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I have a candidate who had two excellent phone screens, but when he showed up for an interview, was shaking due to nerves. Despite his obvious nervousness, he did well enough in the first hour, demonstrating both technical ability and cultural fit.

Evidently, however, he starting going down hill over the next two hours, stammering his way through answers and making a few missteps.

The first set of interviewers said "definite hire", the next two were lukewarm, and the last were mostly negative. One of the big points they made was that he was too nervous to get a feel for what he's really like. We're aiming for consensus, and our impressions were so different that we really don't have it.

I wouldn't normally do this, but the first set was so strong that we'd like to give him another chance to show himself, particularly to the later interviewers. How can I create an environment that sets the candidate at ease and helps him represent himself well? It seems that the triple panel of interviewers wasn't working here.

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    Why? If you're sure it's nerves (and that the nerves won't cause issues during the possibly stressful work required of the role), then just hire the person. Bending over backwards to have them pass the interview is a waste of time. – Telastyn Feb 13 '15 at 4:08
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    Also keep in mind that this might be a major red flag. If nerves are getting to him this badly during an interview, think of what might happen if there is an emergency in his day-to-day work. – David says Reinstate Monica Feb 13 '15 at 4:50
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    @DavidGrinberg How is that related to his situation during the interview? The stress due to an emergency situation is completely different from the one you get in an interview and he may handle it perfectly well. – Bakuriu Feb 13 '15 at 8:12
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    I do not perform well at all in interrogation-style interviews. I have a habit of impressing during preliminary phone screens and 'homework' coding exercises (so I get invited to a lot of 'final on-site' interviews), only to stumble when put through the usual 'implement a red-black tree on the white board while we stare at you' ritual. During one such interview, I was so nervous I completely blanked on the concept of loops, so I used a goto. The look on the interviewer's face was priceless :) – James Adam Feb 13 '15 at 13:41
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    @Bakuriu: To confirm: There are stressful situations, like an interview, where the outcome is either "normal" or you fail. People tend to fail. There are stressful situations, like an emergency, where the outcome is either "normal" or you come out as a hero. People tend to succeed. – gnasher729 Feb 14 '15 at 13:30
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The simple fact is that some people have social anxiety that really affects their interviews at times. But let me say from personal experience that this does not necessarily mean anything negative about their ability to do the job. Unlike the person who said it's a "red flag" it is nothing of the sort, anymore than a person being awful at UX design means they can't write Java components. They're 2 very different skills and environments.

Unless you're hiring the guy to be interrogated for hours at length, your interview process will do nothing to give you an accurate picture of his work and thought process. That's the flaw in the formal interview. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are shocked when there's a bad hire after a lengthy interview process. It's as though they're saying, "I don't understand how interrogating him for 3 hours like a witness to a crime didn't tell us how he would be to work with in an environment nothing like the interview!"

There are a few things you can try.

  1. Limit interviews to 2 hours, tops. That level of scrutiny places a lot of pressure on the interviewee and the sustaining of that pressure isn't revealing because it's not the kind of pressure he will get on the job. But there's a way to simulate that which I will get to.
  2. Resist the urge to bring everyone and their cousin into the interview process. It's really unnecessary and doesn't add any real insight. Realistically, you don't need more than his future manager, a coworker and either the manager's boss or another coworker. Those 3 know enough about the job requirements and environment to be able to determine if there is a good fit. Everyone else just turns it into something like a congressional hearing.
  3. Have a planning meeting. Have the interviewers simulate a typical project meeting. I've done this numerous times and can't stress enough how effective it can be. Basically, you come up with something that this person may be tasked to do and you have a meeting about it. You go over the problem, maybe give some solutions the end users have suggested, and lay out the basic parameters that the "project" would have. Leave out some necessary information that you would expect him to want to know. And then you watch and have this meeting. Treat it as a back and forth process like you would in a real meeting. By asking questions about the project you're exploring the candidate in a much more realistic way. And because it's still an interview, you do have stress, but the candidate has an outlet for it, his skill.

But as others have suggested, build a rapport. You'll want him to be comfortable as an employee so making him uncomfortable as a candidate doesn't really help you.

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    We ended up bringing the candidate back for a half day to give him a chance to interact more informally. I spent some time pair programming with him, giving others a chance to eavesdrop on our interactions. I arranged a planning meeting at your suggestion and asked him to participate there as well. There was agreement that his interaction in this meeting was profitable and gave a much better impression. We went to lunch as a team and again gave him a chance to chat more informally. This seems to have brought the other interviewers around enough for us to move forward with the candidate. Thanks – Ray Feb 23 '15 at 22:33
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    I am SO gratified that I was able to help. – Chris E Feb 24 '15 at 1:40
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The best way is to drop the formal interview style.

