A job interview is often considered one of the most stressful experiences in life, which can be bad for the candidate and just as problematic for the interviewer.
A stressed candidate simply can’t show you their best side and consequently it becomes really difficult for you to make the most informed decision you can about them.
In general, whilst there might be occasions where you want to ramp the pressure up in an interview, it’s in your interests to make sure the candidates are as relaxed as possible.
So, with that in mind, here are 10 top tips to put your applicants at ease.
1. Check the location
This might not be entirely obvious at first, but think about where you plan to interview your candidates and how the room looks and feels to an outsider.
Is it a dark, damp, broom-cupboard of a room in a smelly part of the building? If so, what does it say about the business and will that help the candidate to relax?
Make sure the interview room is welcoming, preferably with natural light flooding in through the windows and not a fluorescent, broken bulb flickering in their face.
Some interviewers prefer to hold interviews in a local café, to truly put their candidate at ease. The danger with that is that the interview can feel a bit too relaxed and informal, so be cautious if you decide to go down this route and assess in advance whether it’s right for the role you’re looking to fill.
2. Greet them properly
If a candidate is left to their own devices in an empty reception area, or outside, it can make their nerves worse. If you’ve got a reception area this should be less of a problem, unless of course your receptionist is about as friendly as Attila the Hun.
All you have to do is make sure that your interviewees are greeted by a friendly member of staff and that they know that they’re going to be taken care of.
If possible, greet them yourself, even if they have to take a seat for five minutes before the interview starts. It all helps settle their nerves.
3. Offer them a drink
A glass of water can be a lifesaver for a candidate.
For one it’s difficult to talk with a dry throat and lips, which is an inevitable side effect of nerves (and not necessarily a sign of a liar).
It can also give them a moment to pause and refocus when they’re faced with a difficult question. So make sure you offer them a drink before the interview starts.
4. Introduce the company and the role
Once the interview has started, and before you start firing a string of direct questions at the interviewee, take a few minutes to introduce the company and its story or background, before running through the role and its context within the business.
Keep it friendly, light and fairly brief.
Demonstrate to them (where possible) that the company cares about its employees, and don’t talk about 26-hour days and gruelling conditions that would make the SAS run for the hills.
Stress the positives, tell them the company is friendly and show them a warm welcome.
5. Keep it clear
Nothing stresses out a candidate like pure confusion.
If you give them a convoluted and difficult question you can expect them to clam up and start to struggle.
It can take a while to get over a bout of nerves like this and it can compromise the answers to several subsequent questions, which can leave you with a negative impression that is unfair.
So keep your questioning clear and concise. Preparing a list of questions in advance can really help with this.
6. Don’t do the Spanish Inquisition
There’s an antiquated concept of job interviews that still strikes fear into an interviewee. Don’t make that vision a reality.
My advice would be to keep the interview as informal as possible (which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea), don’t fire questions relentlessly at them and keep the whole process friendly.
Personally, I find firing a load of questions at an interviewee in an interrogation style just ramps up the stress levels for the candidate.
7. Talk specifics
Candidates will start to open up when you discuss specific job functions from previous roles.
They should know their previous work history like the back of the hand, and should feel comfortable talking about their successes and achievements.
So if the interview feels like it has taken a wrong turn then this is a safe fallback for you that will help you get it back on track.
Ask something specific about a point they’ve made on their CV in one of their previous roles. That should get their brains working again, reboot the interview and help them out of a hole. Unless of course you want to see how they handle being in a hole, but that’s a whole other topic completely…
8. No curveball questions
Recently, my colleague Anthony Hughes posted a blog showing you how you could deliberately put a confident interview subject off balance with some left-field questions to see how they handle the pressure.
Whilst these questions definitely have their place, if not handled correctly they can be counter-productive.
So if you’re trying to put a candidate at ease, these questions will certainly not help your cause.
By definition, questions like these are designed to cause the applicant problems, so if you need to keep the applicant calm then avoid clever queries about how much pizza was delivered in the UK last year.
9. Leave difficult questions until the end
Every candidate will have a sticking point which hopefully you’ll identify during the course of your questioning.
There could be a big elephant in the room that needs addressing, a question that simply needs to be asked.
But if you think it could cause issues then leave it until the end. If you pose a difficult question as soon as it becomes apparent, then it can cast a shadow over the whole interview and really make the candidate feel uneasy.
Result? Nervous candidate and potentially poor performance.
This is really all about feel and how big an issue you perceive it to be. If you want to address it there and then, do so. Just be aware of its potential impact on the rest of the interview though.
It might sound obvious, but body language is an essential part of the interview process on both sides. We’ve written about it ourselves.
So while you’re keeping an eye on your candidate’s body language for giveaways, don’t forget your own.
If you want to put your candidate at ease then keep smiling, keep an open posture and make sure you seem receptive to their ideas.
If you’re looking into the distance, frowning incessantly or cross your arms, don’t expect the candidate to perform at their best.
How you approach your interviews is purely a matter of personal style. It’s my belief that you get more out of an interview when the individual is relaxed, but there are others who prefer to see how the candidate operates under pressure.
Other factors that could determine how you approach an interview might be:
- The kind of role you’re looking to fill (if it’s high pressured, perhaps it’s essential to see how they can handle a pressure scenario)
- The stage of interview it is (it is often appropriate to ramp up the intensity at latter stage interviews)
- Or the seniority of the role you’re looking to fill
Make a judgment and decide what will be right overall. Then analyse and assess whether that approach worked or not, and tweak accordingly for the next time.