Recruiting Pro Tip: How to Overcome Candidate Communication Barriers

Talent selection is a delicate, multifaceted process. No two candidates are alike, and each presents the recruiter with a unique set of circumstances to navigate.

The selection process is entirely predicated on the quality of communication. With this in mind, recruiters need to do their best to become familiar with the candidates and understand what they do or don’t bring to the table. This depth of insight helps recruiters make the most informed decisions.

It’s important to realize that a number of variables determine the quality of candidate communication. For example, communication channels, the setting, the candidates’ cultural background, psychological makeup, and so on. All these variables can create specific communication challenges and difficulties. Notably, this communication noise prevents recruiters from forming a complete picture of the candidates.

What are the most common communication barriers in the recruitment process?

As the working reality becomes increasingly globalized, it provides unparalleled access to the talent pool. On the flip side, it also creates new challenges for recruiters. Surely, the work of a recruiter has never been more complex. For one thing, there are a growing number of factors to take into consideration during the selection process.

It is virtually impossible to capture the full extent of the complexity of the present-day recruitment landscape. Instead, we will cover some of the most common candidate communication barriers in the selection process. We will examine examples and provide suggestions for overcoming these barriers.

The most common kinds of communication barriers are:

  • Cultural barriers
  • Physical barriers
  • Personality barriers

Let’s take a closer look at each of these areas.

Cultural communication barriers

Indeed, the way we interpret the words and actions of others is greatly shaped by our own experiences. Moreover, recruiters have historically been faced with a high degree of differences among candidates. In earlier times those differences would manifest themselves within a certain cultural context. With technology-enabled access to the global workforce, that is no longer the case.

Approaching candidates from different cultures from a “western” perspective can easily create communication barriers. Let’s take a look at some of their more common manifestations.

False assumptions

Obviously, every culture has its own norms of expression. Something as simple as a head nod can indicate agreement in one culture and disagreement in another. Because of this, a lack of understanding of these differences can easily lead recruiters to false interpretations.

For instance, making eye contact during an interview is interpreted as confidence by western cultural norms. Some other cultures consider it rude and impolite (Chinese, for instance). The same can be said for talking loudly.

As another example, personal questions that we find acceptable in our culture can be too invasive in others. Westerners find name-dropping and referencing influential personal ties to be inappropriate. Conversely, it may be perfectly normal in societies with a strong community aspect.

While it may be true that certain cultures are more explicit, emotional, and passionate in their expression, others may be more restrained and subdued.

These are only several examples from a vast array of cultural differences.

Language barriers

The English language has become a ubiquitous means of international communication. However, recruiters should not assume that everyone uses it at a high level. To be safe, it is best advised to simplify the language and avoid metaphors and other more abstract manners of expression. Generally, this ensures a high degree of clarity and mutual understanding with non-native English speakers.


Recruiters should be particularly careful to avoid the trap of stereotyping. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all fall prey to stereotyping. Making assumptions about others based on their fundamental characteristics is part of our nature. Often, humans need to categorize the world around us to interact with it in an efficient manner.

Without a doubt, stereotypes can seep into the way we communicate with others. This creates difficulties stemming from false assumptions. Stereotypes lead us to believe that a person from a certain group will behave in a certain manner. Candidates can easily (and often correctly) interpret stereotyping as an offense.

How to overcome cultural communication barriers

It all starts with understanding and respect.

The more we are familiar with other cultures, the easier it becomes to navigate and interpret them properly. Recruiters should understand the candidate’s fundamental cultural norms and desirable patterns of behavior.

With language, it is all about finding common ground and adjusting our vocabulary to ensure that we are clearly understood.

Stereotypes are more difficult to overcome, as they are often deeply ingrained into our being. Recruiters should do their best to avoid making assumptions beforehand. They must approach all candidates as individuals, removed from any group context. It’s all about their qualifications, not any group labels.

Physical communication barriers

This category refers to the physical setting of the selection process and the candidate communication obstacles it may present.

Candidate interviews take place either in a shared physical space or online. Both come with their own sets of potential obstacles that warrant closer inspection.

In-person interview

The main physical obstacle in an in-person scenario is discomfort. Generally, interviewees always experience a certain degree of anxiety and it is up to the recruiter to make them feel more relaxed and comfortable.

Here are a number of steps recruiters can take to prepare the interview setting and make it more comfortable for the candidate.

