How to Read Job Candidate Body Language

How to Read Job Candidate Body Language

When interviewing candidates, those with hours of experience and hundreds of interviews under their belt are experienced in reading a candidates body language to aid in the decision-making process. But for the small business owner who isn’t as experienced in the art of interviewing, understanding body language and what it may convey about a candidate may not be as easy.

Need to Hire?  Post Jobs for Free

When considering body language, keep in the mind the role of the candidate, job description and cultural background, says Dean DeGroot of Innerview Consulting. DeGroot is a licensed psychologist who also provides interview training and has served as a consultant for many small and large companies as part of the candidate selection process.

“Having consulted with diverse organizations in their selection of key candidates, body language norms can vary from place to place,” says DeGroot. “One company I consulted with had the belief that they did not hire employees, they hired leaders. Extreme confidence, openness and social extraversion were highly valued by this organization, so they tended to be attracted to nonverbal qualities that reinforced these aspects when hiring people. On the other hand, an engineering-focused organization I worked with tended to value more reserved qualities as well as innovation and cooperation, so being thoughtful, friendly and somewhat intellectual were valued aspects that were sought after.”

It’s not to say that these organizations would not hire folks that were different from their culture, says DeGroot, but part of what creates “fit” is when people can feel comfortable with one another.

Those conducting interviews should realize that nonverbal behavior and body language can be different across countries and cultures and even across different regions of the U.S., points out DeGroot. Generally speaking, eastern cultures tend to be more reserved, respect more physical space/distance between people and less direct with gestures than folks in western culture.

“An employer should consider these differences rather than holding all candidates to one set of expectations,” says DeGroot.

When interviewing candidates, DeGroot reads body language and considers these nonverbal cues:

  • Handshakes
  • Eye contact
  • Voice volume
  • Pace
  • Verbal articulation
  • Facial expression
  • Posture
  • Use of gestures

Because interviewing can be stressful for even the most skilled job seeker, employers should understand that even the best of the best may show some nervousness, especially at the start of an interview. That could include hand shakiness, eye blinking, a stiff posture and folded arms, for example.

“I can overlook much of this as long as I begin to see more relaxed behavior 10 to 15 minutes into the interview,” says DeGroot.

Often times, it just takes some time for the candidate to thaw out and find their footing. Smiles, a more open stance, improved eye contact and other signs of confidence will often evolve as the interviewee gets more comfortable. However, if the body language and nonverbal cues don’t change or becomes worse throughout the interview, DeGroot begins to question the candidate’s ability to socially connect with others or their competence in doing that particular job for which they are interviewing.

“If the role of the job is to develop client relationships, yet they show anxiety, closed behavior, and/or lack eye contact, I will have serious reservations,” says DeGroot.

When coaching job seekers on interview preparation, DeGroot spends time providing feedback on their posture, eye contact and use of gestures, among other elements of body language and nonverbal communication. He teaches them relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or tensing/relaxing certain muscle groups. One individual he coached had difficulty with constant eye blinks, which became a distraction during a mock interview session. He wasn’t even aware of the extent of the blinking until DeGroot showed him video of his performance. Of course this was embarrassing to him, but necessary. The relaxation techniques allowed him to calm down and relax his eyes. After a few more interview sessions this persons nonverbal cues were working for him rather than against him. This was an important development, especially for this individual – who was a human resources professional.

In another mock interview situation with a coaching client, DeGroot asked questions and before answering the client paused before responding, looked up to the ceiling for a couple of seconds and then provided an answer. After seeing her do this for five or six questions, DeGroot asked her: “Are you looking to heaven for your answers or what? She laughed, but was embarrassed because she also did not realize what her nonverbal mannerisms were conveying.”

The reality is most job seekers aren’t well-trained in the art of interviewing. And that’s why DeGroot says interviewers should forgive body language and nonverbal cues that are likely signs of nervousness. However, there are some nonverbal cues that individuals need to show that relate to engagement and respect, says DeGroot, including:

  • Regular eye contact: Without eye contact the interviewer is left to wonder about the candidate’s attention span, ability to communicate, the sincerity of their responses or their interest in the position.
  • Posture: This conveys a great deal about energy level, attention and engagement to what is being discussed and respect for one another. Generally, a posture that is somewhat erect and forward (towards the interviewer) is providing engagement and respect, as opposed to someone in a more reclined, hunched or slouched.
  • Body language and social skills: When social skills are a must for the position, smiles, hand gestures, head nods and consistent eye contact can punctuate enthusiasm and connection with the interviewer. In most cases, candidates improve their vetting when they are viewed as engaged, involve and energetic.

Keep in mind though, not everyone is going to be a charismatic, social person, and that is not the goal, says DeGroot. The attributes that are relevant and important for the job are the attributes the interviewer should most attend to when considering nonverbal behavior.

Do they seem authentic, responsible, modest? Those qualities can be conveyed both verbally and nonverbally. One other aspect of nonverbal, of course, is attire, hair, tattoos, body piercings, use of cell phones or other devices.

“One candidate in the middle of a very important interview for a position with a company I was consulting with took a phone call, rather than shut the phone off or take the call later,” says DeGroot. “This definitely communicated a lack of respect to both the process and my time. Right or wrong, nonverbal cues and body language do have a role in the interview process.”

How do you read it and how do you apply it?

Written by

Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

More Articles by Matt Krumrie