1. Money
Susan M. Heathfield

Little Things Mean a Lot

By September 13, 2013

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It's the little tips and clues during job interviews that should shape your decision about the candidates you hire. The big misses are easy to spot.

Who's going to hire a product developer who has not researched the products you offer on your website - but is a perfect fit for your development needs, he says? How about that applicant who asks the name of the job and the company while filling out your job application? Or, the candidate who arrives late and rumpled for her interview? These are your easy decisions.

Have you ever made up your mind about a candidate based on the body language he exhibited in your lobby? That slouchy position, his instinctive protection of the document he is writing (with no one watching or near), and his discomfort interacting with the receptionist, tell you a lot about how he interacts with the work environment.

How about that clammy, wet, limp handshake? Or, how do you react to the candidate with dirt under her fingernails when she folds her hands across your desk. I have given too little credence to these nonverbal clues in the past. And they come back to bite me. For example, I hired the mom with the dirty fingernails; she told me she had just had a baby a week earlier and I forgave what was an obvious, normal heads up for me.

The end of the story? I passed on the low social skilled, furtive guy in the lobby. But, I hired the ten day mom. She was later fired for her inability to give attention to details that were critically important to the customer. She also could not keep numbers straight in a business development job. Despite her marvelous references, I should have paid more attention to the details. I noticed the fingernails and the somewhat unprofessional dress, but her presence, her references, and the fact that she had just given birth, clouded my judgment. No more.

The small details and the nonverbal, tiny details play a most significant role in hiring for me. I have been sorry just about every time I have failed to believe what I see. How about you? Please respond in comments.

Image Copyright Phil Date

More About Nonverbal Communication

September 26, 2010 at 6:53 pm
(1) Donna Svei says:

Remember to floss — and then don’t eat anything until after your interview!

September 27, 2010 at 4:17 am
(2) John Dennehy says:

I’ve heard it said that we spend the first 60 seconds of an interview making our decision and the rest of the interview justifying it. If this is true, even partially, then non verbal communications are a bigger part of the process than we usually acknowledge.

It’s a tough call for some roles. For example, if you’re hiring a sales manager the non-verbal clues probably do relate to how well they can do their job. Much of it is interpersonal. But if you’re hiring a database administrator or a nuclear physicists (I haven’t) it’s probably less important.


September 28, 2010 at 9:08 am
(3) Amy says:

One candidate closed his eyes frequently (not just long blinks) while responding to interview questions. He also had a lazy eye. I forgave the eye closing due to the lazy eye; having no knowledge about lazy eyes, I mistakenly associated the two. In retrospect, he was probably lying or stretching the truth quite a bit, because it turned out that on the job he had very little integrity and the stories from the interview did not match the experience. He was let go from an important administrative management job after 5 months.

September 28, 2010 at 10:10 am
(4) VELVET says:

Dear Author or HR: I have read all of your articles and still come to the conclusion that nothing is being done about these people who manage other people’s businesses who are mentally ill and dysfunctional – period. I worked for one of the largest companies in the world in the import/export business. My manager had me doing every aspect of this business. This was good for me and I learned more than I should’ve. However, when I learned, and became good at it, he made my life unbearable. He had another supervisor try to pull my clothes off. He began writing me up for work performance errors. This was after two years on the job, on time every day, rain, bad weather… I enjoyed my work and was good at it. Hazard materials done perfectly, I was ready for my raise and I was due this raise. The, the worst started to happen t me. I went to the so-called Human Resources who I thought was to look into the situation. Come to find out, she was in on the abuse. I had to call in the people who investigate this kind of actions. They found out that I was telling the truth. However, this experience has totally affected my life and has made me think that I ave a fear of even working for anybody again. Hurts badly. How can people be so wicked and so mean spirited and so out of control in large numbers such as this? Because I have no trust in the workplace anymore, people can just do what they want to you, when they want and how they want. I took the proper channels. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. This has been a nightmare from hell. Professionalism is out the door; they had fun doing this at my expense. And, to top it all off, if the manager told me that he had told me how they operate during my interview, I would never have taken the job. The women were having sexual affairs with the bosses and the drivers and everyone was having such a good time. They thought that I would join in on the fun. Can you imagine that?

February 28, 2012 at 8:26 pm
(5) Kathie says:

Absolutely ditto! And, I can always look back at resumes when someone is not working out and find what I missed or excused right in front of me.

March 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm
(6) Mert A. Crisologo says:

I agree that some of the non-verbal clues may lead to conclusions that such a person shows irresponsibility, no matter how small that detail.

September 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm
(7) Ellen says:

I’ve seen a couple of job candidates come in with impressive resumes and amazing sell-themselves-can-do-take-charge-will-work-well-as-a-team-member, etc. attitudes during their interviews, then turn out to be the exact opposites. From the little signals that came up, I had red-flagged them immediately. Unfortunately, this is a brand-new company, very small (5 employees + 2 bosses) and the two people who hired them are top-mgmt. execs. who have no experience in the hiring process (including not checking references thoroughly); my co-workers and I have been in this industry for over 20 years and can, after just a several key questions, tell if someone is really legitimate. Even if someone doesn’t have quite the experience they indicated they did, if they have a “willing to learn, roll up my sleeves and get the job done” attitude – that makes up for a lot of the experience they do not have. Unfortunately, the two candidates were hired and showed their true colors once the “honeymoon phase” wore off. Without the bosses in the office, they are lazy, clock-watchers, major texters, on FB quite a bit, no desire to take on new responsibilities or even help with overflow work; but when when the bosses are in, their transformation, as you can imagine, is immediate. How can we suggest to our bosses, with diplomacy and tact, that next time someone needs to be hired, they allow 1-2 of us who have been in the trenches to vet the hundreds of applications that come in (yes, hundreds!), narrowing them down from a list of criteria prepared by our bosses, then give our bosses a culled list of the ones that are top contenders.

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