How to Get to Know the Real Candidate in an Interview

October 9th, 2020

If you encourage your candidate to open up during the interview and show his or her true personality, you’ll get a much stronger sense of the person’s fitness for the role. But to do this, you’ll need to set an appropriate tone and help the person relax.

Here’s how to make that happen.

Be friendly.

We all have a natural instinct to smile back when someone smiles at us. Humans are wired to be socially connected to others, and we mirror each other’s moods and feelings in a rapid and unconscious way. If you want to make someone feel guarded or tense, there’s no faster way to do this then by projecting those feelings yourself. And the opposite is also true; if you treat the candidate like a friend and demonstrate goodwill and trust, you’ll get the same in return. Smile, show interest in their comfort and behave as if the meeting is an enjoyable, warm and positive experience for you.

If you ask, be sure to share (or at least try).

Personal questions are friendly and engaging, and questions that stay within professional boundaries are necessary for a job interview, of course. But the difference between a conversation and a grilling session can come down to one word: balance. Make sure your levels of disclosure are (or at least feel) mutually aligned. If you ask about the candidate’s pets or her summer trip to Spain, offer something about your own pets and travels. (Remember, questions about family are absolutely off-limits in an interview.)

Encourage.

When your candidate shares an accomplishment, praise the accomplishment. When she describes a past struggle, sympathize. When she shares a goal, encourage her and show confidence in her eventual success. None of these will be mistaken for an implied commitment or job offer; they’re just gestures of warmth, interest, and kindness.

Discuss her long-term career goals, not just the goals of the company.

We often advise candidates to keep the focus on the employer’s needs, not on the needs of the interviewee. The opposite also holds true. This is a partnership; each side should emphasize what the other party has to gain if the agreement is to move forward.

Let the candidate be nervous.

Don’t comment on the candidate’s jumpy nerves or shaking, sweaty hands, even to reassure or to make a friendly joke. Be polite and ignore them. Often these physiological responses to stress are involuntary, but as a culture, we associate them with a lack of confidence or sincerity. Don’t do that. Just pretend they aren’t happening and recognize that all of us have been and will be on both sides of the interview table again and again, and you’ll want the same politesse the next time interview palm-sweat happens to you. For more on how to make your candidate feel open and engaged, turn to the interview experts at PSU.

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