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This article was published on September 29, 2013

Fear factor: Are your job candidates unqualified or terrified?

Fear factor: Are your job candidates unqualified or terrified?
Josh Tolan
Story by

Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.

Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.

One of the most challenging aspects of starting up a new business is knowing when to bring on people to help your company grow. After all, 74 percent of startup companies fail because they decide to scale too soon, which includes premature hiring.

Eventually, however, every startup founder or business leader knows it’s time to hire. No entrepreneur is an island, and work gets done a lot quicker with more talented hands in the pot. This probably explains why 87 percent of tech startups plan to hire more talent in 2013.

The recruiting process can certainly seem daunting to someone not accustomed to the hiring game. As nervous as you might be to finally start hiring people for your company, odds are your candidates are even more uptight.

A recent study for Everest College conducted by Harris Interactive discovered 92 percent of job seekers fear some aspect of the interview process. The most common fears going into the interview are being too nervous, being over- or under-qualified, and being stumped by a tricky question. Yup, job seekers are nervous about being too nervous in your interview.

Instead of writing off a candidate who seems a little shaky, here are some ways to recognize common fears and help eliminate them in the interview process, giving candidates the confidence to stop shaking and start impressing:

Listen for content, not confidence

As the CEO of a company specializing in video interviews, I’ve seen a lot of nervous job candidates. I’ve definitely seen some great-on-paper candidates crumple under the pressure to impress in the interview.

And just because a candidate is interviewing on video instead of across the desk from an employer doesn’t mean they’re any less nervous. Many candidates recording video interviews appear covered in flop sweat, which seems amazing considering they have ample opportunity to record and re-record their interview answers.

The important thing to remember is that a jittery candidate doesn’t always translate into a bad worker. But many startup companies hiring for the first time make the mistake of dismissing qualified but nervous candidates before even giving them a chance.

Instead of focusing on a candidate’s confidence levels, focus on the content of their answers. They might be nervous, but if they know what they’re talking about, the nervous Nelly in your interview could easily transition into an office superstar. As a bonus for startups, picking a qualified but nervous candidate could allow you to avoid the costly candidates your competitors are fighting over and still end up with a great employee.

Ditch the trick questions

Listen, I know a lot of employers love trick questions. One look at Glassdoor’s list of the 25 weirdest interview questions and it’s pretty clear why 15 percent of surveyed job seekers were most afraid of being stumped by a question. As a startup, you might be thinking it’s wise to follow in the footsteps of giant companies like Google and Zappos. But is it?

“How many cows are in Canada?” is a question actually asked at Google. What purpose exactly does that serve in letting you know whether a candidate can do the job? Does the answer to this question help you determine whether a job seeker will be a good cultural fit? The only thing this question will tell you is the candidate’s knowledge of Canadian agriculture, while throwing the candidate into a sea of jittery nerves.

Even Laszlo Brock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, thinks these brainteaser questions are mostly useless. “We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” Brock recently said in an interview with The New York Times. “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

If even the pioneers of the scary “gotcha” question has given up on the form, perhaps it’s time to pack up your outside-the-box question about how many golf balls fit into an airliner. Instead, ask questions which actually apply to the job at hand, the company culture, or the skills needed to perform essential job functions.

After all, as a small startup team, it’s even more essential you find someone who can not only fit in, but who has the relevant skills to get the job done and wear many hats. You don’t have the budget for a bad hire (which can set you back $50,000!) and the candidates you hire today will help form the company you grow tomorrow.

Candidates will be less nervous knowing they won’t be questioned on esoteric geography, and the candidate who can’t answer job-related questions will be the ones you can weed out in the interview, not the candidates with zero knowledge of Canadian cows.

Be upfront about qualifications

Not having the right qualifications for the role is a huge concern for many job seekers when stepping into the interview. In fact, 15 percent of candidates are most nervous about being overqualified, while 11 percent are most nervous about being under qualified. An easy way to address this concern is to focus primarily on connecting with candidates who have the qualifications you need.

However, sometimes you’ll be looking for someone a little outside-the-box for your positions. Just because the candidate doesn’t have the laundry list of qualifications, doesn’t mean they won’t be a great worker for your company. This is actually a great method to hop off the beaten path and still find great candidates.

In certain sectors, like tech, the war for great talent is relentless. You might not have the budget to hire the superstars all the giants are fighting over, but by looking at talent with good skills but imperfect resumes, you can find the great candidates your competitors are ignoring.

Overqualified candidates, meanwhile, might be transitioning to a new career or looking for a new challenge in a startup environment. After all, you can train for skills…but not for cultural fit or sincere passion.

If this is the case, don’t let the candidate’s qualifications become the elephant in the room. Address the issue head-on early in the interview, letting the candidate know their qualifications aren’t an exact match but they have particular attributes you’re looking for in a great worker. This will help put the candidate at ease and will open up the floor to focus on what the candidate can bring to the table, not the skills they lack.

The simple truth is that most job seekers are scared of interviews. This fear could prevent you from hiring a great candidate just because they don’t seem confident. If you use the interview process to address common fears and look beyond the jitters, you just might find the top talent your startup company needs to thrive.

Image credit: baranq/Shutterstock

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