5 Recruiters: “How I Handled An Awkward Candidate Situation”

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Hiring experts share tips and tricks (and juicy stories) from their experience handling awkward interviews and candidate disclosures.


Ever interviewed an over-sharer?

You know, that candidate who says just a little too much about a subject that’s not exactly relevant (or, let’s be honest, appropriate) during their interview?

If you haven’t yet, you can count on it happening one day. To help you feel prepared, five hiring veterans have shared how they gracefully handle those awkward over-sharers:

“Every recruiter on the planet has had a candidate put their proverbial foot in their mouth.”

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Less can be more

“I always say ‘less is more’ if a candidate reveals any sensitive information – I just listen. If there is a death in the family I will say I am sorry, but not much more. It’s really not my business, and I don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing and hurt the candidate.”

Gail Tolstoi-Miller, CEO and Chief Staffing Strategist, Consultnetworx, Speedhire, Speednetworx

Be empathetic

“My approach is to be understanding and ask a lot of questions, rather than making statements or assumptions. For example I had a candidate that had a one year gap on his resume. At first, this appeared to be a major red flag, so I asked very plainly, ‘what is the reason for the gap in your employment?’ He then explained that he was caring for his terminally ill father. After this, I asked follow-up questions, without being too probing or too forward, since I was dealing with a sensitive and personal subject.

In general, the more information you get, the more you can help this candidate secure a job. If any of the questions are asked the wrong way, it could turn the conversation cold very quickly. But by demonstrating that you’re compassionate and you’re trying to help the candidate, you can get a lot of helpful information from the conversation.”

Biron Clark, Technical Recruiter, Career Sidekick

“Be honest with candidates.”

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Be honest

“The most important part? Be honest with the candidates.

For example, sometimes our clients require candidates to take a drug test. On my end, I’m not asking the candidates to disclose any personal information, I’m simply asking if they will take a drug test. However, many start to disclose this information anyways. If a candidate does start to disclose too much information, I am simply very honest with them. I say that this is information that I won’t be sharing with the hiring manager, and I’m simply asking if they will actually take the test, and that I’m not judging their past.”

Barb Agostini, Managing Partner, Recruiting Social

Skip over it

“Every recruiter on the planet has had a candidate put their proverbial foot in their mouth. The best advice? Skip over it and move on. There are a whole host of legal issues that a company could get tangled up with, if pursued. Re-direct the candidate back to the questions and examples related to the position in question.

A general rule of advice to candidates is not to bash former companies or bosses. However, these moments of authenticity offer an opportunity for a recruiter to determine how well a candidate may fit with their culture. For example, an employee who disliked their last boss’s micromanagement style may be an indicator of how well they’d click with their new boss.”

Glen Loveland, HR Manager, CCTV News 

“In general, the more information you get, the more you can help this candidate secure a job”

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Ask questions

“Sales reps are characters and we run into lots of ‘sensitive subjects’. I’ve learned to be direct, be ‘sensitive’ and ask permission to talk about a difficult subject. We had a candidate that came up on a ‘cheaters’ website and we had to address this issue. That was the hardest one we’ve seen.”

Chris Carlson, President, Sales Talent Inc


About the author

Lily Weiner is Content Coordinator at Recruiting Social. Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @lilyweiner.

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