If you'd had more than a few interviews with candidates who have been out of work for a while, you've probably had several instances where you left the room shuddering from the misdirected negativity, attitude, and complaints.

So where do these candidate go wrong...

  • Candidate lacks professional appearance when they arrive for interview. ("What I wear isn't going to make a difference, anyways..")
  • Candidate shows clear skepticism in your intentions. ("I'm not going to answer these questions because the interviewer is just trying to find ways to eliminate me.")
  • Candidate shows obvious exhaust and limited depth in responses. ("I'm not going to spend time preparing for the interview and giving answers longer than a few words to these questions.. After all, this probably won't work out and I'm not going to waste my breath.")
  • Candidate has an attitude in responses. ("Well of course I have experience doing XYZ, how else would I know how to ABC? What a stupid question. If this interviewer knew anything they'd stop asking me these questions and give me a job.")
  • Candidate complains about the economy, places they interviewed previously, the job market, etc. ("Nothing ever works out, I can't believe X Company made me do all those interviews and then canceled the position, I don't even want to do what I do anymore I'm so tired of looking for jobs, etc")
While I am certainly empathetic to those who are facing tough times and difficult employment situations, these behaviors during an interview are unacceptable. I'd like to help them to understand what they're doing wrong, but they seem so far gone and in denial about the situation. Several times I've encouraged candidates to keep trying, maintain a positive attitude, avoid using certain negative terms or comments, etc., but these tips are often met with rolling eyes.

How do you handle these interviews? Any advice for letting these candidates down gently?

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Not sure I agree with the "let them down gently" part... that may be part of your problem in dealing with these folks..

If I get a lot of negative attitude from a candidate, i simply won't present them, and i tell them why..I have kind of a standard speech where I tell candidates that I'm only willing to deal with those who are committed to doing things right..that means I expect professionalism and enthusiasm...not dressing right, and giving half assed answers to my questions ( or the hiring authority's), are neither professional nor enthusiastic behaviors.

if I find out the candidate pulled this crap during the interview, I tell them they flunked the attitude test and unless they change, they can forget my phone number.

I can empathize and sympathize with the best of 'em, but at some point, if a job seeker wants to get anywhere, they must put on their big boy ( or girl) pants, and brave the shitstorm one more time with a smile..hell, WE have to act like resilient grownups and pick ourselves up every time we lose a placement, where is it written that the candidate has to get the kid glove treatment?

When candidates do stupid things that hurt their chances, I think we owe it to everyone involved to be professionally blunt and set them straight.
The bitter job seeker may have good reason to be bitter, even hostile. The mature recruiter will not dismiss this person simply because they don't fit the ideal candidate criteria. Yes, recruiters are not paid to be social workers, but that shouldn’t prevent them from being humane, even decent to the wayward job applicant. If you’re insensitive to the plight of your fellow human being, particularly when they stand before you—your position to represent the hiring entity who expects a professional representation at all times my be questioned. That “bitter” job applicant my be a future employee; a current or future customer; a friend or relative to a respected member of the company or society at large. You have an opportunity to make a good or insensitive impression.

If an applicant is openly hostile to me, I would stop the interview and make the observation that, "Clearly you are not in a great mood today. I'm open to reschedule this interview at a time when we can discuss this job and your potential fit rather than go on with this negative input that will not serve you well today." Having worked in prisons counseling and coaching inmates soon to parole has softened my edge toward hostile applicants.
It is important that we realize a few things:

1. The recruiter represents the company and should represent it professionally, ethically, and be forthright in some situations, pleasant in others, politely end the discussion if it is not going well and keep their professionalism at the highest level. It is important to ask questions that reflect the job description, and do not put the company in a legal predicament - even your attitude can get you into trouble unfortunately these days - therefore always best to be your best, and remember candidates are also potential customers.

2. Candidates will always come in various shades of professionalism. It is important to maintain their dignity, allow for some humanity, but also balance the demands of the business. Good or bad candidate experience can translate to a storm or a rainbow of unfavorable or favorable commentary in blogs, word of mouth, or injure or create good or for that matter bad publicity if an experience is posted.

