19

Imagine you are interviewing a candidate with someone else (for an internship*) who becomes nervous enough that they break down to the point of tears, resulting in a "no hire" because they cannot communicate their technical skills. Not due to language, but nervousness/anxiety/tears. You believe they might have sufficient technical skills.

Maybe it was their first interview, ever. Or otherwise were just having a bad day.

Because the interview is for an internship and you believe they have potential to be a strong candidate in the future and will interact with others about their experience, you still want them to come away from the interview feeling positively about your company.

As an interviewer, how can you help a candidate still come away with a positive impression of your company in a scenario like this?

There are a couple questions raised regarding a do-over. This is certainly an option but would involve discussion with other interviewers and may not be something you know is possible while interviewing. They may have bombed a different part of the interview with someone else.

*the internship aspect is important. For a fulltime candidate, it would be much less of an issue

  • 9
    is offering a do-over practical? Even if the offer is declined it should leave them feeling that you want the best for them. – Kate Gregory Sep 29 '16 at 1:28
  • @KateGregory that's definitely possible, but for that to be pursued it would involve talking to the other interviewers, etc, which might not be possible prior to the candidate leaving at the end of their interview. Particularly if your company doesn't have a "policy" on such things in advance (we don't as far as I know). – enderland Sep 29 '16 at 2:00
  • 2
    @enderland It sounds like you're forcing yourself to say "no hire" to yourself even though you haven't made up your mind. What's wrong with saying "we haven't decided yet"? Then discuss amongst the interviewers what you should do. Say your opinion, that the candidate has potential but seemed to be having a bad time. – Brandin Sep 29 '16 at 8:22
  • 3
    What makes you think the candidate does not have a positive impression of your company? It sounds like an issue the candidate has, and has to deal with him/herself. – Jan Doggen Sep 29 '16 at 10:30
  • 1
    If your goal is not to re-interview her, what exactly is your goal? As far as presenting a positive impression of the company, you should do that regardless of the interview outcome. Even a terrible candidate should not walk away with a negative impression. Ideally he would walk away and know "yeah, I guess this is not for me" but that is another situation. – Brandin Sep 29 '16 at 12:53
14

I honestly believe that if you think there is a decent reason the candidate was not at their best, then they would deserve another "re-do" interview. I also think that this is the best way to leave a positive impression at your company.

As a company you kind of have 2-3 options:

  • Be cut throat and decline the person
  • Be empathetic to the situation, but still decline the candidate
  • Be empathetic to the situation, react accordingly and determine whether this qualifies for a redo.

If you want to leave the most positive impression, the third option is the best option. It would imply that your company understands the position of the intern (maybe because we were once interns back in the day); and we see potential in you (so you mean something to us). So maybe let's try this again another day (because we want you to be at your best for us).

An alternative would be to empathize with the candidate, say your honest feelings (you thought they had technical potential) but the company policy does not allow for redo interviews so unfortunately you'd need to part ways. Happily invite them to apply again next time/year as well. Note that you need to be more empathetic here than if you were going to redo (e.g. explain a situation where a candidate did worse than them, say something funny from your first interview or whatever).

This happened to me when I was an interviewer for another permanent candidate. We ended up having a redo but declined the person unfortunately.

  • 5
    Hmm, there's always the risk of rejecting someone twice... – Nelson Sep 29 '16 at 7:43
  • 1
    @Nelson then do not reject them. Just make clear you could not get a good view on their skills due to that unfortunate event and give them the chance to come back. If they don't take it, sure the first interview is a rejection, but if they take it, call it a 'callback' and only the second interview may lead to a full rejection. – KillianDS Sep 29 '16 at 8:13
  • @Nelson Being called back is actually a small rejection in itself. It's saying "you didn't do well enough to hire you" while adding "but maybe you were having an off day and we're sympathetic to that". I've been in that situation myself. And in the second interview it just didn't work out either. Their way of evaluating me was to have me debug something but I didn't see the error because they made an illogical and unreasonable change to force the error. So I'm glad it didn't work out because I don't want to work for someone who tests on obviously dumb scenarios. – Chris E Sep 29 '16 at 13:16
6

A do-over may not be possible to offer or at least without consulting someone not in the interview room. So I am going to address what to do during the interview itself.

First, offer a bit of privacy for the person to get himself or herself calmed down. So I would probably call for a break and say we would meet back here in five minutes. Offer some tissues if you have them available.

When the person has stopped crying and is calmer, I would offer up a story about something embarrassing I did in an interview or the workplace that would show that it isn't the end of the world. (I have many of these stories available from my early years in the workplace.)

At this point what you are trying to do is show that you are human and not really someone to be frightened of and to give a positive impression of how caring this particular place is. Ask them if they want to start over. If they say yes, then continue as if the breakdown never happened. (At this point the person knows this is pretty much a practice interview without you having to say that explicitly, since the person who broke down crying isn't likely to make the top of the list. But if they continue just for the practice, they might do much better because the pressure is off.)

If they say no, then I might ask if they would like some advice about preparing for the next interview so this doesn't happen again. I likely would only do this last part only if the person was clearly new in the work world such as an Intern or entry level hire and if I knew offering advice would be acceptable to our HR. You can check with HR during the break about what is acceptable to say under the circumstances.

When the person leaves, shake his or her hand and tell them good luck. Somehow the typical "it was nice to meet you" stuff might feel like you were rubbing salt in the wound.

If the company sends out a rejection on the internship, I might also see if HR would add a paragraph on how you think that the person is not ready yet for this position, but would be welcome to reapply for the next internship cycle.