  • Find a space that is free from interruptions and distractions such as background noises.
  • Show the candidate the restroom location and allow them to use it.
  • Offer the candidate a hot or cold beverage.
  • Have any other participants in the interview in place to avoid delays.
  • Give the candidate a tour of the office (walking can have a calming effect).
  • Have water and glasses available during the interview.

Online interview

Holding an interview in a virtual setting eliminates many challenges of in-person interviews. It also creates new ones. Basically, the formal goal is to eliminate distractions and allow both parties to focus on the conversation.

Certainly, technology can be unpredictable. The number of tools we use to communicate nowadays creates a situation where things can easily go wrong. However, solid preparation can minimize a lot of these risks. Here are some tried and tested practices for conducting online interviews:

  • Planning and scheduling: Clearly communicate the course of the process. Schedule the interview well in advance. In addition, inform the candidate about the communication platform and check whether they can use it. Inform them about any other participants. In short, make sure you cover every relevant detail in advance.
  • Technology: Test your equipment (camera, microphone, headphones, computer, Internet connection, etc.). Don’t forget software (interview platform, login data). Also, arrange a backup option (different platform or a phone call) in case something goes wrong.
  • Distractions: Ensure no interruptions. First, turn off ringtones and alarms. Minimize background noises. Prepare all necessary items to avoid getting up or shifting around.
  • Voice and gestures: Pay greater attention to your tone of voice and facial expressions. Also, show engagement with the conversation. Account for any streaming delays by making brief pauses after sentences. Try to look at the camera, not the screen.

Personality communication barriers

Candidate personality can create a variety of communication barriers. In this section, we will examine some of the most common situations.

The silent candidate

Some candidates are not very talkative. It can be a case of nerves, lack of proper answers, and many other reasons. Usually, recruiters can attempt to overcome the lack of input by:

  • Asking additional questions
  • Hinting at a longer answer (“Give me a more detailed overview of…” or “Take a few minutes to tell…”)
  • Allowing them to come back to the question at a later point
  • Being direct (“Can you be more specific about…”)

The chatty candidate

Some interviewees tend to give long and winded or generalized answers that often meander away from the question. Because of this, recruiters can choose to write it down as general chattiness. It can also be an indication of nerves or the lack of a proper answer. To keep the interview on track and get the answers they seek, recruiters should:

  • Ask specific questions
  • Summarize the key points of an answer
  • Hint at a preferred shorter answer (“Can you briefly clarify…”)

If none of this works, recruiters should embrace a more authoritative approach by:

  • Being direct and letting the candidate know that they’re not answering the question
  • Interrupting the answer to get back on track
  • Referring to time constraints and reminding the candidate of limited interview time

The nervy candidate

Sometimes, despite the recruiter’s best efforts to relax them, candidates cannot fully reign in their anxiety. Unfortunately, there is only so much a recruiter can do to alleviate the situation, and these are some of the steps they can attempt:

  • Display a relaxed state.
  • Acknowledge the candidate’s nerves without making a big deal about it. Letting them know that it is OK to be nervous can help.
  • Engage in small talk (weather, journey to the interview, etc.) to try to relax the candidate.
  • Offer refreshments.
  • Be patient, make eye contact, and utilize supportive and encouraging gestures and expressions.

Wrapping up

Attracting and managing a globalized talent pool is becoming more and more complex. Thus, recruiters must be more knowledgeable and adaptable than ever before when it comes to candidate communication. Also, communication barriers are multiplying in a fast-evolving world. However, recruiters can still overcome them with a fundamentally astute approach to their work. This includes being prepared, being respectful, and having an open mind.

Why Job Interviews Are Not Foolproof

Here’s the reality of hiring today: work itself is undergoing rapid changes, shifting to a new kind of workscape that’s digital, global, diverse, leans on automation and functions across multiple platforms — including social media and mobile. The job market is highly competitive: the unemployment rate was at 4.7 percent in February of 2017. Business cycles are shorter, with faster rates of new demands and needs to match. In this state of constant disruption and an ongoing race for talent, HR is being challenged to rethink how to recruit and hire more effectively.

The Bottleneck

Adoption of new technologies tends to be somewhat sticky: we tend to cling to the status quo if we’re not sure how to change it. But focus, for a moment, on the process of hiring as many of us know it. Short attention spans, a barrage of digital distractions, and employer information scattered across multiple platforms mean candidates who don’t fully read or understand the job description but tend to send out their resumes anyway. It’s easier than ever to do it, so why not?

