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How to Interview a Really Nervous Job Candidate

At some point in your career, you will encounter that job candidate: the person who simply cannot overcome how nervous he or she is, despite their best efforts. How you handle that situation can make all the difference. To be a skilled interviewer, you need to help applicants relax right from the beginning. The early stages of an interview are where you can foster talented, yet really nervous job candidates into reliable employees.

1. Set the Table

Having been in those interviews, I can assure you one of the best ways to calm a candidate is to begin with yourself: Start by telling the candidate your story. People love stories; they are how we lead when entering a conversation in the break room and how we judge between different movies. We even pick up books just to glance at the back for a quick synopsis. If you want to help nervous interviewees relax, summarize your own journey — tell them how you made it to where you are today. Doing so takes the focus off them and shows you have tread a similar path. Our brains think and work in terms of stories, so tell them yours.

2. Posture Affects Poise 

You probably have heard that posture matters. In casinos, pit bosses train their dealers to stand with outstretched arms and their hands on the sides of the table. Why? Because it’s more inviting. It subconsciously encourages players to join the table. Research backs this up. Studies have shown our physical behavior subconsciously can affect how others see us. Remember to apply this during an interview. For example, leaning forward and staying on the edge of your seat is a low-power posture that can give the candidate a greater sense of control, whereas leaning back in your seat is a powerful pose that projects the opposite. If a candidate is excessively nervous, simply adjusting the way you take up space can bolster their confidence. Because isn’t it all about helping the candidate reveal his or her cards?

3. Toss Them a Softball … or Two 

Have you ever created a checklist where one of the items was almost done? Or maybe, some items were already checked off? We all have! Turns out, doing so can improve your productivity. By listing the small or already checked-off items first, you trick your mind into feeling more accomplished. The same mental maneuvering can be used with your interview questions. Remember, your goal is to help them help you. At the end of the day, you are looking for someone who can benefit your company, not just ace the interview. This mindset enables you to start slow and toss him or her a softball or two; it will increase the candidate’s confidence and provide both of you with a more productive experience overall.

4. No Curveballs, Please 

Speaking of sports, leave the curveballs in the dugout. Properly run interviews should proceed like professional conversations; asking tricky questions like, “What is the best color?” is unnecessary. An appropriate question should always reflect the context of the job. Keeping this in mind will allow you to maintain the thin line between those tricky and thought-provoking questions. For example, asking a candidate for their best joke could seem inappropriate. However, this could be a suitable question for a person aspiring for the medical field. Doctors, nurses and even medical sales reps need an approachable bedside manner that can gauge the temperature of a room and quickly reflect it.

Avoiding curveball questions does not mean settling for a change-up. Good interviews need difficult questions to determine the candidate’s intelligence and mental dexterity. Without them, you can’t accurately assess the applicants fit within your culture or potential for success. However, as long as you are aware of job context, you won’t need tricky questions to determine if a nervous candidate can be a home-run player.

5. Confront the Nervousness 

Last but least, some interviews require a more direct approach. Whether it’s a nervous candidate who won’t stop talking, or one who won’t start, the best solution can be to address the issue respectfully. Ask what you can do to help him or her relax. Obviously, identifying and addressing the nervousness is an important, but last-effort attempt to determine if he or she is a potential fit for your workforce.

When interviewing nervous job candidates, their comfort is more important than many may realize. Relaxed interviews are good interviews because candidates not only can think on their feet, but also give you a true sense of who they are and how their talents fit within your culture. By implementing these five tips, you can maximize every interview’s potential and help foster the most talented workforce possible for your organization.

For more information about how to find and foster top talent, download this free white paper: Four Steps to Finding & Fostering Super Talent. Or, to learn more about how Paycom’s HR technology can help your business grow, contact us today.

About the author
Author picture, Tiffany McGowen
Tiffany McGowen
Tiffany McGowen, Paycom’s Vice President of Recruiting, is responsible for the oversight of staffing corporate headquarters and growing the nationwide sales force. She has more than 10 years of recruiting experience, ranging from executive-level talent to interns, with a specialty in sales professionals. Passionate about motivation, McGowen is constantly on a coast-to-coast hunt for the best and brightest talent in every market.