Reading Body Language in Interviews: Things to Look For

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When interviewing candidates for a job, look at their body language to get an idea of their confidence, teamwork abilities and trustworthiness. The way someone interacts with their interviewer can indicate how they will behave and treat others on the job. A candidate’s body language during a challenging or unexpected question gives the interviewer some insight into how a candidate responds to new situations under pressure. Although body language is only a small part of selecting the perfect employee for a new 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. Some types of body language happen purposefully, such as a handshake at the start of an interview, while other types of body language happen unconsciously. While some applicants may attempt to control their body language during an interview, most people will automatically perform some actions out of habit that will reveal information to an interviewer about their attitude toward the job. Some of the most prominent types of body language to look for in an interview include:

 

  • Eye contact: 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: People’s facial expressions offer a great way to interpret how they feel about a question or situation. Genuine, natural smiles are one of the best ways candidates show interest in a job.
  • Handshakes: In the United States, most people greet one another with a handshake in a professional setting. The strength of someone’s handshake can indicate their confidence or nervousness.
  • Gestures: Many people make gestures with their hands when talking in order to engage with others and emphasize their most important point. 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 a question can also be an important part of their body language. People who take their time to consider how to answer show thoughtfulness and a detailed consideration of each question.
  • Fidgeting: Because job interviews can be a stressful environment, 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 interviewee during the hiring process. Everyone has some unconscious behaviors that may not mean the same thing 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 choice. 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 in order to decide if it is 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 a candidate who shows confidence across all areas of body language might deserve extra consideration. 

 

Timing

Pay attention to when changes in a candidate’s body language occur in order to support your interpretation of their behavior. If a candidate suddenly takes a defensive posture and folds their arms after being asked a question about their work experience, this could indicate insecurity. Likewise, if a candidate suddenly begins smiling and using hand gestures after a question, it can show that they are 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 are applying for. While a customer service position may require someone to have consistently open and confident body language, a person in a more independent role may not need perfect body language in order 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 are 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.

 

Crucial takeaways

Body language can help an employer confirm their intuition about a candidate and see how they interact with others in a professional environment. However, you can never be certain that the way someone behaves in a stressful interview situation will predict their success at a company. Consider a candidate’s application and interview as a whole and use your reading of their body language as just one element of your hiring choice.

 

Body language FAQs

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 do business in another country, research their cultural expectations for professional body language in order to be respectful in a new environment.

 

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 body language to be more persuasive when making a deal.

 

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