Years ago, I was once so anxious during a job interview that when the hiring manager asked the classic question What are you weaknesses? I froze, stuttered, and listed out all of my actual weaknesses like I was at confession. The fastidiously studied job description was no help to me now.

Now, I had prepared a cliché answer for a cliché question. I'm assuming it was something vaguely facetious that pointed to the burden of being a "perfectionist", but my interview-brain went offline. The hiring manager couldn't fault me for my honesty.

No, I didn't get a call back.

Turns out, I wasn't alone. 93 percent of people experience anxiety related to job interviews. It's a sympathetic statistic. The feeling of being on the other side of the desk (or Zoom call) proving your worth to a near-stranger, whose job is to determine your professional and financial future at said company, all while maintaining a confident and friendly disposition is nearly impossible. From the first to final interview, it's not a feeling easily shaken.

Interview anxiety is a detriment to not only the candidate but to the company, too. Countless talented candidates have been passed over because of this anxiety, which means that companies have missed out on countless talented job seekers because the job interview process is flawed.

Interview Anxiety Drains the Hiring Pool

It's been documented time and time again that job candidates presenting high indicators of anxiety are less likely to receive job offers compared to their non-anxious competitors.

When experiencing anxiety, candidates' ability to interview to the best of their abilities run risk of being harmed. During interviews, anxiety can manifest in many ways. From shaky hands and a rapid heart beat to decreased confidence and forgetfulness, anxiety during interviews is a hurdle that even the most experienced developers face. Sure, candidates can prep themselves by remembering the basics: hold eye contact, take deep breaths, keep engaged body language, have a career coach conduct a mock, maybe even throw in a power pose if that's your thing. In reality, though, that's not always enough.

It's easy to make a judgement on first impressions. Take the Halo Effect for example. The Halo Effect is a cognitive bias that informs an entire value-assumption based on how a person presents themselves in a single area. Specifically, if a candidate appears at-ease, personable, and amicable, the interviewer may assign positive value to all areas of a candidate's performance, even if undeserving.

The inverse of this, Horn Effect, is when first impressions are negative, and this negatively informs every other aspect of the interview. For the sake of this argument, let's say a poor first impression during a job interview is caused by anxiety while interviewing, and the rest of the candidate's performance is negatively perceived. Doesn't seem very fair, does it?

I know we all like to think that certainly our judgement isn't so shallow. We have the empathy to look past interview jitters and mistakes made out of nervousness. But interviewing takes time, and time is money. Wasted time is wasted money. It's easy to discard a candidate based on ill-informed first impressions and use time efficiency as the scapegoat. Really, this hiring practice is encouraged.

A study out of Northern Illinois University's Department of Psychology set out to find the correlation between interview anxiety and job competency. As discussed earlier, candidates experiencing anxiety are less likely to get hired, but does that mean that anxious candidates would actually perform poorly on the job?

This study found that job interview anxiety was not indicative of a candidates' ability to perform a job, even though many companies, whether consciously or unconsciously, have treated it as such.

It seems obvious, right? By quelling anxiety among interviewees, the hiring pool suddenly expands. The question all interviewers and companies should ask themselves is, "How can I make this process better?"

It's the responsibility of the interviewer to set the tone of an interview, but as a hiring manager, how can you be sure you're creating an interview process that helps candidates thrive?

Going Deeper: 'Psychologically Safe' Interviews

Psychological Safety is typically understood as a workplace culture strategy to improve group learning, resulting in more effective teams. Its textbook definition is "a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking."

When applied in professional contexts, it looks like a group of people that comfortably seek honest feedback, ask for help, share new information, admit error, and discuss new ideas without fear of disrupting status quo. It's a framework that encourages humans to be humans, not a perfect work-horses. Psychological safety sets out to quell the fear of interpersonal rejection.

In this article, Qualified underscores the importance of facilitating psychological safety. It discusses that often times "[A team member's] desire to save face is greater than their desire to take a risk. This threat rigidity reduces cognitive behavior in ways related to flexibility and responsiveness, resulting in a lack of willingness to engage in team activities like problem solving, ultimately hindering the team's collective learning."

Psychological safety isn't a process that can be replicated overnight.

Some teams never achieve it at all, so what does this have to do with interviewing? Rejection is the consequence all interviewees are trying to avoid. It's at the very heart of the anxieties experienced during job interviews.

For the interviewee, a fear of rejection manifests in agreeable, manicured answers that prevent 1) the candidate from showing authenticity during the job interview and 2) the interviewer from fully assessing the candidate.

It does, however, feel counterintuitive for an interviewer to be receptive of "incorrect" answers from an interviewee. The point of an interview is to sift out the wheat from the chaff and find the best candidate for the position, right? Rejection is inevitable.

The interviewee should come prepared and if they're the right fit, they'll do fine in the interview. To be fair, if I was interviewing a candidate and asked them "What are your weaknesses", and they out-right told me each and every weakness, I wouldn't have hired them either.

They key is to act with some compassion. If an interviewee slips up while answering interview questions, are you immediately forming a negative opinion or reacting coldly, or are you opening up a space for them to regain footing and thoughtfully reform their answer?

Creating a psychologically safe space is, after all, creating an environment that discourages perfection and encourages humanity. Psychologically safe interviews help candidates show their true potential by reducing interview anxiety, while simultaneously creating a larger hiring pool for companies.

Reducing Anxiety Through Developer Assessments

While Qualified's product is marketed towards the people that do the hiring, it's designed by developers with developers in mind.

While making hiring decisions, it's vital to take into account candidate experience. Software development is a career path that attracts introverts. Development is an industry that requires the ability to work independently for large chunks of time, and introverts thrive in these positions. This isn't a sweeping generalization. Not all programmers are introverts, of course not, but the hiring process for introverted candidates can feel a bit more treacherous...which comes with increased anxiety.

It's been studied that to conduct successful interviews, the interviewer must allot some time for the interviewee to adjust to their new environment. The study goes on to say that, "The situation is new for the interviewee; it may be his or her first experience of this kind. Unless there is a specified adaptation period, the interviewee may be unable to reduce his or her level of anxiety, with the resulting loss of the entire session. Part of this adaptive process is familiarization with the surroundings. It is an often overlooked truism that whenever an individual is placed in a strange situation, he (or she) becomes apprehensive."

Imagine a process where there is no need for an adjustment period, a process where developers can perform to their best of their abilities in the comfort of their homes. That's where Qualified comes in.

Qualified's developer assessments product levels the playing field for job candidates, especially those who's social prowess isn't as strong as extroverts. Our assessments replace on-site skills testing and lengthy white boarding sessions without losing insight to how developers work.

Qualified’s suite of code review tools automate assessment scoring, provide insightful benchmarking statistics, and check for code similarity to ensure original work. Pair-programming interviews and code playback recreates observing a developer in-person without the anxieties that come formal interviews.

Qualified's assessments allow candidates to work comfortably from their own home while proving their ability. It's an anxiety-reducing hiring tool that sets the stage for future team success.

Conclusion

Where it stands now, the job interview process is flawed and puts more importance on first impressions and status quo rather than taking the time to understand a candidates strengths.

By understanding how cognitive biases against anxiety restrict hiring pools, introducing an environment that reduces fear of rejection and encourages authenticity, and incorporating developer-friendly assessments, interviews can become truly indicative of how a person performs on the job and creates positive experiences all-around.

Interview anxiety will never go away, and candidates may continue to be too literal about their weaknesses, but creating a positive interview experience will benefit the candidate and your company.