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Acumen Connections » Blog » Interview Questions to Ask a Nervous Candidate

Interview Questions to Ask a Nervous Candidate

interviewer giving interview in room

If you are currently growing your business, this may be one of the first times that you find yourself in the interviewer’s chair. It can be intimidating, but remember that it is equally nerve-racking to be sitting at the other side of the table. You probably are familiar with the difference that a great recruiter can make, and likely want to emulate these same characteristics now. Do this by acting as an authority figure while still taking steps to ensure the interviewee is comfortable. A candidate with interview experience is likely prepared to answer the following questions, whereas a person with less experience may be surprised by some. So along with a list of inquiries, we have also included a few ideas for encouraging a nervous candidate to respond with a better answer to more difficult queries.

Tell me a little about yourself.

It seems like a simple question, and it is often used as the initial icebreaker to both steer the conversation away from small talk, and as a way for the interviewee to be eased into the actual interview. The goal is for the potential candidate to provide a snapshot of their work and education experience as well as a little information about what their passions and interests are. If you have ever been put on the spot to talk about yourself, or been required to brag, you may understand how many people find this question to be uncomfortable and difficult to answer. If an applicant seems nervous, encourage them by further asking what they studied in school or what their responsibilities were previously.

What do you like to do outside of work?

For the interviewees with a hobby, this is a more comfortable inquiry than the previous one, and can even be asked if they need further encouragement. Alternatively, this may be a detrimental question for a candidate whose only hobby is vegging in front of the TV or who is very open about their drinking habits.

Why do you want this job?

It only makes sense that you want to know why this person applied for the job, and double check they did not just quickly apply without reading the description. The goal is for the interviewee to mention what they have in common with the company, team, or open position. Hearing enthusiasm and passion in an applicant’s voice is great because that air of excitement and wonder can be used to positively influence the rest of the team. If the interviewee is struggling, you can help break up the question by asking if they have related experience that was enjoyable or if they have similar values with the company. An answer consisting of incorrect information, a focus on solely the pay and benefits, or referring the position as a “quick stepping stone” in their career, may all be red flag responses.

Why should we hire you?

It is important to decide who to hire over another, and sometimes it is more convenient for the candidates to just brag about what competitive advantage they can provide. As discussed earlier, some people are humble and may not be incredibly confident with talking about themselves. Extroverts with sales experience may have an advantage at answering this question because they are comfortable with presenting the sales points that will ultimately convince you to choose them. 

What are your strengths?

The goal for this answer is for them to list their professional strengths, which are in line with the ones required for the job position, and that they are able to provide a professional example that successfully demonstrates these strengths. This is a great opportunity to hear what they feel like they excel in, what they have been told they are good at, or to hear a story of a time they went above and beyond in a situation. Not everyone is comfortable with bragging about themselves, but the way this question is phrased openly invites them to do so. Due to the structure of the inquiry, a few people may feel more comfortable responding here rather than to the two previous queries that focused on them.

What are your weaknesses?

This question can identify what the applicant is not confident about, what areas of improvement may need to be worked on, and why they are a good fit here rather than somewhere else. You may be in luck if their weakness is an entirely different field than their work, such as a finance expert whose weakness is art and design. An inexperienced interviewer may respond with a brutally honest answer such as, “I struggle with being on-time to anything” or even, “I have no weaknesses”, which they may see as correct answers, but are not ones beneficial to either party. Encourage a better response here by phrasing the question as, “What are areas of improvement that you could work on?” instead.

What are you looking for in a job or work environment?

This is the opportune time to understand more about what the candidate is looking for in a job or at an office. You can find out information such as if they prefer a flexible or strict schedule, a certain dress code, a specific level of responsibility, or if they enjoy working on some tasks more than others. This is also a great opportunity to ask: Do you prefer to work autonomously or micro-managed? These questions combined will provide additional insight on if you will work well together, as well as if the company can provide the things that are important to them.

Tell me about a time that you disagreed either with your boss or coworker

Ideally, the candidate will provide an example where they had a minor disagreement with their coworker or boss, explain how they were able to quickly resolve the issue, and how the team evolved for the better. Alternatively, another great response would be an example of when they disagreed with a decision made at work, and proposed a different solution instead that saved money, time, and manpower. Keep an eye out for responses that suggest they have never once disagreed with others, or worse, increased the conflict at work without reflecting on how it could have been handled differently in the future.

How many quarters can fit in this room?

Noticeably, this is a silly question, so be advised that some interviewees may be annoyed with such a curveball request, while others may prefer the change of pace. Ultimately the exact number is of little importance, but what does matter is what the answer was and how they arrived there. Did they get flustered and give up, turn the question into a joke and sarcastically respond with, “at least two”, pick a number at random, or guess a realistic amount? Alternatively, they could have estimated the volume of the room and divided it by the volume of a quarter, or maybe they already knew the exact dimensions for each and even calculated the total financial value as well! Their response needs to fit what your team is looking for and needs. For example, a sarcastic comment may be a great addition to a sarcastic team, whereas a calculated answer may be better for a research and development role.

For more ideas, The Muse has 10 more interview questions you can ask. To better understand the interviewee’s frame of mind, you could also consider reviewing topics and information targeted at them, such as our article on how to write a great resume, or The Muse’s article on how to answer the 31 most common interview questions.

Remember to avoid illegal questions.

Some inquiries like, “So, do you have kids?” may seem innocent, but are actually not permitted. Interview questions that ask about the applicant’s, age, race, ethnicity, gender, country of birthplace, religion, health, or marital and pregnancy status are illegal and should be avoided. For more information and examples you can read Betterteam’s list of illegal interview questions.

Of course, it is essential to find a candidate with the experience and work history you are looking for as well as some traits that are required for the position. Employee retention is incredibly important to any business, so be cautious of hiring candidates without a history of company loyalty. Make sure to hire an applicant that has just enough in-common with your team to enjoy working there, but just enough differences that allow them to offer a unique perspective. When hiring, it is important to find a candidate that would be a good balance for your team.

Ariel Westphal

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“Hi there! I’m Ariel, the Marketing Director for Acumen Connections. I led the team in establishing Acumen Connections’ identity and processes when Brian J. Staver purchased the company in 2017. Nowadays, Renee and Anna do most of the heavy lifting on the content writing side as I oversee all marketing initiatives, but our team works together to create an environment that supports Acumen Connections’ mission of “Building Business Connections”.

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