I used to think that recruiters had all the leverage during the interview process. Everything that felt awkward to me felt natural to them. After all, speaking to strangers was part of their job—and for me it was a dreaded occurrence that I tried to avoid at all costs.

But then I became a recruiter for a while and realized that certain things during the interview process are just as awkward for the employer as they are for the candidate. To help put you at ease before your next interview, here are a few things that I can remember keeping me up at night before someone was scheduled to come in.


1. Making Small Talk Before the Interview

A few of my friends have asked me about how to make small talk with a recruiter that won’t ruin the rest of the interview. And each time they’ve asked, I’ve had to suppress a little bit of laughter.

Why?

Because those pre-interview conversations have made me just as nervous. As a recruiter, I wanted to make sure every candidate had everything he or she needed to be comfortable. And sometimes, offering a cup of coffee or even a place to sit just did not come out naturally.

So, before you get too worked up about small talk before an interview, don’t worry—chances are your recruiter’s trying to make sure he or she doesn’t say something that makes you want to work somewhere else instead.


2. Figuring Out What to Wear

On days when I didn’t have an interview on the calendar, I wore a t-shirt and jeans to work. And if my casual wear hadn’t included so many “witty” graphic tees and ill-fitting pairs of pants, maybe I wouldn’t have worried so much.

But the truth is that recruiters want to make a good impression on top candidates from all angles, and that includes picking an outfit that doesn’t scream “This guy is a teenager.” So of course, do what you can to pick an outfit that fits in with the company’s culture. But at the same time, take solace in the fact that if your recruiter’s fidgeting with his tie when you arrive for your interview, it’s probably because he’s stressed that he looks dressed-not-quite-right, too.


3. Responding to Your Emails

OK, sure. Some people rely on templates that help them get their message across efficiently. But I didn’t do that. In fact, when a contender got through a phone screen, every email I sent was written by me.

This is a practice I still believe in, and think more recruiters should also make their own. But at the same time, crafting a message about a candidate’s status was really uncomfortable. And many times, I re-read drafts multiple times and asked colleagues to review them before I hit “send.”

Recruiters are under a lot of pressure to not just find the right candidates for jobs, but usher them through the entire process and make sure they have a good experience. So I nitpicked over countless responses. And in a few instances when someone reached out to me to apologize for a typo, I really wished I could have told them I understood—because I made plenty of those kinds of errors, too.


4. Conversations About Salary

Here’s the thing: When I got to the final stages of the interview process with a candidate, I had a salary range in mind. It was up to the hiring manager to negotiate with the person we wanted to hire, but when anyone asked about salary before that, I got clammy and often didn’t know how to respond diplomatically.

On the one hand, I knew that we wanted to pay our top choice as fairly as possible. And on the other, I knew there was only a certain amount we could afford to pay. If a recruiter’s a little tentative about negotiating salary, there’s a decent chance that he simply doesn’t know what to say—and isn’t withholding information because he’s trying to mess with you.



Because there’s so much on the line with every interview, it’s only natural for you to get a little tense. After all, there’s a job at stake. Of course you want to make a good impression on the recruiter. But at the same time, they want to make a good impression on you too.

And in the process, they might stumble over their words or do something that makes the entire interview feel awkward. When that happens, don’t worry. Recruiters are human too, and they’re just as nervous as you are about certain things. Use that knowledge to take a deep breath, relax, and go into every interview feeling a little more confident. After all, this isn’t life-and-death, but rather a friendly conversation between two people who are both a little nervous.


Photo of awkward conversation courtesy of Matt Dutile/Getty Images.

Updated 6/19/2020