Job interviews are the ultimate pressure cookers—for everyone involved.
A hiring manager with precious few openings is looking for that perfect recruit, and doesn’t want to recommend the wrong candidate to a superior. For a recruiter, an ongoing relationship with a client may hinge on his ability to deliver relevant talent that fits a specific job description.
And then there’s the candidate. With interviews few and far between, the short window to talk with a hiring manager is a unique opportunity in this buyer’s market. Which means if you’re the candidate, you’ll probably feel a big knot in your stomach.
All of this pressure creates a less-than-stellar environment for putting your best foot forward, meeting new people or making an important hiring decision.
Here are 10 ways hiring managers can reduce that pressure and allow everyone to make the best decision:
1. Consider business casual. Get people in the clothes they’ll likely wear on the job and you’ll better get to know the candidate. This doesn’t work everywhere, of course. The business culture in certain industries and geographies dictates business dress. But when that’s not the case, why not allow business casual interview attire? Hiring managers who decide to go this route will want to make it clear to the job candidate, or the interviewee is likely to show up in a suit.
2. Assign a Sherpa. Hiring organizations should assign someone to watch over the interview process, a person who escorts candidates to and from interview locations and makes sure they’re not forgotten or left waiting in a conference room. It’s easier for candidates to relax when they feel wanted, cared for and recruited, an atmosphere the hiring company can create with a little attention.
3. Focus on the first five minutes. The first five minutes of a job interview say a lot. Particularly during these opening minutes, hiring managers look to see whether candidates demonstrate cultural fit and engagement. So try to take the pressure off right away, through conversation, body language or whatever helps everyone in the room feel comfortable. The more you relieve pressure from the start, the more you’ll get out of the interview.
4. Smile. A smile opens doors. It invites people to take a breath and re-focus. Both job candidates and interviewers benefit from this simple act. The only caveat: it needs to be real. Try not to use that fake smile we sometimes fall back on when meeting new people. Let your real smile shine through.
5. Go for a walk. As an interviewer, you have the power to help people relax. Consider starting the interview with a walk around the department or outside the office to introduce the candidate to the company. A walk releases stress and may create a more friendly first impression.
6. Remove the desk. Talking to a job candidate—or anyone—with a big desk between you creates pressure, because it reinforces the roles of interviewer and candidate. It gives one person power, which can make the other nervous. If you’re the interviewer, consider grabbing a chair and sitting next to or across from your candidate, rather than interviewing from behind your desk.
7. Allow for conversation. Consider leaning toward a conversational job interview, one that’s not tightly controlled by a set of questions and answers and instead revolves around a discussion about business issues and potential solutions. This is more beneficial to candidates, because they’ll learn more about the company. And it gives the interviewer more opportunity to see the candidate’s real personality.
8. Ask real questions. Enough already with the questions about a candidate’s greatest weakness or greatest challenge. No one like to answer them, and it benefits both parties to be more creative. Ask what you really want to know, questions that will help you decide whether a candidate is a good fit for you and your company, rather than falling back on the typical questions.
9. Listen to music. Music can calm the savage beast. It can also help shake loose nervous bones before an interview and release remaining pressure afterward. People on both sides of the desk benefit from the power of music during a job search.
10. Be yourself. There’s a lot of pressure to be great during a job interview—and not just for the candidate. Interviewers, too, are trying their best to deliver the value of the company, impress the candidate and come up with enough decent questions to fill an hour. By being yourself, rather than creating a version of yourself and the company that you think the candidate wants to see, you’re setting yourself up for success in the long run. If the candidate accepts your offer, you know she’s happy to work with the real you, and the real company. She’s knows what she’s getting into.
What helps you relax during a job interview? How can hiring managers help candidates shake the jitters?
Tim Tyrell-Smith is founder of Tim's Strategy, a site that helps professionals succeed in job search, career and life strategy. Follow Tim on Twitter, @TimsStrategy, and share his 30 Ideas E-Book with job-seeking friends.