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Believe What You See

How to Use Nonverbal Communication in Hiring


Believe What You See
Copyright Jacob Wackerhausen

Have you ever made up your mind about a job candidate based on the way he sat in your lobby? Did you confirm that opinion when he walked across the room and shook your hand? Awareness of nonverbal communication and the messages job searchers send does influence your evaluation of job candidates – and it should. Aside from protected characteristics such as gender, race and weight, you can learn a lot about your prospective employee from their nonverbal communication.

You’ll want to watch for nonverbal signals that tell you about the person’s attitude, outlook, interests, and approach. They speak louder than the verbal communication during the interview process. The nonverbal communication helps you confidently assess each candidate’s credentials with regard to the:

  • skills necessary to do the job,
  • behavioral characteristics you have identified as necessary for success in the job, and
  • culture and environment of your organization.

These are examples of nonverbal communication you need to pay attention to and “hear.” You can believe what you see; first impressions matter.

First Impressions

The first few minutes in any interview setting are so important that almost nothing else matters. You take a look at the candidate and note all of the nonverbal messages she is communicating. You form impressions from the candidate’s posture, hand shake, outfit and accessories, space usage, attentiveness, eye contact, and facial expressions. And, then you listen to what she has to say in response to your questions.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said.” --Peter F. Drucker

Posture and Space Usage

Is your candidate sitting comfortably yet upright, but not stiffly, in his chair? Does he walk with a self-assured ease? He’s likely confident and comfortable with himself. Slouchy posture speaks loudly about sloppy work and low self-esteem. Posture that enables an individual to take up the appropriate amount of space in the room tells you that the applicant is secure in his abilities. Sloppy posture gives the impression of low energy and carelessness. Pay attention.

Hand Shake

Notice whether your candidate has a firm, dry, solid hand shake. Again, a confident, comfortable person uses the hand shake as a positive nonverbal interaction. The hand shake should assure you of the candidate’s desire for a positive first interaction and impression. A limp hand shake signals low confidence and low self-esteem. An excessively strong hand shake may tell you the person is overly aggressive or trying to steamroll you.

Clothing and Accessories

No matter how informal your work environment, a professional job candidate needs to wear a suit to her first meeting. The selected outfit tells you how well the candidate will interact with and be perceived by customers. The chosen accessories either telegraph professionalism – or they don’t. A brief case, a leather portfolio, a nice pen, leather purse and shined shoes present a solid, professional appearance. They tell you the candidate cared enough to want to make a good first impression.

Makeup, perfume, and jewelry, worn tastefully, can add to your perception of their professionalism. Dirty fingernails or scuffed shoes tell you the person is careless, too hurried, or unaware of the impression they have on others. Not good.

Alternatively, if the candidate attempted to look polished and professional for the interview – and doesn’t – this is likely as good as it gets. Decide what works for your organization, and make your best selection. The candidate’s chosen clothing and accessories are a form of powerful nonverbal communication. Listen when hiring.

Find out more about attentiveness, eye contact, body language and facial expressions. Read on ...

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