Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire

Looking Past the Nerves in a Video Interview

This post was updated on 5/14/2020

For even the best candidates, the video interview can be a nerve-wracking proposition. With unemployment rising sharply among all major worker groups to 14.7% in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you might even see more nervous candidates enter your hiring process than ever before. These candidates might be hanging all their hopes of ending their job search and quickly re-entering the workforce on this one single interview. Just because applicants are nervous, however, doesn’t mean they won’t be a great fit for both the role and company culture.

Many employers dismiss candidates who experience an excessive amount of nerves in the interview, whether this is an in-person or video interview. This isn’t unreasonable behavior on the part of employers. Candidates covered in flop sweat in the video interview may not develop into your top-performing employee. But what about the candidate who is clearly nervous but otherwise great? There are plenty of nervous candidates in interviews who would make strong employees and sometimes the most self-confident interviewees don’t hold the greatest potential for success.

You never know, the best candidates might just turn out to be those whose nerves are getting in the way. Here are some things to look for when talking to nervous applicants so you don’t miss out on the best candidates:

Ignore the quivering voice and listen to the words

Your candidate might stutter and their voice might quiver, but what are they actually saying? Too many hiring managers put their own preference for style over substance when it comes to the video interview. It’s true that style is important, especially when this style encompasses a candidate’s communication skills. The actual value of their words, however, reveals the critical details you need to make an informed decision.

Listen to what your candidate is saying. There are plenty of well-spoken, confident interviewees who often manage not to say anything of substance when it’s their time to represent their skills and the company. If your talent is a bundle of nerves but still manages to pull together great points about how they’ve brought professional value to organizations in the past, you may have found one of the best candidates and an ideal future employee. Dive below the surface level and make sure to learn what the content holds, not just the delivery.

Know how to spot the difference between normal nerves and lack of self-confidence

This might be tricky but there’s a difference between normal interview nerves and a serious lack of self-confidence. As a hiring manager, it’s your job to be able to spot the difference. Nervous candidates might stutter or take long pauses but clearly provide a connection regarding their skills and qualifications and the company’s needs. They can express to you why they would be the best candidates for the job and how their unique skill sets can bring value to the team.

Candidates who lack self-confidence, however, will not be able to give you a clear picture of why you should hire them. When asked about their achievements, they won’t make clear connections and will become uncomfortable telling you about their value or why they’re the most qualified. Your company needs employees who are confident in their abilities and can take the reins. If a candidate can’t even express why they’re the right person for the job in the interview, don’t expect leadership skills down the line.

Ask for concrete examples of value

One of the best ways an interviewer can evaluate to select the best candidates in the video interview is to get as specific as possible with questions. To evaluate the content and self-confidence of a candidate instead of just their demeanor, ask interview questions where the candidate can really show off his or her knowledge. Instead of asking general questions about why the candidate is right for the job, get specific, and allow them to apply their knowledge across roles. Ask about tasks they would need to perform, the training they would need to have to succeed in the position, and their ideal workplace scenario.

If the candidate aces these questions with concrete examples of knowledge and specific instances of ways they’ve succeeded in the past to bring companies value, it doesn’t matter much how nervous they are. The nerves are most likely just a temporary state of being concerned for the interview and about their future. The knowledge, however, will be something the company benefits from as the best candidates bring them into the workplace.

Many smart people are caught off-guard by their nerves in an up-close and personal, face-to-face video interview. Remember this typically doesn’t mean they won’t be a great employee or the perfect person for the job. If you weed out the nervous superstars from the bad hires, you might snag hidden talent to really grow your business.


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Heather Huhman

Heather R. Huhman is the Career & Recruiting Advisor for Spark Hire. She writes career and recruiting advice for numerous outlets, and is the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships: The Truth About Getting from Classroom to Cubicle (2011), and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010).

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