On the receiving end are overloaded recruiters and hiring teams, flooded with resumes and applicants. Only half of these candidates are actually qualified, according to a number of recent polls of recruiters. But the process of winnowing them down is cumbersome. Somehow this giant pool of talent has to wind up flowing through a very narrow, one-to-one bottleneck: the interview. It’s like taking a raging river and sending it through a drinking straw.

There are other problems with the interview process, including questions of fairness. Objectively speaking, two humans get together and have a chat, and one tries to offer enough information to answer the other’s essential question: Should I hire you? But we know how fallible interviews can be, from limited bandwidth to first impressions formed in seconds — based on an array of “thin slices” of data that may smack of bias, conscious or not. The issue is significant enough that states are working to legislate bias out of interviews. Massachusetts just enacted a “Don’t ask” law that prohibits interviewers from asking for salary history — a question which has been found to put women candidates at a disadvantage and perpetuate pay gap.

Empowering a Better Interview

But we are human, after all. Nothing wrong with that. What if there’s a way to turn our humanity into a success, and not a potential liability? There is — and it comes in the form of data-driven tools that winnow out and spotlight objectively and accurately. Well designed pre-employment tests are more than ways to screen for specific skills and qualifications. They function as objective and effective predictors of success based on a range of additional characteristics, including personality and cognitive aptitude; the former can measure traits that may demonstrate fit, while the latter is increasingly important as we become far more specialized and as the technology we use evolves faster. Even more importantly, research shows that cognitive aptitude is one of the best predictors of actual on-the-job performance, making it a more objective tool for predicting long-term success.

But from my perspective, they also do something else. They’re an opportunity for both sides to learn about each other. The candidate can learn from the testing experience what kinds of skills, aptitudes, and behaviors are required for the job. The recruiter can learn from the test results what kind of potential the candidate has in terms of those measurements. Armed with this information, they can proceed to the next step if it’s appropriate.

No more shots in the dark. The candidate, as well as the recruiter, are both on the same page. Now, imagine the interview based on the results. The interview can now fulfill a more meaningful function: a face-to-face (whether virtual or not) meeting that conveys a candidate’s interest and potential to the employer, and communicates the employer’s culture and values to the candidate. Both are equally important, particularly in terms of a good hire and increased retention. No one’s time is wasted. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) backs this up: using pre-employment tests was shown to tangibly improve hiring results.

Still, Don’t Ditch the Interview

Does this all mean that we should simply do away with interviews completely? I’d say no. The advantage of pre-employment tests in hiring is that they provide relevant, objective data about a job candidate. For candidates, they provide a clearly objective and specific set of criteria that enhances the candidate’s understanding of the position, can (if tailored that way) convey employer brand, and provides a positive experience. But it may be that instead of unstructured interviews, we lean more on structured interviews — with their standardized set of questions. It puts additional work on the hiring manager’s desk, at least up front. But it also takes more uncertainty and the risk of bias off the table. If that can’t happen, the pre-employment tests have taken care of much of the heavy lifting.

We’re about to move into yet another phase in HR and recruiting, soon: Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends report stressed that we are heading into an era of cognitive computing, an augmented combining AI and people, and organizations made of teams may work together intensely but be located in different hemispheres. But of the key trends in this report, it’s important to note that 81% of the executives, managers, and recruiters polled said that no matter what the field, talent acquisition is imperative. Which makes a hiring process that uses the best tools even more like a change we all need to make right now.

This post is sponsored by Criteria Corp.

Photo Credit: neil.trickett Flickr via Compfight cc

4 Things You Need to Consider When Screening Job Candidates

Screening job candidates, before inviting them to take part in a formal interview, is an essential part of the hiring process. It avoids wasting both the candidate and hiring manager’s time. After all, you can’t meet every single person who applies for a job — especially since an average of 250 resumes are received for each corporate job opening.

Is your screening process taking too much time out of your day? Are you having trouble choosing between qualified candidates? Consider incorporating some of the following practices into your candidate screening process, to optimize the overall process and make your job a little easier:

Say Goodbye To The Phone Screen And Say Hello To The One-Way Video Interview

The one-way video interview is an attractive screening option, in which job candidates record their answers to a series of pre-determined questions. In some cases, candidates can even review their responses and re-record them until they’re satisfied with the final product. This ensures that you’re seeing the candidate at their peak performance.