2

Others have brought up possibly redoing the interview, though that carries risks too (two flubbed interviews will make everyone uncomfortable). In this answer I'm going to assume that you didn't hire the person despite the flubs or offer another interview. (I'll come back to "during the interview" at the end.)

That it's an internship is important. The candidate will be looking for another internship (or permanent position) again at the end of this academic cycle. You want to make sure that all your rejected-but-possibly-promising-anyway intern candidates know to re-apply next time. Internships are cyclical; use that.

My company hires a lot of summer interns (about 20 this summer for a team of <300). We're aware that perceptions of our company are important and students talk to each other, so we want people we don't hire to still have a good impression of us. We also want students to remain aware of us beyond the job fairs. Our senior technical people sometimes give talks at local universities; we participate in (and sometimes sponsor) community hackathon events; we are part of relevant users' groups. So for your internship programs in general, look for ways to stay on students' radar in a positive way.

For specific candidates, a couple points:

  • When you send the rejection, explicitly invite this person to re-apply next {semester, summer, whatever}. This has to not sound like "we'll keep your resume on file" boilerplate; say something positive that makes the candidate think you're talking to her -- something about a particular skill that impressed you, for example.

  • As the next hiring window approaches, send another message with some information (we'll be at your school's job fair on $date, we're starting to hire summer interns to work on X and Y, etc) and ask her to apply. A little bit of personal outreach can help you stand out from all the other companies the student is looking at.

All that said, you also wanted to know what you could do as an interviewer, presumably during the interview. This depends a lot on how confident you are in reading people (will I make things better or worse?), but I have occasionally had a super-nervous junior candidate in a one-on-one interview, and I've had success with saying something like this: "Hey, it looks like you have some interview jitters. It happens; we were all new once. How about if I give you a couple minutes alone and then we can continue? Would you like something to drink?" This last part gives you an excuse to go somewhere; you don't want to just be lurking outside the door.

Finally, I hope that in all your interviews, intern and otherwise, you're taking some time to sell the company. There's not much that can beat employees who seem to be genuinely happy about their jobs and what they're working on. I've been on the receiving end of this, where I didn't get the job but came away ready to apply again in the future.

0

I would let them know that you will not be able to hire them at this time, but you still want to help them in their career. Offer to schedule another interview that will allow them to practice. Offer to give them a few questions to practice, and suggest you have other questions they'll need to answer off-the-cuff.

Also, you can always recommend them to someone else. They may have a less intensive environment that the position you're offering. Tell the candidate you would be upfront about their interview experience and that you're not going hide anything or sugar-coat the situation.

An alternative would be so suggest a phone interview just as a way to ease them into this process. It's really going to boil down to want they're comfortable with and how much time you can put into it.

-2

First off, I commend your interest in trying to find the positive about the candidate and express that to others.

There are two possibilities here:

  1. The candidate was not a fluent speaker of your language (I assume English) and had difficulty communicating due to basic language learning issues.

  2. The candidate was a fluent speaker of your language but still had trouble communicating anyway.

So let's address these both.

But before I get to that, why would it be okay to hire an employee who lacked basic English communication skills for a permanent position, but NOT be okay to hire one for an internship? That part confuses me. The ability to communicate in the language spoken by most company employees (to answer phone calls, respond to emails and generally represent the company) in an effective, articulate manner should be important for both roles. Why do you differentiate between the two?

Moving on, the interviewee is probably deeply embarrassed right now for not being able to communicate and breaking down in tears. Interviews are stressful enough, and adding that level of poor showmanship to it all is awfully tough to handle. If this is not just a hypothetical and has actually happened, you may want to email the interviewee. If the person is interviewing for an internship, I also assume the person is quite young and probably doesn't have a lot of experience interviewing at all. An email from a hiring manager that assuages the situation and expresses sincerity might go a long way to showing a candidate how good management and people skills are handled.

  1. Explain to the person that you were very happy to meet them. Express sympathy that interviews are difficult! And nerve-wracking! And that you appreciate their time.

  2. If the candidate was a native English speaker who just bombed an interview, tell them you think they have potential, but for that potential to be best acknowledged and benefitted from, they should develop stronger interviewing skills. If the person was not a native English speaker, tell them that the company values both hard and soft skills, and that they need more balance here.

  3. No matter the reason for the communication breakdown, tell the person you are available to provide guidance on how to practice/enhance communication/interview skills. Be a mentor. Offer your help. If you don't have time, is there another leader at your company who does?

  4. Some people put a lot of pressure on themselves. Reiterate that although an internship may not be a good fit right now, that doesn't have to be the case forever, and that you're confident the applicant, with more growth in the area of communicaton skills, would do well to continue to apply to a variety of programs/positions that suit their interest. Express that you have faith in this candidate!

  • 2
    Why do you think it is a language issue? – Jan Doggen Sep 29 '16 at 10:31
  • Nothing in the question mentions language. – WGroleau Sep 29 '16 at 12:22
  • 1
    The post was modified since it was originally put up and now says it's due to nervousness/anxiety/fear. The original didn't specify and only said the candidate couldn't communicate their technical skills, with no further explanation about why. The OP should have mentioned an ETA for that clarification. – Diana Tortolini Sep 29 '16 at 14:20
  • It was never implied that the communication was due to language and not the candidate breaking down. The entire question is premised around the candidate breaking down: ... who becomes nervous enough that they break down to the point of tears, resulting in a "no hire" because they cannot communicate their technical skills. – enderland Sep 30 '16 at 12:53

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