Preparing Candidates for Stressful Interviews

Let’s face it, job interviews are not something that most candidates look forward to but they know they are a necessity for a new job. They can be pretty stressful in any circumstance, but if your candidate is unemployed, or feels that they could be soon, the stress factor just increased 10 fold for them. Some recruiters I have worked with in the past won’t even present a candidate that is presently unemployed. I’m not that strict with my own candidates, but I do make sure that if they are unemployed they can support why they are still the best candidate for the job.

In addition to the given stress that a candidate may already feel, some of my clients actually design their interviewing to determine how candidates will respond in an exceptionally stressful interview. I call these "pressure cooker interviews". Sometimes I know it before hand, and sometimes I don’t. Either way, I typically set aside time to prepare each of my candidates before they interview. Before you say it, I know this can be a slippery slope. Some clients do not want recruiters coaching the candidates at all. I'll say this, I don’t give them confidential information that might be perceived by my client as an unfair advantage. On the other hand, I feel it part of my role to make sure my candidates represent me well.

With that in mind, there are some interviewing tips that I use with almost all candidates to help relieve some of the stress that they may have regarding interviews.  If the hiring manager has made a point of describing their interview process to me, I'm going to take the opportunity to make sure that my candidate is prepared for anything out of the ordinary as well.

  1. Make sure your attire fits the position, but is something you can be comfortable in. This might seem silly, but trust me, if you are worried about the shirt gaping or the crazy color of the tie your sister talked you in to wearing, it will show in the interview. Think about how someone in the military might dress for an important meeting. Dark suit, crisp white shirt, but above all, your clothes should be well-fitting and you should appear to be very well groomed. When you look good, you feel good. If you are questioning whether you look ridiculous, well, you might. More importantly, this tension shows in your demeanor, even if they like the chartreuse tie.
  2. Be prepared. Study up on the employer before the interview. Google the person you are to interview with.  Scour the company website. Dig in to the investor information tab and the careers page. Learn everything you can about the position you applying for upfront. Nothing makes you feel more confident in an interview than knowledge. Knowledge is power. When they discuss their growth, for example, and you can talk about a press release you read regarding this information.
  3. Be calm when asked something you don’t immediately know the answer to.  Some interviewers may ask questions that seem ridiculous and irrelevant to the position. The key is to be thoughtful about your response. Don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, think about how the question relates to your work skills and/or character before answering.“If you were an animal, what would you be?” A question like this, for example, is enough to make someone that is worried about how they will pay next month’s mortgage lose their composure. Keep in mind, they don’t really care what animal you choose, but more, why you chose that animal. Why do you think that animal could represent you? These are clues to the interviewer about your personality and how you will handle pressure and stress. Asking questions like this in an interview also tell the interviewer how they can expect you to deal with difficult questions that you may not immediately know the answer to from a customer.

  1. Limit personal sharing when it comes to why you are unemployed. This one can be tough if you have been unemployed for a long time or feel that the reasons you are unemployed were unfair. If you develop a good rapport with the interviewer you may find yourself sharing more information than they really need to know. Stay away from discussing anything negative about your personal situation, or former employers whenever possible.  Keep all answers to a potential employer on a “need-to-know” basis. If the issue is something that the employer will discover on a back ground check, it is best to let them know this upfront. Otherwise, try to keep the conversation focused on the value you can bring to their company.
  2. End the interview well. No matter how you feel the interview went, end the interview on a cordial note. Thank the interviewer for their time, and when applicable, use this opportunity to tell them how much you enjoyed hearing about the opportunity and let them know that you would like to be offered a position. Some positions, sales for example, may even warrant a more aggressive close like, “I love what you’ve shared today. When can I start?”

How do you advise your candidates to keep their cool and out-perform other candidates as any of your submittals would, when they are really under pressure to get the job? Are there any of my tips that you disagree with?  How much time, if any, do you spend time on prepping candidates with this type of information before an interview?  Sound off in the comments below.

  • Amy McDonald is a President and CEO supporting several online employment sites including REKRUTRResumeSpider, and RazorHire.She has worked in the human resources and recruiting industry for over 20 years. Amy has worked with many career seekers, recruitment professionals, and business leaders throughout her career, training best practices in finding a job, workplace relations, sourcing talent and refining the recruitment process. In her spare time, Amy participates as a thought leader and contributor for recruitment information with BIZCATALYST360.

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