Being able to interpret a job candidate’s nonverbal cues during job interviews is a powerful skill for any hiring manager. Body language can reveal important information that goes beyond what job applicants say. By reading their interview body language, you can tell a lot about a candidate’s confidence, honesty, and general fit for the job.
What is body language?
Body language is the way people communicate without words. It is integral to how people show how they feel, think, act, and want to say things without using words.
Body language includes a lot of different cues that often go along with or contradict spoken language, giving the conversation more context and meaning. Along with confidence, interest, boredom, or discomfort, it can display emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, or worry.
Guidelines for Reading Body Language
While body language is just a small factor in hiring, assessing an applicant’s nonverbal cues during an interview can assist in making informed hiring decisions.
Below are essential things to consider when it comes to body language from job seekers:
1. Eye Contact
Eye contact is a fundamental element in gauging a candidate’s engagement and level of confidence during a job interview. Candidates who maintain eye contact demonstrate their interest and comfort in the conversation, signifying their willingness to connect with you and actively participate in the discussion.
However, nuances in eye contact are crucial to discern. While avoiding eye contact might indicate nervousness or discomfort, excessive blinking could suggest similar feelings of unease or stress. These subtle variations in eye contact play a pivotal role in decoding your candidate’s emotional state and should be considered alongside other non-verbal cues to understand their demeanor comprehensively.
The posture a candidate adopts throughout an interview can provide valuable insights into their comfort and level of confidence in the job interview. It demonstrates a candidate’s readiness to engage and participate actively.
When observing your candidate’s posture, take note of subtle shifts or changes that can reveal fluctuations in their comfort level or emotional state during different parts of the interview. Leaning forward slightly might signal interest and engagement while leaning back could indicate a more relaxed or detached attitude.
3. Body Alignment
Observing how your candidates align their bodies with yours can be enlightening. Mirroring or matching the interviewer’s posture or movements often signifies a subconscious attempt by your candidate to establish a connection or build rapport during the interview. This synchronization in body language suggests an underlying harmony in communication styles, potentially reflecting shared understanding and mutual engagement.
Conversely, slouching or closed-off postures, such as crossed arms or hunched shoulders, might indicate discomfort, defensiveness, or disinterest. These signs can suggest a lack of confidence or enthusiasm for your open job opportunity, potentially impacting their willingness and suitability for the role.
Related Reading: 4 Essential Interview Questions for Finding Your Ideal Hire
4. Hand Gestures
According to Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, a body language expert, “Gesturing can help people form clearer thoughts, speak in tighter sentences, and use more declarative language.”¹
Animated and expressive gestures often accompany enthusiastic and passionate communication, which can enhance communication by adding visual emphasis and engaging the interviewer, showcasing their enthusiasm and confidence in articulating their thoughts.
On the other hand, nervous or fidgety hand movements might indicate feelings of anxiety, discomfort, or uncertainty. Excessive or erratic hand movements, such as tapping fingers, playing with objects, or constantly adjusting clothing, can potentially signal nervousness or unease. These behaviors might suggest that your candidate is not at ease in the interview setting or might be grappling with nerves during the interview.
5. Voice and Speech
Variations in tone, speed, or pitch of speech can convey a wealth of information about your candidate’s emotions and comfort level. A fast-paced or high-pitched speech might suggest enthusiasm or eagerness, while a slow, measured speech pattern could indicate thoughtfulness or deliberation.
Hesitations, pauses, or frequent throat clearing can indicate discomfort or unease. Pausing frequently or using fillers such as “um” or “uh” indicates hesitancy and nervousness. Throat clearing or coughing could also be involuntary responses to stress or discomfort, signaling the candidate’s emotional state during challenging or sensitive parts of the interview.
What is negative body language?
Negative body language refers to non-verbal cues and gestures that convey unfavorable emotions, attitudes, or intentions. These behaviors often communicate discomfort, disinterest, disagreement, or negative feelings, potentially hindering effective communication or relationship-building.
- Crossed Arms: Crossing arms over the chest can signal defensiveness, disagreement, or a closed-off attitude. It might indicate a lack of openness to new ideas or resistance to the ongoing conversation.
- Avoiding Eye Contact: Lack of or avoiding eye contact might suggest discomfort, shyness, or an attempt to hide something. It can convey a lack of confidence, dishonesty, or disinterest in the conversation.
- Frowning or Scowling: Displaying negative emotions through the face indicates unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or disagreement. These expressions can create a negative atmosphere and impact the perception others have of the individual.
- Tense Body Language: Stiffness or rigidity in posture, tense muscles, or clenched fists can convey anxiety, stress, or discomfort. It might indicate nervousness, lack of confidence, or unease in the current situation.
- Distraction or Fidgeting: Constant fidgeting, tapping feet, playing with objects, or being visibly distracted can signal boredom, impatience, or a lack of interest in the conversation or surroundings.
- Interrupting or Over-Talking: Constantly interrupting others or dominating a conversation without allowing others to speak can convey disrespect, lack of empathy, or disregard for others’ opinions.
Body Language Tips for Interviewers
Reading body language goes beyond words, offering profound insights into a candidate’s thoughts, emotions, and attitudes. Mastering the art of decoding body language empowers us to grasp the essence of what’s communicated beyond mere speech.
These tips for reading body language serve as a guiding light, aiding in the deciphering of gestures, postures, and expressions—keys to unlocking the concealed messages behind the spoken words:
- Observe Overall Demeanor: Pay attention to the candidate’s overall demeanor, including posture, facial expressions, gestures, and body movements, to get a holistic view of their non-verbal cues.
- Contextual Questioning: If something in the body language seems unclear, consider asking open-ended questions to gain more understanding without making assumptions.
- Contextualize the Signals: Consider the context of the interview and the candidate’s personality traits. What might be interpreted as discomfort in one person might be their typical behavior in another situation.
- Establish a Baseline Observation: Observe the candidate’s typical behavior at the beginning of the interview to notice deviations or changes in their body language throughout the conversation.
- Practice Active Listening: Combine body language observations with active listening to effectively understand verbal and non-verbal communication.
While decoding body language offers valuable insights, it’s essential to consider these cues as part of a comprehensive evaluation and avoid making snap judgments solely based on non-verbal signals.
Consider context, individual differences, and cultural diversity when interpreting body language during interviews or interactions. Blend your assessment with the candidate’s application and interview to make informed hiring decisions.
Related Article: Navigating People-First and Identity-First Communication
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1 “How Much of Communication Is Nonverbal?: UT Permian Basin Online.” UTPB, 15 May 2023, online.utpb.edu/about-us/articles/communication/how-much-of-communication-is-nonverbal/.