Everybody gets nervous. Even I do when I’m considering a difficult proposal: have I got it right, am I missing something? Nerves are important because they show you care.
They can also be destructive. Too much nervous tension destroys confidence and makes a person look like they’re out of control. Nerves spoil what can be a good pitch and affect a person’s credibility.
So when I see a candidate who looks too nervous, I’m pretty sympathetic. If someone’s nervous it might be too easy to overlook their real talent or potential.
Good interviewing is about being really focused, listening and verifying your thoughts. To get to this stage you need to be completely engaging with the candidate. If someone is so nervous they’re just gabbling you’re going to hear nothing. And if they clam-up you’re going to be doing all the talking.
Personally, I’d recommend a good five minutes of small talk. Ask if someone had a good journey — try to relate to it, smile and empathise with a difficult or long journey. Ask if they would like a tea or coffee. Get them used to talking at a measured pace — your pace.
If you’re interviewing someone then you should have a look at their CV beforehand. I like to pick out things I’ve spotted and ask about them like hobbies or achievements, to get the person talking and opening up. More importantly, it gets them relaxed.
Start with less demanding questions and build your way to the more complex ones. By the way, this is a good starting point for any candidate, not just the nervous ones.
You need to smile and engage and show some real empathy. Your body language can help. Are you sitting there tapping your fingers? Every tap is a crash across the head of a nervous candidate. Is your leg moving up and down as if you want to spring up out of the meeting and run a marathon? I’ve met plenty of people who can’t control their own body movements — and if you’re not relaxed, how is a candidate meant to be?
Along with body language, watch your habits and behaviour too. I remember in the 80s that some people used to think it business-like to take their watches off and put them in front of themselves when interviewing a candidate — somehow thinking that this would make for a more efficient meeting! That’s not efficient, that’s just off-putting. And if you’re too busy to take the interview, then you probably shouldn’t be there.
All this might seem amusing, but keep in mind you could be losing a really good candidate if they simply failed to get on top of their nerves and you disregarded them — and that’s not so funny.
from James Caan