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The internet is full of articles about how to improve our interview techniques to screen and hire the perfect candidates. Some tell us to ask candidates about specific projects, others suggest that we hammer candidates with different variations of the same questions. But the same problem remains unsolved: interviewing candidates compels them into “interview behavior.” That nervous, rehearsed, ‘I-know-I’m-being-evaluated’ verbalization of their resumes. We have all heard it, and most of us (myself included) have been guilty of doing it when we were interviewing for a job.
How can we break through the nervousness?
Recently I was talking with Chris Conley--a mentor of mine who has the rare ability of detecting and developing raw talent. He told me, “Don’t directly ask candidates what you want to know, use a slight misdirection to take their guard down and get to a more genuine conversation.”
We had this conversation as we reflected on how to help candidates feel more comfortable at our hiring Skill Fairs. We take time for each candidate to spend 15-20 minutes demonstrating their skills at 2-3 hands-on stations. That time allows for the candidate to work through a job-related activity (packing an order, tracking inventory) with an activity mentor, then reflect on the experience.
The job-related activity is a slight misdirection. The candidates are engaged in something they may be asked to do their first day on the job. They focus on the task at hand and the nervousness of presenting themselves verbally, goes away. The activity itself yields interesting information on a candidate about how they might approach specific tasks - are they a fast order packer? Do they read detailed labels accurately? Those bits and pieces are valuable in finding a candidate’s strengths.
But the more revealing part? After participating in the inventory activity, candidates naturally talk about experiences they have had doing similar work. Intentionally, the people walking candidates through the activities are called mentors not interviewers or facilitators. The mentor working through the activity is clearly interviewing, but it doesn’t feel like it to candidates. This mentor helps them learn and perform a new task, making candidates feel like they are working together to achieve a goal - which is much truer to the actual work environment.
When I mentor candidates through a job-related activity, I have to remind myself to leave the direct questions unasked. Answers to past experience, strengths and achievements will reveal themselves naturally without all of the rehearsed resume quotes. It’s challenging not to fall back into direct questioning, because taking the time to walk through an activity doesn’t seem efficient. But bringing a candidate’s guard down is worth the effort in recruiting and helps paint a clearer picture of how he or she will do on the job.
Have any tips on how you have helped candidates get through their nervousness? Share with us!
Elena and Abby bring you innovative stories from the workplace.