How Reading Body Language Can Help You Make Better Hiring Decisions

Lee Polevoi by Lee Polevoi on January 25, 2012

When you interview job candidates, be aware that there’s far more going on than the discussion between you. Pay attention to each applicant’s nonverbal cues to make the best hiring decisions for your small business.

Here are a few tips for interpreting what a candidate’s body language is telling you.

Appearance counts. This is common sense, but worth a second look. The candidate should be well-dressed and properly groomed, which communicates professionalism and good self-esteem. A person with dirt under his fingernails and a spot on his tie does not.

Handshakes should be firm, but not too firm. A limp handshake is a warning sign of poor self-esteem, so naturally the opposite is preferable. A firm, dry handshake suggests self-confidence and the desire to impress. But not too firm, experts say. An inappropriately strong handshake may indicate aggressiveness.

Good posture is a good sign. A promising job-seeker sits upright in the chair, but still communicates a sense of being at ease. Slouching indicates sloppiness, which is never an ideal employee trait. A candidate who slumps or leans back in his chair comes across as too relaxed, while a person who leans forward (and into your personal space) conveys aggressive tendencies.

Eye contact is a plus, but not staring. Observe how well an applicant listens to and interacts with you. Does he seem engaged or aloof? Ideally, the candidate will maintain steady eye contact, rather than looking around the room while you’re talking (which suggests either a lack of confidence or disinterest in the conversation). That said, make sure he blinks occasionally, too: Prolonged or uncomfortable eye contact can be another sign of aggression.

Some other “danger signs” to watch for:

  • An applicant rubbing or touching her nose suggests a lack of complete honesty;
  • Arms folded across his chest make him appear unfriendly or aloof;
  • Legs crossed, with one leg idly shaking, indicates discomfort; and
  • A blank stare suggests a lack of focus or disinterest in the situation.

Yes, many job candidates are nervous during interviews. But keep in mind that excessive twitching, finger-tapping, blinking, and tugging at clothes also suggest a lack of confidence and an evasive personality — probably not what you’re looking for in a new employee.

The next time you conduct a job interview, pay close attention to nonverbal cues and you’ll make the best hiring decision for your business.

Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.