In addition to painting a more accurate picture of the candidate, than the outdated phone screen, one-way video interviews are convenient for all parties involved. For starters, they eliminate scheduling conflicts. It gives candidates flexibility when recording their answers, and it gives you the freedom to view interview recordings at your leisure.

Let’s not forget the amount of time one-way video interviews can save. A recent study by Aberdeen Group found that hiring managers can view 10 one-way video interviews in the time it takes to perform a single phone screen.

Get Social With Candidates

It’s still a good idea to “Google” job candidates, but combing through job candidates’ social media profiles has become an even better tool for hiring managers because it gives them a rare glimpse into candidates’ personal and professional lives. You might not always like what you find on social media, however, and may feel tempted to nix candidates right off the bat. But your goal should be to keep an eye out for repetitive behavior, not isolated incidents.

Additionally, screening candidates via their social media profiles has been known to cause legal issues in the past. To avoid discrimination issues, your safest bet is to hold off on visiting candidates’ online social profiles until after you’ve conducted an interview.

Take advantage of social professional networks, like LinkedIn, when screening job candidates. Social professional networks are currently the fastest growing source of quality hires globally, increasing 73 percent over the past 4 years.

These profiles act as an updated resume, and focus on a candidate’s professional accomplishments and interests. Most importantly, sites like LinkedIn can help you reach passive prospects to further expand your candidate pool.

Put Job Candidates To The Test

There is no better way to assure you of your decision on a candidate than by putting them to the test, before extending an official job offer. A candidate may seem like a perfect fit for the job on the surface, but do they have the necessary skill set to be successful in the new role? You won’t truly know unless you invest in some form of assessment testing.

While pre-employment testing can help you find top-notch talent, it can also help you weed out unqualified candidates. Consider having candidates complete an assignment that relates to the job — a past customer project, for example — to see their skills in action. Doing so will help you better identify the candidates most likely to perform well on the job, while saving time, money and decreasing employee turnover.

End The Screening Process On A Good Note

Only 15 percent of candidates say companies are responsive throughout the hiring process, according to a recent survey by CareerBuilder. Don’t end your screening process on a bad note: keep candidates informed and follow up.

Following up with candidates not only improves your brand image, but it also gives you a chance to ask additional questions — and the candidate a chance to clarify — based on what you’ve seen on paper, social media and in the preliminary interview.

How have you optimized your screening process? Please share your tips in the comment section below.

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How To Avoid Common “Interview Pressure” Induced Mistakes

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever said or done during a job interview? Are you aware of the top mistakes that are most common during the interview? You may be doing things you’re completely unaware of, and this could be hurting your chances to get the job you really want. Think you know how to ace a job interview like a pro? You could still stand to benefit from the downfall of others who have come before you. Here are the mistakes you should avoid, and what you can do to improve.

  1. Too little or too much confidence
    Most people are aware that they must appear confident during a job interview, but did you know that it’s possible to be overconfident? If you’re not confident enough, you appear unsure of yourself, and your potential employers will be looking for people who know they can do well in the position. Having too much confidence can also be a big problem, because you can appear too cocky or sure of yourself, rather than letting your work and experience speak for you. It’s important to find that happy medium.
  2. Talking about how they can benefit you
    Many make the easy mistake of focusing too heavily on what the prospective company will do for their career, as opposed to highlighting what they can individually bring to the table. The company doesn’t need to know what they can do for you; they need to know what you can do for them. Impress them, but do it in an honest way.
  3. Not dressing appropriately for the job
    Do some research online for proper attire to wear to the office if you aren’t quite familiar with office etiquette and standards. Have you ever heard the saying “Dress for the job you want”? That applies here. Personal grooming is a must for any job interview, as well as dressing like a sharp, professional, sophisticated individual. It’s okay to show off a personal sense of style, but do it in a tasteful way. High cut skirt lines for a female or jeans for a male are never a great idea. Something as simple as this can make the difference between getting hired and getting dismissed completely by your potential employer.
  4. Being pretentious or fake
    By all means impress the interviewer, but by no means do it in a fake way. Playing up your strengths is essential, but be genuine about it. Most employers can see through BS pretty easily, and once they detect you’re being fake, they won’t want to hire you. They’ll want people on their team who are trustworthy and straightforward. In this case, it pays to be yourself.
  5. Over-sharing
    At the same time, being yourself doesn’t mean making the interviewer your best friend and telling them everything. Know what is appropriate to say and what isn’t. One of the most common mistakes people make in a job interview is being far too familiar. This shows up in the form of a bad joke in poor taste, or talking too much about family or problems that are going on in the person’s life. Remember, you want the interviewer to like you, but you don’t need to tell them your entire life story.
  6. Being unprepared in the interview
    This can absolutely kill your chances to be hired. Remember to do a couple of things in order to prep for the interview. The first is to research the company you’re applying for. This way, you can bring up positive points about the company during the interview to prove that you’re prepared. You’ll also be ready to answer the question, “So why do you want to work for this company in particular?” If possible, research in depth. Sometimes you can even find interview questions they may ask that others have made available online. Some even post about their experiences with the entire interview process. This gives you incredibly valuable insight into how everything will go, once you get the interview. The more prepared you are, the better. The second thing you’ll need to do to is to think of answers you will have for challenging questions they could ask. If you already have an answer in mind, it should be able to flow naturally during the interview. You’ll also want to come prepared with specific questions of your own.
  7. Arriving too late
    This shouldn’t have to be emphasized, but if you have a problem with time management, get it in check at least for the interview. There’s nothing worse than arriving late; it demonstrates an unprofessional attitude as well as disrespect to your potential employers. Arriving too early is also not great, as that can make you come off as too eager, or desperate even. Aim to be there no more than 10-15 minutes before your scheduled interview time.
  8. Talking negatively
    It’s okay to be honest if you’ve had a bad experience in the past with a former job, but find a way to spin it in a positive way. Employers know that bad situations happen, but it’s how you deal with it that matters. Make sure to communicate to them how you were able to turn it around. And whatever you do, don’t ever bad mouth former employers or former colleagues. This makes you appear self centered and even childish.

