How to make wallflowers talk in interviews

How to make wallflowers talk

They looked so good on paper, but clammed up in the interview, unable to even look at you or answer any questions. Shyness and nerves are common in interview situations, so how can recruiters get wallflowers to bloom?

Everyone suffers from nerves in job interviews, but throw a big helping of shyness into the mix and you potentially have a cocktail that can really hinder someone from getting the role they want, while preventing a recruiter from giving an employer the employee they need. So what can be done to loosen a clammed up candidate so that employers can see the pearl inside?

Putting the candidate at ease

“It can be very tough if people are very shy,” says Laurie West, talent acquisition manager at Xchange Team. “One of the best ways to make them feel relaxed is by getting them speaking about themselves. I dig down into their hobbies and get them enthusing about something they are passionate about. One recent shy candidate was really into cooking, and discussing her hobby actually got her chatting away.”

West is also keen to point out that there are specific, physical things you can do, such as making sure the pathway to the door is clearly visible to the interviewee, but above all he believes preparation is the key.


Preparation is key

“What really helps is to make sure that they are thoroughly prepared,” says West. “For example, that they are clued up on the employer, have an idea the kind of questions they will be asked and want to ask, have planned their journey and make sure they give themselves plenty of time. All these factors will help a shy or nervous candidate feel much more at ease during the interview. Even what they do the night before can help, such as not going out drinking or partying, but having an early night so they feel refreshed and energetic on the day.”

Boosting a candidate’s confidence can also emphasise the positives on their CV and demonstrate why they are right for the job.

For Lisa Holmes, managing director of Assured Recruitment, one way of calming nerves is to get candidates to understand that interviews are a two-way process.

“This isn’t just about them being grilled, but an opportunity for the candidate to grill their prospective employer too,” she says. “They need to ask questions and understand if these are really people they would like to work with, and whether this is a culture they could work within. At the end of the day, it’s important for candidates, particularly nervous ones, to remember that the interviewer is a person just like they are, not some ogre!”


Understanding why candidates are nervous

Understanding and addressing triggers can also prove crucial, according to Jo Warner, brand manager at Bucks and Berks Recruitment, Wokingham.

“If asked, most people can pinpoint what makes them nervous, both situations and subjects,” she says. “We work with candidates to understand what these are and how to address them. Sometimes it is simply a case of ensuring the correct preparation is done.

“In other instances, coaching is required. Teaching a candidate how to breathe sounds bizarre, but an incredible number of nervous people literally forget to do this. We also explain that it is as important for them to listen as it is to speak. We recommend the ‘two ears one mouth’ ratio! This works for those that talk too little, as well as too much in stressful situations!”


Candidates with too much confidence

Being too overbearing and chatty can be just as big a problem as being shy.

“One chap came in wearing a garish bright orange tie and was also a chatterbox, so he was a bit in your face,” recalls West. “Ideally, you would aim to tone this down, but then again it’s important to bear in mind that he might be perfect for certain companies who are looking for an outgoing extravert.

“After all, it’s important not to get the candidate to act like someone they are not. Openness and honesty is always the best policy. Being true to yourself is important. However, there is certain interview etiquette that needs to be observed. For example, smart, business-like dress, so I advised the candidate that it would be a good idea to lose the tie. I also advised him to make sure he listened carefully to the interviewer and didn’t speak for more than two minutes at a time. This achieves a good balance.”


How to deal with extreme nerves

Sometimes, no matter how well a candidate is prepared, nerves can still get the better of them. But it’s worth remembering, and reminding candidates, that even when this happens, all is not necessarily lost. Warner has come across such a scenario.

“The worst case of nerves I’ve experienced as a recruiter was from a young graduate being interviewed by one of my clients,” she recalls. “When introducing himself, he knocked his pen off the table. Then, as he reached down to retrieve it, he knocked his coffee across the table. As he rose to right the mug and attempt to wipe up the coffee, he knocked the interviewer’s full water glass into her lap. At this point he said: ‘Perhaps I will leave that to you to clean up!’ ”

This comment, fortunately for interviewer and interviewee, broke the ice and the interview continued, with the candidate subsequently flying through the two-stage interview process, which included written and presentation tests, to be awarded the position.

“We often use the above example with nervous candidates,” adds Warner, “to demonstrate that even the worst start to an interview can be turned around!”


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