does not necessarily mean that it’s their first interview ever. They can be like that simply by nature.

Are you able to make a difference between an incompetent and a nervous candidate? If you are an experienced recruiter, then probably yes, but as a beginner, you could have trouble doing it.

Imagine interviewing someone perfect for the position you are offering; they have all the technical skills needed. Still, they perform poorly at the interview because they get too nervous. You sit there confused because their resume and previous selection steps were promising. Suddenly - a situation that’s not easy to deal with. There are ways you can bring out the best out of a candidate, even if they step in your office looking tense.

Make a Pleasant Atmosphere for the Interview

You probably remember going to the dentist as a kid. It’s not something people often look forward to. Some of their offices are a bit timid, while others are colorful and have stickers from cartoons all over them. There’s a range of fluffy toys to choose from, too. Our guess is that you’ve preferred the latter.

Now, you don’t need to get a teddy bear for your interview, but you get the point. When we need to do something stressful, the environment can make us feel more at ease. You should interview the candidate in a room that is isolated from noise, has good lighting, plants, etc. They will most likely relax a bit and realize that there’s not much reason for tension. Perhaps adding the teddy bear isn’t a bad idea after all!

Create Some Space

One more detail that comes into association with the environment is how and where you sit. Thick tables with sharp edges can make you look like someone from a Godfather movie. The candidate will feel the difference between you, that the table represents. It won’t help with how they feel.

Instead, you can use circled tables, or no table at all. If there are more than two people at the interview, one of your colleagues can sit next to the candidate. That way, the interviewee will feel some support.

In the situation that involves a table, you should lean into it a bit and sit closer to the chair’s edge. That posture is more relaxing for the applicant, compared to the one where you lean back in your chair. Even better, try to mimic the candidate’s posture, it will give them a confidence boost.

Small Talk Won’t Hurt

When you introduce yourself to the candidate, try to loosen things up a bit by small talk. Comment on the weather, ask if they had any trouble finding your office, things like that. It will help them prepare for the real thing and relax. You can also do this later, during the interview. If you notice that the candidate is still nervous, take a quick look at their CV and see what their hobbies are.

Engage in a short conversation about their interests, and once you see that they are feeling better, continue with the questions regarding the position. That brings us to another point:

Let the Candidates Know What the Agenda is

You don’t have to necessarily print it out on a piece of paper or write it down on a big board. Give them a short brief of how the interview will look like. It’s always easier when you know what to expect. You feel more confident and ready to tackle the challenge.

Offer Them Water or Other Refreshments

This tip applies to all types of candidates. On a warm sunny day, they’ll arrive at the company with their fancy shirts covered in sweat, and look exhausted. A cold glass of water will refresh them and buy some time to regain calmness, in case they are nervous.

People like to play with their fingers too much when they get anxious. They twist them around, press against their knees, etc. Often, they realize what they are doing, can’t stop, and get even more nervous because they know they are exposed. If you give them a glass of water to hold or a cup of coffee, it will prevent them from stressing out too much. Those objects serve as protection for their body language.

Offering a refreshment also shows a part of your company culture. It’s an excellent way to demonstrate to potential new employees that you care about people who work for you.

Smile and Start With Easy Questions

There’s a lot of ice-breakers you can experiment with. Some short jokes, one-liners, anecdotes… but sometimes it’s enough just to smile. It shows that you are friendly, and people generally react positively to smiling. It can replace words, like: “It’s okay, I know that you are nervous. Relax, you’ll nail this interview.”

Once you’ve got that covered, along with some small talk, you should start the interview with some easy questions:

  • What’s your name?
  • Where are you from?
  • How old are you?
  • Is this your first interview?

You will probably know the answers to all of these if you’ve read their resume. But, in this case, it’s about them, not you. Giving answers to these simple questions will serve as small victories and boost their confidence. They’ll feel more prepared for serious questions.

It’s okay if you let the candidate know that you see they are nervous. They will either talk too fast, look confused, or have trouble answering your questions. A simple: “Don’t worry, take your time, I was in that same spot a few years ago” with a smile should do the trick.

There’s no shame in being anxious. It’s usually a sign that you care about something a lot. When you spot a candidate who is clearly under stress, you should know how to make them at ease. Only then will you be able to see their true potential. Some of these tips can apply to all types of candidates. If you want to read about more general tips for conducting job interviews, we’ve got you covered.

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