No matter what you do, be prepared to be professional, put together, confident, and remember to have a good time during the interview. Your potential employers will want to see how you can contribute to a positive work environment not only with your work ethic, but your personality as well. Let it shine through, and get that job you really deserve.

Igniting Your Candidate Experience

Interviews are the the moment when your employer brand sparks to life.

From the moment your candidate connects with you in real life—and we’ll include telephone, Skype, and Google Hangouts as real life because it’s 2015—you’re humanizing your employer brand and making a human connection. In this pivotal employer branding moment, the question to ask yourself is this: does your interview ignite your employer brand and energize your candidate? Or, does it extinguish it like a candle snuffer?

A friend of mine was recently interviewed by a local government institution. The interview was, as she mildly put it, “boring.” Their questions were predictable, systematic, and inauthentic. The interviewers followed their interview guides precisely, reading each question verbatim, and never once showed an ounce of personality.

Does this sound like the interviews you’re conducting?

Up until this point, your employer brand is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s your direct HR marketing efforts, such as your careers website, social media, and your intentional candidate experience efforts. But it’s also the indirect stuff like word on the street (aka Glassdoor, word of mouth, etc.) So, how do you balance your inherent HR need for structure and make your employer brand come to life in a positive, warm kind of way? How do you give candidates an interview that feels authentic?

  1. Have Fun. “Fun” is entirely contextual based on the corporate climate, but it can start with smiling and attempting to make an honest connection with your candidate. If your candidate is comfortable, he or she will interview to his or her best ability, so why not be cordial and inviting to set the stage for a successful interview?

  1. Be Flexible. I once worked with a manager who said that he liked to “give candidates enough rope to see if they’d hang themselves.” While it’s a dark analogy to apply, I like the concept. Be flexible enough to adapt on the fly to what a candidate may (or may not) be saying.

  1. Mirror the Brand. Whatever those adjectives are that your marketing department uses to humanize your business brand — be them. How a candidate perceives the company should be the same whether he or she read your latest news release, applied for a job, or met a hiring manager. There should be harmony among the messaging.

  1. Keep it Real. Talk about the struggles the candidate will be facing, explain the culture with balanced humility and pride, and be honest. Setting up honest and reasonable job realities is essential to job satisfaction and it starts in the interview. Candidates are craving authenticity and transparency, so give it to them. Look for candidates who connect to your transparency and those who ask the hard questions back at you.

Interviewing should be a positive experience for candidates and interviewers alike, and when you can humanize a brand you believe in, it elevates the interview to what it should be: a great conversation.

About the Author: Writer, connector, collaborator – Gabrielle Garon is an enthusiastic HR pro on a simple mission to be a person of value, not of success. Gabrielle got into HR because she really liked helping others and soon found an overwhelming curiosity for behavior, motivation, and how it all intersects with business.

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