Read Your Candidate Like a Book: The Secrets of Body Language

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Here’s an interviewing situation that you’ve probably faced before: The candidate has the skills needed for the job and everything looks great on their resume – but something is just off about them. Maybe, at the time, you thought it was just your intuition telling you that this was not the perfect person for the company. Maybe you don’t believe in intuition, so you decided to follow logic and hire that candidate based on their resume and the overall impression you received from the interview answers.

If you followed the latter course of action, you probably found out pretty quickly that you were right to have doubts.

Many hiring managers have been in this situation. Do you know why so many fail to make the right decision? It’s because they don’t know how to read the candidates’ body languages. Sometimes, all it takes is a single look at a candidate’s hand gestures to understand how suitable they are for your company.

Learning how to understand someone’s body language is not an easy adventure, but it’s well worth it – and you’ll get better with practice.

Here are a few tips to help recruiters and hiring managers master the art of reading candidate body language, as well as some comments from HR professionals that should shed some light on the art of reading body language:

1. Attitude Speaks for Itself

When you’re trying to figure out whether or not a particular candidate would fit in at your organization, pay attention to the candidate’s attitude during the interview. Sometimes, you’ll notice hints of arrogance or other negative qualities – but you should be careful even when the person speaks calmly.

Adam Honig, cofounder and CEO of Spiro, shares the following tip for job seekers: “In an interview, if you’re not facing someone directly, you might be showing them you’re not interested in what they’re saying. This can be perceived as disrespectful, and it can work against building rapport. And you need to watch your posture. How you hold yourself speaks to your confidence level. When you are slouching, you are signaling that you don’t have confidence in your chances of getting the job. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should they?”

This tip gives recruiters and hiring managers an insight into the kinds of body language they should be looking out for. Slouching, a lack of eye contact, and other postures or behaviors can be signals of negative attitudes.

2. Pay Special Attention to Arms and Shoulders 

When people get nervous, their shoulders get stiff and they start moving their arms and hands without any purpose. Watch for these movements; they’ll tell you a lot about a candidate’s self-confidence.

WaterfallCarol Kinsey Goman, a leadership coach and expert on body language in the workplace, has valuable advice to share on this subject: “If the candidate makes a declarative statement, but you see a slight one-shoulder shrug, he/she is really uncertain. A partial shoulder shrug usually indicates that a person lacks conviction about what he/she is saying.”

Who thought you could read someone’s mind by the motion of their shoulders? The hands and arms are just as important, according to Goman: “For example, if you’re sitting at a table, the candidate’s hands may be resting openly on the table. If they pull away or withdraw to under the table, it’s probably a signal that something unsettling or unwanted just happened. In contrast, if someone is about to make a sincere disclosure, they will usually show their hands – placing both hands on the table or gesturing as they speak.”

3. Read the Smile

Are you trying to relax the candidate during the interview? That’s a good thing. But how do you know if the candidate’s smile is genuine or fake?

Andrew Peterson, a career advisor at ResumesPlanet, says that you can recognize a person’s honesty by their smile: “An honest smile can’t be controlled. When I notice that the person is smiling with their eyes and their entire body, I can tell they’ll fit into the organization just fine. When I see no crinkles around the eyes, I can tell that smile is forced and faked. In that case, the person is probably distracted or didn’t understand the joke, so I try to relax them a bit more. If there are no visible signs of honest humor, I just conclude the candidate is too tense, and I move on to other applicants.”

The way a candidate smiles will give you a lot of insight into their character and emotional state.

4. Eye Contact Is Important!

The eyes will tell you what words won’t. Of course, you can’t get close enough to your candidate to observe whether or nor their pupils dilate – that would be weird.

However, you can pay attention to how often they blink. Excessive blinking is usually a sign that a candidate is nervous.

Similarly, you should pay close attention to the eye contact the candidate makes. Eye contact is generally good, but constant eye contact might be an attempt to manipulate or intimidate you.

Derek Zeller, senior recruiting consultant at Veris Group, advises job candidates to make eye contact with the interviewer in order to leave a good impression: “Always make eye contact with the interviewer. Don’t stare, but when answering questions, make sure you are looking the interviewer in the eye.”

If the person fails to make proper eye contact, you might think they are lying, but that’s not necessarily the truth. They may simply be shy, which doesn’t mean they wouldn’t fit into the company’s culture. Here’s Goman’s take on this matter: “The biggest nonverbal myth is that liars can’t look you in the eyes. A lack of eye contact is not necessarily a sign that someone is withholding information or being dishonest. They could be shy, introverted, or from a culture where extended eye contact is considered rude.

5. What Does the Candidate’s Posture Say?

FaceA candidate’s posture can communicate confidence, dominance, and vitality, among other things. Matt Charney, executive editor at Recruiting Daily and Recruiting Blogs, stresses the importance of watching how the candidate sits in their chair: “If you want to judge a candidate by his body language, all you need to do is see where he’s sitting in relation to his chair. Front of seat, leaning forward means he’s interested and engaged. The further back his ass gets in that seat, the worse the outcome normally is in an interview setting. If he’s leaning back or reclining in any way, you should probably just stop the process right there and move on.He either isn’t interested or already thinks he owns the place.”

Shannon Anderson, principal consultant at Recruiting Toolbox,  adds: “Posture is subtle. It’s not about sitting up straight, walking tall, or lifting the chin. Posture is a physical presence of energy that reflects to me what’s going on inside someone’s head; it’s about attitude, about showing up, being all in. It could be the way a person holds their pen, ready for action.”

6. Don’t Be Judgmental

Our impressions of other people are often based upon prejudices and cultural references. You need to get rid of those preconceptions before you start interviewing a candidate. Don’t assume the candidate is too old or too young for a certain position before you start the actual interview. Don’t assume that a mother can’t care enough for a job because her children are her top priority. Stay open to the opportunity and ask your questions. Observe the candidate’s body language and let it speak to you – that’s where the real valuable information will come from.

“I always take an inventory of my own mood, cultural influences, and biases before I enter an interview with a candidate,” Anderson says. “This helps check my human tendency to project my stuff onto someone else, which can unfairly bias my judgment both positively and negatively.”


It takes tons of practice and observation before you can become a master of reading body language. Start by observing your own gestures and posture; they are the best teachers you could possibly ask for. Do you wave your hands around when you get nervous? Do you stare at people when you’re trying to convince them to do something? That’s what other people do, too.

When you want to make a good impression, your body language will convey confidence and awareness. That’s the kind of body language you want to see in the ideal candidate for any job.

By Micheal Gilmore