Quarsh Blog

Candidate Nerves: How, as a recruiter, can you put your candidate at ease?

Interviews are nerve-wracking. This is a point every candidate can agree on, whether you’re trying to get your first job as a waiter or are being interviewed for a multi-million pound executive position in a multinational firm. A candidate is being judged and focused on constantly, having to come up with answers to questions they may be unprepared for and dealing with the fear of rejection.

Many will see this as the candidate’s problem, but are you really looking to hire the performer who is able to sparkle under interview scrutiny, or are there other, more important characteristics you’re actually hiring for? A nervous candidate can fail to give you a true impression of themselves, which may bias you against them or make a perfectly competent candidate seem unsure, hesitant or inept.


If you, as the interviewer, are intent on getting a genuine picture of the candidate, and therefore being in the clearest position to make the best choice for your organisation it is incumbent on you to put them at ease. Fortunately there are ways to accomplish this and therefore get the most accurate impression of them possible. Ensuring that you get the clearest impression of them, and that whether they get the job or not, they leave the interview with a positive impression of you and your company.


Pick your setting

Try to choose an interview location that is a calm, comfortable space and if possible represents your company. Try to book a good-sized interview room to ensure you have a quiet space and don’t get stuck conducting an interview in a storage cupboard. This will, in all likelihood, be the only part of your company the candidate will see, so you need to show it in its best light, whether this is the official setting of the meeting room or a more informal settling like a cafeteria or a break-room. Try to make the position of the interviewee as non-confrontational as possible. Make sure that they are not looking into bright lights, try not to have them sitting with their backs to a door and perhaps instead of sitting across a table, which can seem adversarial, sit to one side of the table.


To begin with

At the start of the interview the candidate is likely to be at their most nervous. You can help by giving them a short introduction to the company, yourself and what you do, as well as explaining the vacancy. Most candidate will have done at least a little pre-interview research, but this will help ease them into the interview process and give them a few moments to collect their thoughts. Ask them the easy questions at the beginning to give them a small confidence boost.


Friendly face

Employers have a tendency to appear cold and aloof, but appearing unfriendly can put a candidate off. Try to put the candidate at ease as much as possible. This can be as easy as a friendly smile or the offer of a drink. Smile regularly and make the occasional joke. This can make a world of difference to nervous candidates. Questions on hobbies, interests, even the journey there to start with can help take the pressure off before the real questioning begins, and giving your own answers to these questions can be one of the most beneficial techniques out there to strike up a rapport and a friendly atmosphere. Whether you talk about the bus journey, your respective pets or the line at Starbucks, make sure when you talk about these things, for however short a period of time, you give your own answers. This may seem odd, especially in a setting that’s all about the candidate, but this similar reciprocity in initial self-disclosure make all the difference. In a study by Sprecher et al. (2013) it was shown that in interactions with reciprocal self-disclosure, individuals reported higher levels of liking people with perceived similarity and enjoying the interaction, than in non-reciprocal conditions. This technique, even if you don’t hire the candidate, will greatly aid in making them feel at ease and happy with the interview.


Make yourself clear

Ensure all your questions are as well-phrased as possible and steer clear of jargon, especially in-house jargon, to avoid confusion. There may be job specific terms you use that outsiders just won’t know. Even if a candidate is confused they may not want to ask you to clarify to avoid seeming ignorant. Be receptive and ensure that you rephrase any questions you think they may not have understood. Most of all, allow them time to think. Rushing them will help nobody. While you wait relax, sit back and smile, don’t lean forward and stare, as if interrogating them.



Don’t make them feel like you’re trying to catch them out. An interviewer should work with the candidate to help them demonstrate their expertise and knowledge, after all that is what you’re trying to assess. The interview questions should lead the candidate to show their experience, so you can assess how appropriate it is for the job. The interview process should be a collaborative effort to reveal their ability, not a confrontation.


Try starting with getting to know them a little to make them feel more comfortable around you. Make sure you’ve done your research too; look into their past jobs and study their CV to have relevant questions at the ready. Try to find the areas they’re passionate about. This will help you get an accurate view of them as a person and a possible employee. Finally, use competency based questions, asking them to explain times when they have overcome challenges relevant to the role that they are being interviewed for, or displayed relevant skills. This will be far more relevant than asking them to walk through their CV.


Body language

Try to appear engaging and friendly. Start the interview with a warm welcome and a firm, but not crushing handshake. Focus on building trust during the interview with eye contact and regular smiling at appropriate intervals. Sit in a relaxed manner, not glaring forward over the table. It seems simple, but this can be one of the most important things for effective communication. Body language accounts for 55% of the meaning of a message, with tone of voice accounting for 38% and words accounting for only 7% *.



Ensuring a candidate has the best possible impression of you and your company is useful even if you have no intention of hiring them. If a candidate is made to feel comfortable and at ease during their interview they are far more likely to return to your company should another vacancy arise. Even if you don’t need them right away, by giving a good impression you can conserve the best talent and make yourselves top of the list for potential candidates and, should they decide to gossip as people invariably do, their friends’ lists as well. This increases your supply of potential skilled candidates and even customers. For those you do hire, making them feel at home and at ease will greatly improve the clarity of the picture you gain of them during interview, ensuring that you make the right hiring decision and get the person best for the job, and not the one best at handling interview stress. Making them comfortable at interview will even aid in the process of settling in and give your new employee immediate pride about the place they work and the people they work with, ensuring that they commit faster and get up to speed quicker and more effectively.


* http://www.bodylanguageexpert.co.uk/communication-what-percentage-body-language.html