How to read body language at an interview
Body language speaks volumes about a person, and can have a big impact on your first impression of them (and them of you), as well forming part of your lasting impression.
Most people will read body language at an interview without even really giving it any thought. So, we thought it might be worth offering some insight into the concepts of body language and some tips on how to read it.
As humans, reading body language is something we do every day. We’re (uaually) pretty perceptive beings, and interpreting the body language of our peers allows us to gage how they might be feeling or what kind of mood they are in.
When it comes to an interview, being able to read body language is not so much a way of gaging a person’s mood, but rather what kind of person they are as a whole – and how they might fit witin an exisiting team.
Of course, this is somewhat a strech! Of course we can’t understand what a person is like on a daily basis, based on a 30-minute interview with them – especially as they are likely to be feeling nervous, or stressed to a degree.
But, we can pick up some useful information about them they may not even be aware they’re giving away. And it’s this information which will set them apart from other candidates.
Firstly – lets look at negative body language.
There are a number of ways to spot negativity coming from somebody based on their body language. If they are awkward about a greeting – perhaps they don’t show enthusiasm in their handshake or they walk slowly and unsurely into the interview room – it could signal that they’re not especially confident in themselves and are feeling wary about what’s to come.
Then of course, it’s well known that slouching, sinking or leaning back in your chair is a classic sign of being uninterested or bored of a situation. Leaning back a little into a comfortable position could of course just signal a candidate is feeling a little more at ease, but slouching like a sulky teenager at school is a definate red flag! It can also be a sign that the person is feeling a little cocky or full of themselves.
Eye contact is another key sign. In 99% of situations, maintaining eye contact with somebody whilst talking to them is considered good manners. Breaking eye contact to think about a question or an answer is completely normal. However, if a candidate avoids eye contact when answering questions or talking about themselves, it could be a sign that they’re perhaps not being completely honest.
The alarm bells should also be ringing if a candidate uses negative hand movements or expressions like pointing. This can come across domineering and aggressive – which may indicate they’re not a good fit for your team.
Facial expressions have something to tell too. In keeping with the negative body language vibes, a lot of eyebrow raising, eye-rolling, pursing of the lips and smirking can signify that someone is a tad arrogant. Of course, this is all based on the context of when they’re being used.
Rude interruptions are again, something to watch out for. It’s fair to assume most people will be nervous during an interview and the occasional nervous twitch can be forgiven surely. But watch out for compulsive tapping or leg shaking. It could be a sign someone is easily bored and agitated.
There’s a huge difference between a candidate doing something out of nervousness, and causing a distraction from the interview with a rude suggestion that they’d like to get things moving.
Now onto the positives!
Thankfully, there are plenty of positive body language signals to watch out for too…
One of the first signs of confidence you’ll come across in an interview is their handshake. A good, firm handshake with a friendly smile will usually signify that a person is confident and feeling positive
It also tends to be a good sign if a candidate is sitting upright, and even leaning slightly forward to show that they’re engaged in the interview and interested in what you have to say.
Open body language (uncrossed arms, sitting facing you) shows they are ready to absorb the content of the interview and they are eager to engage. When a candidate mirrors your own body language, it can indicate a willingness to build a rapport with you, which is always a good thing.
It can also be reassuring if a candidate maintains natural eye contact whilst talking to you. (Nobody wants to be stared out, it can signal aggression or a will to show dominance or authority!) Occasional nodding of the head and smiling is an encouraging sign they’re taking note of what you are saying and are a good listener.
How they use their body when they’re speaking and answering questions can also provide some useful insight. If they talk animatedly, with good use of their hands to express or emphasise certain parts of a conversation, you can assume they are enthusiastic about their work and keen to get their points across in the right way.
Finally, positive body language, and whether it’s a façade or the real them, becomes clearer as the interview progresses. As the candidate relaxes, a more natural body language takes over, which allows you to clearly see their mannerisms and what their body is saying.
Reading body language is not a science, and a candidate should not be judged on their body language alone. Context, and the position you are interviewing for plays a key role in how you should interpret someones body language.
For example, if you’re interviewing for a sales job which requires a lot of interation with customers and strangers, the nice but very quiet and shy candidate is obviously not the best choice. Someone who is a little over-the-top and who can talk-the-talk might be perfect.
Any employer wants an interviewee to feel comfortable during the interview process, which is where body language can play a bigger part. If someone seemed a little apprehensive and wary before going in, but slowly starts to warm up and display more positive signs throughout the interview, this is a good thing. It shows that you, as an interviewer, are also displaying postive body language.
It’s easy to assume it’s just your job to pick up on positive and negative vibes based on the way a candidate uses their own body expression, but don’t forget it works both ways.
As humans, it’s completely natural for us to react to other people’s expressions and body language. If an interviewer is aggressive and appears unapproachable, consider what effect it will have on a candidates body language. Being natural and yourself is likely to encourage a more natural response from the candidate.
It’s also very important to remember body language can be faked. Becoming more aware of how to spot whether someone is being sincere is something which will come with experience. Picking up on someone’s body language is a mix of what you can clearly observe, and how their body language makes you feel. It’s more than just what you can see them do – it’s how their overall presence speaks to you.
Reading body language is not a science which should be taken as gospel, but rather a useful tool to tune into. It can help you gather and create a bigger picture of someone’s character and the impression they make on others.