3. We all have shifting priorities in business, if you are currently employed and are dealing with a job seeker who has been out of work for a while, surely you phone screened them before they came onsite, and most often you can tell if it is a fit long before they walk through your doors. Be the type of employer that allows for some humanity and give them the benefit of the doubt. Realize that fabulous candidates who may have been out of work for a while are struggling with economic circumstances, as well they may not have had to search for a job for a long time before the current circumstance. They may not know current "protocol" but given the opportunity they may knock your socks off. Why not give them an opportunity to work in a temporary project and try them out if they were nervous or had a human faux peux. Any candidate that you bring in the door may be able to do the job, if they are given the chance to prove themselves. Let us not be so high in our expectation as to rule out a candidate unless there are enough red flags, one mistake if small is not the end of the world. Nor should it be the entire stake of the outcome. Such an employer in my book is well, not employee friendly and they will soon pay the price if they treat people like widgets.
No need to let people down gently. There is however a need to be polite, something that seems to be missing at 99.99999999% of companies these days. Its NOT enough to tell an agent - once a candidate is rejected they can never be bothered to pass information on so TELL the person...
a) What the result of the interview is - even if its a no it is a far better thing to know than be left to assume.
b) Tell the candidate WHY. And 'there was a better candidate' is not a good reason - why was the other candidate better.

One examples of really BAD practice recently was SMSMT in Australia. I was approached by an agent on behalf of this company. They woke me up for 6 very early morning interviews, only 4 of which they showed up for (phone interviews I have to say - and early means 5:00 am). After the final interview I heard nothing. Eventually I contact the agent and am given 2 reasons for not being offered the position. First apparently a 'cultural fit' - what ever that is, true I am not Australian and we do keep beating them at rugby, but I am a very adaptable guy who has fitted in with a large number of international positions in my long career - including some in very similar companies. The second was even more mind boggling - apparently they think they would have trouble selling me - they are a consultancy and apparently were thinking of putting me out to a number of financial companies - I don't have Australian financial experience, I don't even have much financial experience anywhere else, its not on my CV, its never been on my CV, its not something that I ever claim. It is of course something I can do as can anyone. What I wondered was the point of all the interviews when they had failed to do their homework right at the very start?

Fortunately I'm not a particularly desparate guy, but these represent just one of a number of very badly handled experiences over the last 5 years. Its not difficult to handle a situation well.

As a recruiter:
a) Do your homework, don't invite people for interview unless you know exactly what you will do with them! Don't waste their time, or yours.
b) Be up front and honest, but above all TELL THEM YOURSELF as SOON as the decision is reached pick up the phone personally and give them the news and give them the REASON.

With those two very simple steps things will be a whole lot better all round.

There are for more bad recruiters than bad candidates.
i tell the candidate day one first contact. You will be up against many candidates for this job. You are not the only one so after the interview you many have good news or it may be bad but we can learn from each step.

I remind this of this info at every contact this way they are not caught off guard.
I should clarify, that I'm not advocating being inhumane or impolite..what I am advocating is being realistic and firm with the candidate..

bitterness is a sign of ones emotions being out of sorts, and however justified one thinks that might be, that state of mind has no place in interviewing...or marriage, or friendships, or anyplace else for that matter.

Bitterness is a soul killing, relationship ending, career destroying place to be, but overcoming it is an individual responsibility. Sadly, many people who are embittered don't know it, so it's helpful if an outside observer ( a recruiter maybe? just guessing) would point it out.

I read a neat book a ways back called "the four agreements"..it was kind of flowery and new age - ish, BUT it brought out some truths that are helpful to integrate into ones thinking:

1) be impeccable with your words Oddly, many people think that only means don't lie, but the word impeccable actually means " to be without sin"..the point the book makes is "don't destroy yourself or other people with your words". That includes the words you think, AND the words you say.

2) Don't take anything personally

3) Always do your best

4) Don't make assumptions

See? four simple ( not easy ) but simple things people can use to be less bitter out there. If more people understood how responsible they were for their own day to day mind set, well who knows what would happen. half the world would become a whole lot more positive, and the other half would be upset they couldn't blame anyone else for their problems.
It is challenging when interacting with a bitter job seeker. Lately we have noticed more and more job seekers taking out their frustration on us. While some we do correspond with and provide advice and recommendations, some are outright rude and abusive. I realize that staying positive during a long job hunt is difficult, but why take this out on folks that can only help you?

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