How to Shut Off "Interview Mode" and Actually Meet Your Candidates

May 8, 2014 at 12:07 PM by Rob Stevenson


Interviewing isn't easy. Candidates are called upon to be sharp, engaging, likable, and to make the best possible impression, all without seeming too cocky or boastful. In addition, they could have alot on the line, and the more interviews a candidate takes, the more they start to count. Every recruiter has brought in candidates who arrive in an addled mess, nervous, sweating in their full suit, or stuttering over their words. Chances are, not ALL of these candidates are babbling idiots, and they're merely overwhelmed by the interview paradigm, one of the most unnatural constructs of the workplace.

The recruiter's challenge in the case of the babbling non-idiots is to assuage anxiety and open the candidate up to a meaningful, low stress dialogue which allows them to illustrate themselves clearly and fully. In other words, shut off interview mode.

Shutting off interview mode not only puts the candidates at ease, it also creates a much more genuine dyad. Think of how contrived the interview situation is. Candidates dress up, print out examples of their work, show up early, politely decline bottled water, make uncomfortable small talk for 5 minutes, and then are tasked with explaining in one hour how they'll be a valuable asset to the organization for years to come. Follow the cookie cutter interview recipe, and you're going to be hard pressed to paint a detailed picture of the true value of the candidate and what they'll be like to have in the office 50 hours a week. Here's a few strategies you can use to alleviate the stress and open candidates up to a meaningful conversation.


Dressed to the Sevens

Unless you're in an established corporate atmosphere, odds are it won't be appropriate for your candidate to show up in a full suit. After your candidate accepts your invitation to come meet the team, explain to them the appropriate dress code, ensuring that they arrive sharp but comfortable. Recently, a friend of mine was flown out from the midwest to interview for a C-level position at a mid-stage startup. An email detailing his interview information included, in all caps and bolded, "DO NOT WEAR A SUIT".


Don't Use the "I" Word

I recently spoke with a Director of Talent Acquisition at an enterprise storage company who told me that he cringes when he hears the "I" word. Interviewing carries all the connotations of head-to-head pomp & circumstance, and primes the anxiety you're so desperately trying to avoid. Instead, invite candidates to meet the team, have a conversation, learn about their goals and hear about their work. Let the candidate know that rather than putting them on the spot, you're simply interested in learning more about them and seeing if there's a good fit.


Change is Good

The same recruiting pro told me an anecdote of a visibly nervous candidate who stumbled over her words and generally seemed overwhelmed. He suggested they leave the stuffy conference room and take a stroll outside. The combination of fresh air, the removal of the face-to-face body language, and the laid back nature of his approach which demonstrated his desire to communicate rather than grill, led the candidate to immediately calm down and express herself clearly and happily. Get a read on your candidate early and think about small things like this you can do to put them at ease.


What other strategies do you have to help candidates relax so you can get the most out of your interviews? Leave a comment or tweet @EnteloRob!

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