How To Put A Very Nervous Candidate At Ease

How To Put A Very Nervous Candidate At Ease

Are you about to meet with several candidates, hoping to find a suitable match for your latest vacancy? If so, then chances are at least one of the people you meet with will arrive to the interview with a case of interview nerves. Of course everyone feels nervous to a degree when they come for an interview – it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and sometimes the right level of nervousness can help drive a better performance from the candidate.
However, if these nerves become unmanageable for the candidate, they won’t feel confident in selling their skills and experience to you. They may put on a false act of confidence to over-compensate, or on the flipside – struggle to come out of their shell at all. And ultimately, a nervous candidate is more likely to walk away from the interview having had an unpleasant interview experience – which is no good for your employer brand or their confidence.
Therefore for the sake of your talent search, employer brand, and the candidate’s interview experience – it’s paramount that you take every step possible to put them at ease by following the below advice:

Help ease their nerves before the interview 

The more familiar the candidate feels with the company before they come for an interview, the more likely they are to relax. Therefore I would advise working with your recruiter to help make the candidate feel more familiar with yourself and the company.
Schedule a telephone interview first to help break the ice and to introduce yourself and your role. You could also pass the recruiter some useful information to send on to the candidate, including links to your LinkedIn profile, product literature and so forth. The more prepared and familiar the candidate feels on the day, the less likely they are to be nervous.

Spot the subtle signs of nervousness in the interview

Once you meet with the candidate, being able to actually recognise that they are feeling nervous is key. Sometimes it will be obvious and they will show their nervousness through their body language, shifting about in their seat, fiddling with their hair or a pen, avoiding eye contact and so forth. They may stumble on their words, laugh nervously and their voice may shake. In these instances, it’s ok to say something like “don’t worry if you’re feeling nervous, that’s understandable, just take a deep breath” to help relax the candidate before the interview begins.
But sometimes, candidates are able to conceal their nerves, leading the interviewer to believe everything is fine, thereby not taking those extra steps to put the candidate at ease. I recently read an interesting book about body language called “What every body is saying”. The book revealed some of the more discreet signs of nervousness, which included:
  • Touching your face – because this has a pacifying effect
  • Repeatedly doing the same gesture or movement with your hands – because repetitive habits soothe our nerves
  • Yawning, because anxiety and stress can cause us to feel hotter – and yawning can have a cooling effect on the body
I’ve also noticed from my own experience, that sometimes candidates show their nerves by initially seeming aloof. They can come across as distant and quiet, which may be misconstrued as disinterest in the job when actually, they are feeling overwhelmed and this is their way of taking a step back and absorbing everything around them.
On the other hand, and as I alluded to in the beginning, they may act over-confident in an effort to hide their nerves, only to take it too far in the other direction! And if you follow the below steps to put the candidate at ease, you should start to be able to identify which candidates were secretly nervous, not being themselves, and just needed to relax a little.

Create a comfortable interview environment

As an experienced hiring manager, I’m sure you know that you should arrive at the interview on time, greeting the candidate with a warm handshake (and smile) and initiating small talk about their journey or something similar.
However, there are some other small steps you can take which will help put the candidate at ease.
Firstly, try and book a room where you won’t get distracted by phones ringing, people walking past/glancing in and so forth, and if you have a choice, I would advise opting for a more low-key meeting room as opposed to the boardroom – this is far less intimidating and takes some of the intensity out of the meeting.
If there are multiple interviewers, don’t all sit in front of the candidate, as this may feel like an interrogation or audition, which will do nothing to calm the candidate’s nerves. Instead, space out around the table, so that the candidate quite literally has someone on their side.

Ease them into the interview

Next, start the interview with personal introductions from yourself and all of the other interviewers, explaining why you’re hiring for the role. You could even create a shift in power (and an initial boost in confidence) by outlining some of the reasons you were interested in interviewing them in particular, for instance, “We are really glad you could join us today because we are looking for somebody with your level of experience in …” Go on to give an agenda to the interview, as this may help to ease some of the candidate’s fear of the unknown.

Keep the interview conversational

Most hiring managers know that they should aim for the interview to feel like a conversation as opposed to a quick-fire quizzing session. However, if you are sat in front of a nervous candidate, they may still feel intimidated regardless of how personable you are. Therefore I would suggest that you remember to start with easy questions, then go onto the more tricky ones. Keep the questions open-ended and ask them one at a time, and be careful not to cut across other interviewers – so that the candidate doesn’t feel bombarded at any point.
And if you find that the nerves are still impacting the quality of their answers, ask them to clarify their answer or double check they’ve mentioned everything they wanted to. If the candidate chooses to elaborate further, encourage them by nodding and smiling as they talk – this will act as positive reinforcement, help give them a confidence boost whilst maintaining this fluid two-way conversation.

Finish the interview on a positive note

You should also bear in mind that if the candidate is still feeling nervous at the end of the interview, they may struggle to remember the questions that they wanted to ask you. If you suspect this might be the case, reassure them that they can relay these questions via the recruiter and that you will answer these.
As the interview draws to a close, let the candidate know the time-frames for hearing back, and ask them how they feel about the opportunity. Again, this puts the ball in their court somewhat, and they may actually relish the chance to be honest and tell you that they were feeling nervous because they really want the job. If not, they will likely feed this back to their recruiter after the interview, so it’s important to touch base with your recruiter as soon as you can.
Nerves are often a sign that the candidate really wants the job and they certainly don’t reflect their skills and strengths. However, they can hinder a candidate’s ability to convey all of these in an interview, therefore you must make a concerted effort to put the candidate at ease. And in doing this, you’ll get to know the person and the professional behind the nerves, and can more accurately gauge their potential to thrive within your team.
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Susie Timlin
Chief Operating Officer, UK Government Investments
Susie is Chief Operating Officer (COO) at UK Government Investments (UKGI). UKGI’s purpose is to be the UK government’s centre of excellence in corporate finance and corporate governance, working across government on some of its most interesting and complex commercial tasks.
In her role as COO, Susie works to ensure that the business has effective operational management, optimal organisational design, and that UKGI are able to hire, develop, manage and remunerate their people in the best way possible.
Prior to joining UKGI, Susie was Global Director for People and Culture at Hays Talent Solutions.