Interview Sabotage

Why do so many recruiters allow highly-qualified candidates to sabotage their interviews before they ever begin?

I shook the hand of a candidate after preparing him for an interview with a client of mine. His hand was so wet I had to look to ensure I wasn’t shaking a trout. The poor guy was so nervous. The Starbucks French Roast may have contributed to it, but I have to believe that he was on the verge of an anxiety attack at the prospect of the pending interview.

We’ve all been interviewed. It’s part of the process of employment in most cases, but often we look at the event not as an opportunity to advance, rather, seeing it as avoiding failure. And, of course, not getting the job is failure. We need to change the viewpoint of the angst-riddled candidate in order to alleviate their stress, and increase the possibility that they perform well.

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In all the years, across all the industries — current and deceased — no candidate ever lost anything as an outcome of a job interview. I sat the candidate back down and asked him this question: “What are you most afraid of?” He looked at me and said, unsurprisingly, “Not getting the job.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say.” I said. I asked him to put down the coffee and consider that he’d been selected from likely hundreds of resumes, which puts him in an exclusive group. “Those that didn’t get invited to the interview, did lose something; the opportunity to convince the client that they were the right choice. You’ve been selected; you’re an expert; you have something they want. Furthermore, they need to convince you that their organization is right for you.”

“Now,” I said, “Have you lost the job?” He looked at me and said, “No, I haven’t even interviewed for it yet.”

“That’s right,” I said. “And if after the interview you never hear from the organization again, have you lost anything?”

“Well, no — just a little time I guess,” he conceded, beginning to see the point.

“That’s right too,” I said. “Their are only two possible outcomes that can arise from this interview; either you don’t get the job — in which case you’ve lost nothing, or, you DO get the job, in which case you gained what you sought. Either way, your situation is at least equal to, or better than it was going into the interview.”

Why then do candidates burden themselves with the fear and angst of not being selected?

It’s because they don’t think this way — they place success and failure directly on the outcome of getting the job or not. The decision seldom happens at that point anyway. We, as recruiters, need to lead candidates to the place where they see the interview not as a win/lose proposition, but instead characterize the opportunity as one in which there is only a “can’t lose” outcome. They will perform far better, and your candidate will be much more likely to be selected than a weak-kneed, trembling, tongue-tied, sweaty palmed, nervous mess.

Going into an interview with confidence instead of fear is a far better state of mind. Think you have something to lose? Your odds of achieving that outcome increase. Believe you’ll break even or win? Your odds of a successful interview skyrocket. Indoctrinate in your candidates the confidence they need to perform well, and improve their odds of a congratulatory phone call.

Oh, and also, Starbucks is a great meeting place, but perhaps buy them a decaf in the pre-interview.

MORE: Active vs. Passive Candidates: One Size Does NOT Fit All

Dan Stewart

Dan Stewart
Dan Stewart is senior vice president at Excyl, a staffing firm based in Troy, Mich.

Dan Stewart

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