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Believe What You See

More About How to Use Nonverbal Communication in Hiring


Attentiveness, eye contact, body language and facial expressions are nonverbal communications that can tell you much about the candidates you consider hiring.

Attentiveness and Eye Contact

Watch the listening and interactive behavior of your candidate. He should act as if he is engaged by leaning slightly forward in his chair to close some of the distance between himself and the interviewer. You want to hire a candidate who can comfortably put his portfolio on your desk to take notes, yet not take up too much of your space. You want an employee who can maintain comfortable eye contact without staring or forced attentiveness.

If the candidate spends the interview with his eyes moving all over the room, rarely looking at you, this can signal a lack of confidence – or worse – he doesn’t care. Long, forced eye contact can indicate an overly aggressive person who does not care about your comfort. And, if he doesn’t care about your comfort during the interview, that behavior won’t get better when you hire him.

Listen also to the candidate’s responses to your questions. Did he hear your question? Did he answer succinctly and share stories, or ramble incessantly off topic? The former tells you he prepared for the interview and has success stories to share. The latter signals unprepared, ill-at-ease, or that he didn’t care enough to pay attention.

Facial Expressions and Body Language

”What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson in one of my favorite quotations. And, nothing is as communicative as the facial expressions and body language of your candidates. Whole books have been written interpreting facial expressions and body language. The key to listening to their nonverbal communication is whether their facial expressions and body language match the words spoken.

Facial expressions that fail to match the words spoken can indicate serious discomfort or lying – neither desirable behaviors in a candidate. A candidate that never makes eye contact and talks to a spot over your shoulder is uncomfortable and demonstrating a lack of confidence. You want to hire an employee whose facial expressions are consistent with and punctuate her words.

Body language speaks loudly, too. Is the candidate leaning back in his seat with his legs crossed at the knee? He’s too relaxed for an interview setting. Has he taken over your whole desk with his arms and accessories? He’s overly aggressive. Does he lean back with his hands crossed behind his head? This is aggressive interview behavior in the extreme. Don’t expect less aggressive behavior if you hire him.

If the candidate makes a statement and looks away from you or appears nervous, she’s probably not telling the truth. If she stares into your eyes as she tells her story, she may be fabricating. If she taps her pen constantly, twists her jewelry at the end of every sentence, strokes her hair every few minutes, she is sending all sorts of messages about her discomfort – with the interview setting or with her skills and abilities in general? It’s hard to tell. Listen to what they are not saying.


Interviewing and hiring people who will be great employees who fit well in your organization is a challenge. Listening to the nonverbal communication of your candidates can tell you as much about the candidates as their spoken words, their references, and their experience. Nonverbal communication matters.

Interested in the advice we give candidates for your jobs? Take a look at The Interview Advantage: How to Use Nonverbal Communication to Impress. “When interviewing for employment you might think that if you're the candidate with the best answers to the interview questions, you'll get the job. In fact that isn't typically the case.”

Interested in why nonverbal communication is so important when hiring? Read the beginning ...

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