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Dealing with Difficult Candidates

You may be a very good interviewer, but what if the person on the other side of the desk is not a great candidate? This can be an interviewer’s worst nightmare.  Listed below are suggested techniques and phrases to use in difficult situations.

A stressed candidate

  • Try to draw out information by posing probing questions
  • Use open questions. ‘Can you give me more details on …’ Can you tell me about …’
  • Give hints to longer answers. ‘Can you take a few minutes to tell me about ….’
  • If candidates are vague, say things like. ‘Can you be more specific’ or ‘Why exactly was that’ or ‘What precisely do you mean’
  • If candidates answer a question with, ‘I don’t know’ try. ‘Take a few minutes to consider it whilst I catch up with my notes then tell me what you think’
  • Be direct. ‘To fully understand and make the right decision, I really need more information can you elaborate?’

If candidates start rambling, long drawn out explanations with little meaning:

  • To draw out relevant information, ask specific questions
  • Bring them back to the point by repeating and summarising key parts. ‘Just to ensure I’ve understood you correctly’ or ‘So what you are saying is …’
  • Give hints for shorter answers. ‘Can you tell me briefly ….’ or ‘Can you sum up in a few words … ’ or ‘We only have a few more minutes to cover the next point, if you could just tell me …’
  • Be direct – ‘This is very interesting, but doesn’t really answer the question. ‘What I really need to know is ….’
  • If appropriate, interrupt or stop candidates. ‘Can I just stop you there  … can we go back to … ‘
  • Point out that you have limited time and you are keen to get through all the questions so all candidates are given the same opportunities

If candidates are overly nervous or keep apologising

  • Acknowledge they are nervous but don’t dwell on it
  • Build rapport and get candidates, get them used to talking to you – use something familiar e.g. the weather, their journey
  • Offer a glass of water, tea or coffee
  • Try to appear relaxed yourself, this should transfer to the candidates
  • Give candidates time to answer questions, maintain eye contact and encourage them with your facial expressions, don’t fidget or look at your watch

If candidates are belligerent, defensive or confrontational:

  • Don’t rise to the bait or get drawn into a heated debate or conflict, remain neutral and try to deflect the comments. ‘That isn’t really relevant to this conversation’ or ‘I would like to focus on’
  • I asked an inappropriate question. ‘This isn’t the forum for that’ or I’m afraid it’s not within my remit to discuss this with you’
  • Maintain your authority and control. ‘I’ve stated our position on this and I’m not prepared to discuss it any further’

If candidates are aggressive or abusive:

  • Don’t retaliate, raise your voice or lose your temper, remain calm and formal
  • Don’t let yourself be intimidated, remain firm and assertive
  • State if their behaviour is unacceptable and be specific about it, ‘You are shouting, waving your arms about’ or ‘I find your behaviour, tone of voice unacceptable, inappropriate or  unnecessary’
  • Don’t refer to their ‘attitude’ this is too ambiguous and tends to be inflammatory!
  • If necessary stop the interview