Putting Candidates at Ease and Building Rapport

There's a lot to be said about making candidates feel comfortable during your interview and getting them to open up to you. Of course, much of that will depend on your natural interviewing style and willingness to make it safe for them to share information about themselves. Of course, there's no right or wrong way to do this; rather, it's a matter of you being yourself and extending a gracious welcome to your guests.

Some interviewers have a relaxed versus formal communication style; some try to make friends, while others prefer a respectful distance. Again, your style is your gift, as long as you remember that you're not solely there to make new friends (although that's always nice). Your primary goal is to identify and acquire a talent asset that will benefit your company over the long run.

That being said, remember the adage: ''What you want for yourself, give to another.'' You've probably been through a myriad of interviews yourself from the candidate's side of the desk, and you could probably identify the key issues and interviewer styles that made you feel welcome and comfortable answering questions in a straightforward and forthright manner. Seeing that many candidates are schooled in the verbal Q&A ''volleys'' that are inherent in the interviewing process, the trick will be to get them to let their hair down to a degree and truly help you understand them and their needs, expectations, and preferences in doing business.

How will you know when you've ''pierced their hearts'' and gotten to the real person behind all the interviewing hype? Well, first you'll feel the sincerity of their responses, both in what they say and how they say it. (Body language is key.) More significantly, if you find that candidates occasionally share thoughts with you like, ''Paul, I wouldn't normally say this during an interview, but . . . ,'' then you'll know that you're getting to know the real person rather than the schooled and rehearsed job applicant, so let's talk about getting there.

Office Setting

There's a lot to be said about the unspoken silence that speaks volumes about who you are in terms of your office setting. Before a word is exchanged, the first impression, which is ever so important, is created in your initial handshake, smile, and the makeup of your office. Let's address the office setting first before we move on to the human element.

Simply stated, keep your office clean and make it inviting (as much as possible). One of the biggest turnoffs I've found as a candidate in my own career was to meet with a prospective employer who could barely see me over the mounds of paperwork on his desk. That, of course, made it very hard to establish rapport and very much created an impression that I was an intruder—this person has work to do, and my presence is a distraction from the mounds of tasks he has lying in front of him. Therefore, tidy up a bit before the meeting starts and move the files, law books, or fan parts off of your desk for some uninterrupted eye contact and one-on-one time.

Okay, another important issue: couch or desk? Some interviewers feel comfortable in a behind the desk scenario, where they can take notes and maintain a healthy distance, befitting a traditional job interview. Others prefer to engage candidates on a couch or other even playing field to lessen the distance that comes along with meeting strangers for the first time.

The traditional behind the desk paradigm creates a silent expectation of roles within the company and hints of a top-down managerial approach. In contrast, the side-by-side couch scenario creates an implicit message about teamwork, camaraderie, and management by consensus. Either situation is fine, as long as you are both equally comfortable.

Oh, and don't forget the significance of food. Many interviewers ask candidates if they'd like water or a soft drink. However, you'd be surprised how offering cookies and licorice sticks gets an immediate smile (and polite ''No, thank you'') and places candidates at ease. So consider picking up a box of snacks during your next visit to the market. It's a kind gesture that lets candidates feel immediately more at home.

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