For many candidates, the interview is one of the most nerve-wracking stages of the hiring process, often leaving them tongue-tied and too anxious to put their best self forward. Challenging as this may be for the person being interviewed, it may not seem especially relevant to you as an employer. After all, the main purpose of the interview is to find out whether the candidate is as good in real life as they seem on paper. Why should it matter if the interviewee is comfortable or not?
However, candidates will be a lot more natural when they are relatively calm and relaxed (it will be obvious in their body language!). If you want to find out what someone is really like, it’s important to build rapport with them in the interview, creating an opportunity to get a fuller picture of their abilities and make the most informed hiring decision.
With this in mind, here are our top four tips on how to make interviewees feel comfortable during an interview and ensure you’re in a position to find the best candidate for the role.
Brief Candidates Ahead of Time
For many job seekers, their pre-interview anxiety comes from not knowing what to expect during the process. The simplest way that employers can combat this issue is by ensuring you share information beforehand. Once the candidates have been shortlisted, you could take the opportunity to contact them with some or all of the following information (as you see appropriate):
- Basic info about the company/role: Although good candidates will do their own additional research, giving them some basic information can help them feel more prepared. Plus, they may simply wish to hear about the role or business in the company’s own words.
- Info about the interview process: What will be included? Will there be behavioural interview questions? Will they have to complete tests or assessments? How many people are going to be in the room?
- Any other details: Aside from the basics such as time, who they are meeting and location, tell them about any additional details, such as tips for parking and getting to the office.
When interviewees are prepared, it saves the company precious time by reducing any mistaken assumptions or unfair negative first impressions.
Create the Right Setting
The interview environment can make a big difference in how comfortable someone feels. If you’re not sure what kind of impression the space is giving off, try stepping back and viewing it as an outsider coming into the company.
Consider the lighting in the interview room; it shouldn’t be too dark or too bright to clearly see without straining. Is it too hot or too cold? Are the chairs comfortable? After all, the interview could last up to an hour or more depending on the company’s process and the type of role being recruited for. We had one client with an amazing harbour view. The interviewer would always have their back to the view as a test to see if the candidate could maintain their eye contact and concentration on the interviewer.
These may seem like unimportant details, but a bit of extra thought around the setting can make it a lot more conducive to a productive interview.
Of all our interview tips, this one might appear obvious, but many interviewers underestimate its importance. Whilst you are still there to do a job at the end of the day, establishing a rapport with each interviewee can make it a lot easier to assess them objectively.
Where appropriate and time allows, commencing the meeting with a little small talk can alleviate some of the candidate’s anxiety. Though you probably can’t waste time on a whole conversation, even a minute of chat before the formal interviewing begins can be the perfect ice breaker and create a more relaxed atmosphere.
Offering them a drink of water/coffee before getting down to business can also help to put them at ease.
I like to start an interview with: “Please tell me a bit about yourself away from work”.
Give Them Your Full Attention
Finally, aim to show the candidate the same level of respect you’d expect in return. Often there are multiple interviews to get through in a day, or the appointment is squeezed in between other internal meetings – but it’s important that the candidate doesn’t feel rushed when answering questions, explaining their work history etc.
When asking tough questions, give them plenty of time to think and respond. Sometimes a bit of pressure can be a useful interviewing tool – but too much, and you’re unlikely to get an accurate representation of their abilities.
Additionally, limit distractions to ensure you’re giving them your undivided attention – turn off the phone, silence email notifications, and let colleagues know you’re not to be disturbed during the interview.
When we talk about how to give a relaxed interview, it becomes clear that the interviewee's experience really is key. At the end of the day, they are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them, so giving due consideration to their comfort is going to make for a smoother process and facilitate an unbiased hiring decision.