Hiring managers are a notoriously judgmental group of people—nearly half of employers (49 percent) say they can tell within the first five minutes of interviewing a candidate if he or she will make the cut, according to a CareerBuilder survey.
So when you notice something a little strange about a candidate, what red flags are okay to acknowledge—and what should you grin and bear through the interview? Here’s how to handle an awkward interview.
1. Check in with your candidate
It’s no surprise that candidates often experience stress and anxiety during an interview. There’s the potential that this job could change a lot of areas of their life, and it all relies on them convincing you that they’re who you’re looking for. If candidates start to sound desperate or strained, or begin sharing overly personal anecdotes, understand that they’re likely sharing this side with you to make it clear what the job would mean to them.
To handle this situation, acknowledge their passion and offer them time to compose themselves if the candidate becomes emotional. Simply state that you understand their feelings before asking if they’d like to take a minute or two to gather their thoughts before continuing with the interview. They might not have meant to overshare, and putting the interview on pause gives everybody a chance to get the interview back on its tracks.
2. Keep the conversation focused
Any questions from the candidate that seem inappropriate or answers they share that make you feel awkward should be addressed. You may ask how they are concerned that their strange concern or remark will relate to the position and their potential responsibilities. Refocusing the candidate on the conversation at hand can remind them that they’re here to interview for a professional position, and detailing those specific manners of professionalism can also spell out to the candidate how out of bounds they’re currently behaving.
3. Use ice breakers if necessary
Sometimes a promising resume doesn’t always translate to a confident candidate when you’re interviewing in person. Whether they’re freezing up under pressure or have a debilitating sense of shyness, be sure to find a way to connect with the candidate and give them the opportunity to show who they really are. You may find that after a simple ice breaker like “What reality show would you like to guest-star on most?” can get a tongue-tied candidate talking.
If you’re only receiving short answers from the candidate, and the interview time slot is crawling by, check that you’re asking open-ended questions rather than yes-or-no prompts. And asking them to tell their career story in their own words can often reveal hidden talents and translatable skills that the candidate might not have known to include. The key is to get your candidate talking.
4. Offer information and an endpoint
Job seekers can have wild expectations from a job interview—anything from an offer on the spot to the nitty-gritty details of paid time off and benefits that come along with the job. To help combat the confusion, share all the information you’re able to—timelines you’re projecting for when the potential hire will start and any other hiring timeline checkpoints like rounds of interviews or application deadlines. Also be sure that they understand what the role’s responsibilities are and what your organization does—unfortunately, few job seekers completely research a company before applying to a position. Good communication will cut down on time-to-hire, as well as create a more structured conversation during the interview.
If the interview turns awkward, ask what information the candidate might need to help clear up their confusion, or explain the hiring process so they are able to represent themselves at their best for the stage of the interview that you’re at. Especially for job seekers who haven’t searched for a job in a long time, it can be confusing to know exactly what hiring managers expect.
Finally, end the interview with next steps to ensure that the candidate will know when to hear from you or what you may need from them. And giving them a chance to ask their own questions will make sure that you’re not contributing to any awkwardness, too.