Think about the job he will be performing and how his team will work with him. Then design a way to see how he works in that environment. Ask them to sit next to a team member for an hour and work on a problem. Most technical people can offer some insight while trying to diagnose a problem.

Try and remove the part of the process that causes them issues. I know people that are very good at their job, but can never talk in front of a group. Give them a problem to solve and one or two people to work with and they rock.

You want to know they can add value to the team, so construct the interview to measure just that, nothing else. Just find out if they can contribute.

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    I wish all interview were like that. – Siddhartha Feb 13 '15 at 1:40
  • My interview for my current job was to work on a mock-up exercise. Something that is actually close to what I do here. If it was just talking (like how I had many), I wouldn't be hired. This is the best way to do. This is the way I like to be interviewed and it's the way I feel confortable. – Ismael Miguel Feb 13 '15 at 11:13
  • I like this answer. Sitting next to someone, working on a problem is a lot less intimidating than facing someone who you know is evaluating your every move. This was done in my last interview. It makes sense to me if 90% of your work will be done on a computer, an interview, should probably have a computer in it. – Ronnie W Feb 13 '15 at 14:25
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    "Look...let's go for a walk." – Chris B. Behrens Feb 13 '15 at 14:52
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    and 3 hours is far to long – Pepone Feb 14 '15 at 14:34
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One of the big points they made was that he was too nervous to get a feel for what he's really like.

It sounds like you seem to have determined that he at least has the technical skills. Your last interviewers seem to want to get to know him, as a person, better.

So put together a meeting where not only you can get to know him, but where he can also get to know who he's working with. This will benefit everybody and maybe help his nerves as well.

One example would be to invite him out to lunch with those interviewers who are unsure yet, and some of his future co-workers.

Remember this isn't an interview, its just lunch to see how he will fit in. Having everybody just focused on him during lunch will bring the nerves back. This should just be a fun casual outing for everybody. Normal conversation should take place and he can get a feel for how the team treats the other members. (and if the company can manage it, have the meal paid for, at least for the candidate ;)

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What I will be saying is from personal experience. I have found that creating rapport with the candidate puts them at ease. When I was interviewing, I appreciated interviewers who really got to know me as a person and evaluated my competencies through conversation rather than interrogation. Direct questioning would undoubtedly add to the nervousness of the candidate. I also found environment to be a big influence. Try to create an environment that is welcoming rather than cold, such as directly across a barren desk, as the desk symbolizes a psychological barrier that impedes open dialogue.

  • True fact about the desk. If you do have one, try one with round corners or completely round. I read a pretty good study a while back (which I can't find atm) that proved a good correlation between round corners/table and improved cooperation/communication. – Radu Murzea Feb 15 '15 at 10:56
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In the short term, you won't help the nervous candidate recover. If it is really some deep pattern of anxiety that you have triggered in that person, it is very hard to change it so quickly. Don't try to find the right format; chances are it won't work, unless you have an incredibly deep understanding of people.

First suggestion: hire the person on a contract basis, part-time. After a few months make a decision.

Second suggestion: schedule another interview in 2 months from now. In the meantime get together for coffee, etc.

Also, remember that, research shows, most interviewers are really bad at predicting the candidate's future job performance. So your idea that you need to get what this person is really like is mostly an illusion. Again, research shows that most interviewers are not better than hiring at random.

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I would like to add a different aspect: especially in engineer and software development environments, there are a lot of people which show signs of the so-called Asperger syndrome, which today is classified as a weak form of autism.

These people have difficulties with social interaction and especially nonverbal communication or verbal communication with slight undertones. They instead focus more on the rational content of speech. They may get into emotional stress when brought into unusual situations facing many people at once, especially when the financial income depends on the decision. They often have special interests which they pursuit with great patience and detail knowledge, especially interests that do not focus on emotions, Some are quite highly talented and known as "nerds".

I think a hiring manager should be aware that the work as manager is quite different from the typical engineering work as developer, and so are the talents required. I recently even have read of a large company which decided to actively attract Asperger candidates for software development.

These candiates would feel much safer and calmn down if they are allowed to focus on technical aspects, and if the environment seems well-known "as usual".

.

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We had a similar situation, where a candidate passed the initial screening by our HR department, he was then called for a written technical test and performed quite well. Then, interviewed by two senior software developer, underperformed. One of the senior, being also my direct senior, set up for the candidate to be interviewed by two different people. As already recommended in another answer, you don't need to bring the entire department. So, the candidate was interviewed again, we drilled on his past experience but we didn't put unnecessary pressure, and he performed much better than in the first interview. One thing to notice, our corporate culture emphasize collaboration and friendliness.

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