Thursday, February 6, 2014

Non-Verbal Communication in Interviewing and Hiring:

What you see is what you get – believe it

First impressions are powerful. Whether in our personal lives, or professional lives, we often make decisions based on those first few minutes, or even seconds, of contact. Interviewing is no different. As HR folk and hiring managers, we are continually reminded to be very careful of making decisions on what could be either erroneous or biased information. However, non-verbal cues displayed in an interview can be chock full of useful information and we should be paying attention.

Some studies have found that nonverbal communication accounts for more than two-thirds of our impressions; others say more than 90% of our communication in non-verbal in nature. And, as described by Malcolm Gladwell our split-second judgments based on these impressions are usually very accurate. Becoming more aware of the nonverbal signals you are receiving, as well as those you may be sending, can be a big help when it comes to interviewing job candidates.

It’s often said that the interview begins before the candidate even makes it into your office. It begins in the lobby, or even before. It’s always a good idea to observe how a candidate behaves while waiting for the interview to begin. What is his demeanor? How does she treat the receptionist? As the CEO Henry Albrecht of Limeade recently stated "We don’t hire jerks None. Ever". I seriously doubt any of us intend to hire jerks, but picking up on potential jerk-like behavior at the start is just good practice.

Here are some other non-verbal cues you may see and what they may convey about your applicant and her potential for success in your organization.

The Greeting. How does the applicant greet you? Does she give you a solid firm handshake or a weak and limp one? This can give you an idea of your candidate’s self-esteem. The handshake should be firm, but not overpowering. Someone who squeezes too hard could be signaling an overbearing personality, aggressiveness or even over-compensation for low self-esteem. A weak handshake may also signal low self-confidence or simple timidness, potentially negative points for your work place.

Clothing (and accessories). Regardless of the level of position for which you’re hiring, a professional and appropriate appearance is vital. Even lower-paid and lower-skilled applicants should be dressing neatly, cleanly, and appropriate for the environment. It may be that clean, intact jeans and a button down shirt are appropriate, but shorts and flip-flops are never appropriate. Dirty fingernails or scuffed shoes tell you the person is careless, too hurried, or unaware of the impression they have on others. Showing for an interview dressed in such a careless, thoughtless way can convey a careless and thoughtless applicant. Or at the very least, one that is clueless to what is acceptable in the workplace. This type of attitude often continues on and shows up in the person’s performance and conduct on the job.

Posture. The best candidates will be sitting upright with good posture, but still at ease. Slouching can be a sign of sloppiness, laziness or even arrogance. This will surely spill over into their work if hired. Good posture conveys attentiveness and confidence.

Eye contact. Pay attention to the candidate’s eye contact. Is his gaze direct and at ease, or does he glance furtively at you, around the room, or at the floor? Maintaining eye contact longer indicates more self-confidence. Beware though, constant eye contact, with no breaks at all, can also be a danger signal: rigidity, aggressiveness or the attempt to fake sincerity.

Tone and manner of speech. The candidate should speak in an even tone and clearly without mumbling. If you hire someone who mumbles or whispers in an interview, this may be a meek employee who won’t take much initiative in the workplace or lacks the confidence to do so. It can also be a sign the candidate is being less than truthful. Someone who is too loud during the interview may also be aggressive; consider how this type of trait will fit in with your other employees.

This is also a good time to pay attention to any discrepancies between what the applicant is saying and what non-verbal cues are being displayed. Something as simple as answering "no" to a question, but displaying a subtle nod of the head bears your attention and should prompt further questioning. Jiggling of the feet or legs while answering may just be nerves, but can also be a sign of a less than straightforward answer. The best approach is to ask a lot of questions. If someone is not being entirely truthful, it will be harder to maintain a lie under more detailed questioning.

You should pay attention to your intuition about a candidate. Use that information, along with the objective information about skills and experience you collect during the interview to make your decision.

The Santa Rosa, California-based offers more information. Communication during an interview takes place on several levels: 7 percent verbal, 38 percent tone of voice and 55 percent body language. While the job applicant may say one thing, the subconscious often reveals the truth through nonverbal behavior. By observing and correctly interpreting these communication skills, even if rehearsed, you can greatly improve your hiring decisions.


  1. Be aware however that other cultures have other rules about eye contact, so if the interviewee is of another nationality or ethnicity, the rule may be that eye contact is extremely rude or impolite. Don't necessarily hold that against someone.

    Also poor posture may be due to a disability. I know that I look like I'm slouching. It has to do with a back injury.

  2. Excellent points! Cultural sensitivity is important in the hiring process as well.