Reading Body Language in an Interview: Things to Look For

When interviewing candidates for a job, reading their body language can help you gauge their confidence, teamwork ability and trustworthiness. A candidate’s body language in an interview can indicate how they’ll behave and treat others on the job. How they react to a challenging or unexpected question can give the interviewer some insight into how they might respond to new situations under pressure. Although body language is only a small part of selecting the right applicant for a position, interviewers can evaluate it to help make their hiring decisions.

 

Related: How to Conduct a Job Interview

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Types of body language

Body language includes every part of how a person moves, speaks and interacts with others. Certain types of body language happen purposefully, such as a handshake at the start of an interview, while others occur unconsciously. Some applicants may attempt to control their body language during an interview, but most people perform some actions out of habit that can reveal information to an interviewer about their attitude toward the job. Types of body language in an interview to take note of include:

 

  • Eye contact: Making eye contact generally shows confidence and comfort as well as a willingness to engage the interviewer. While some people may try to make eye contact on purpose during an interview, regular eye contact is a natural way for many people to connect with others.
  • Facial expressions: A person’s facial expression can let an interviewer interpret how they feel about a question or situation. Genuine, natural smiles are one of the best ways candidates show interest in a job. 
  • Gestures: Many people make gestures with their hands when talking to engage with others and emphasize their most important points. Some gesturing can show that someone is a confident speaker, while excessive hand motions may be perceived as erratic or unprofessional. 
  • Posture: A candidate’s posture can show their focus and interest in a position. Candidates who are interested in a job will likely put in the effort to sit up straight with an open posture that faces the interviewer. 
  • Pauses: The pauses a candidate takes when answering questions can also be an important aspect of their body language. A person who takes their time to consider how to answer shows thoughtfulness and a detailed consideration of each question. 
  • Fidgeting: Because job interviews can be stressful situations, many candidates will fidget at least a little. However, intense nervous fidgeting or distracting movements, such as playing with their hair or picking at their fingers, may show a lack of confidence or social unawareness.

Related: Best Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Key factors for gauging body language in an interview

Because body language can be a useful factor to consider when making a hiring decision, learning to interpret someone’s body language correctly can benefit both you and the candidate during the interview process. Everyone can display unconscious behaviors that may not have the same meaning to them as they do to you. If you have concerns about someone’s body language, carefully think about whether you’re making an assumption or an educated assessment. When gauging someone’s body language during an interview, consider each of the following factors carefully:

 

  • Intensity
  • Timing
  • Context
  • Follow-through

Intensity

Consider how intense a candidate’s body language is to help you decide if it’s strong enough to influence your hiring decision. Small, infrequent behaviors like fidgeting with a resume during hard questions can be natural and show authenticity. A candidate who shows extreme behaviors or consistent bad habits should raise concern, while an interviewee who shows confidence across all aspects of their body language might deserve extra consideration.

 

Timing

Pay attention to when changes in a candidate’s body language occur to support your interpretation of their behavior. If a person suddenly takes a defensive posture and folds their arms after being asked a question about their work experience, this could indicate insecurity. Conversely, if a candidate suddenly begins smiling and using hand gestures after a question, it can show that they’re especially interested or engaged in that aspect of the job.

 

Context

When assessing a candidate’s body language, consider the context of the job they’re applying for. While a customer service position may require someone to have consistently open and confident body language, a person applying for a more independent role may not need perfect body language to be successful at their job. Think about how body language will influence a particular position before making a hiring decision based on a candidate’s behavior in an interview.

 

Follow-through

If you’re genuinely unsure about what a candidate’s body language means, don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions about their attitude and perspective. By being direct and tactful with a candidate, you might learn the motivation for their behaviors and begin to build a successful working relationship.

Negative body language to look for during an interview

When assessing a candidate, it’s equally important to look for signs of negative body language to ensure you’re hiring someone who can get along with others and bring positivity into your work environment. While fidgeting or crossed arms during an interview may indicate nervousness or insecurity in a candidate, these behaviors may not be due to an overall negative personality. Here are some common signs of negative body language in a job interview to look for:

 

  • Eye rolling
  • Continual glancing at a phone or watch 
  • Sighing 
  • Invasion of personal space

Eye rolling

Eye rolling is often considered a body language red flag during job interviews, as it can indicate irritation and disinterest. If a candidate is rolling their eyes during the initial interview process, they could display this type of behavior in the workplace if hired.

 

Continual glancing at a phone or watch

Continual glancing at a phone or watch can show that this particular candidate may become easily distracted or exhibit an overall lack of respect in the workplace. While the interviewee may simply be pressed for time, this type of behavior can come across as arrogance or boredom. If a candidate agrees to meet for an interview at a scheduled time, they should remain focused for the duration of the meeting.

 

Sighing

While sighing is a natural bodily function, heavy or intentional sighing can signal that a candidate is bored with the interview or growing impatient as the interview goes on. There are instances in which a candidate may breathe a sigh of relief at the end of an interview, especially if it goes well, and they’re offered the job or a second interview. This type of sighing isn’t considered negative.

 

Invasion of personal space

Leaning forward very slightly is considered good interview body language, as it shows that the candidate is interested and enthused. However, if an interviewee leans forward to the point where you feel your personal space has been invaded, this can indicate aggressiveness.

 

Crucial takeaways

Body language can help an employer confirm their intuition about a candidate and judge how they interact with others in a professional environment. However, you can’t be certain that the way someone behaves in a stressful interview situation will predict their success at your company. Consider a candidate’s application and interview as a whole and use your assessment of their body language as just one element of your hiring decision.

FAQs about body language in an interview and the workplace

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about body language in the workplace.

 

What are cultural differences in body language at work?

Different cultures have different expectations for workplace behavior. If you plan to conduct interviews in another country, research their cultural expectations for professional body language, so you can correctly gauge a candidate’s nonverbal cues.

 

What jobs require confident body language?

Most customer service or leadership positions require people to display confident body language. Salespeople can use body language to convince a customer to make a purchase, while CEOs can use it to be more persuasive when making a deal.

 

What are some examples of inappropriate behavior and body language during an interview?

Inappropriate interview body language can include touching the interviewer on the arm or hand when speaking, fiddling with the contents on an interviewer’s desk and standing up or stretching in the middle of an interview. All of these behaviors can signify a lack of boundaries on the part of the candidate, which may potentially continue in the workplace.

 

 

 

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