How to Read Body Language in an Interview

Think about how you communicate with others. In addition to the words you use, you also rely on facial expressions, gestures, physical touch, and more. In fact, experts say that around 55 percent of communication is nonverbal. It would benefit us all both in work and in our personal lives to learn how to read body language.

With Zoom calls supplanting many face-to-face interactions, the nature of interactions between interviewer and interviewee are drastically changing. Long gone are the days of shaking someone’s hand, looking them in the eye when you meet them, and getting a good feel for their temperament in a one-on-one setting.

That’s why it’s imperative that recruiters & interviewers understand how to read body language and leverage the power of nonverbal communication to evaluate and connect with candidates.

Body language helps you do exactly that. Let’s look at a few important areas that you can look at during interviews to evaluate your interviewee.

How to Read Body Language Through Eye Contact

how to read body language

Eye contact is one of the biggest indicators of a person’s inner feelings and thoughts. It’s also one of the easiest to look for since all you have to do is look at the person.

Averted or darting eyes are often interpreted by humans as deception. However, this isn’t always the case.

Avoiding eye contact can also indicate nerves, low self esteem, shyness, social awkwardness, or even just that the person is attempting to recall a memory.

Maintaining eye contact is often interpreted to mean that the person is confident and social.

Keep in mind that shyness or nervousness is normal for most, and not a deal breaker for many positions.

For example, for a job that requires a lot of client-facing interaction, someone displaying signs of nerves, deception, and lack of eye contact might not be the best candidate. However, for a job in data entry, that might not matter as much.

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Posture 

Red flags to look out for here are slouching, crossed arms, stiffness, and positioning their body to point away from you. Each ofthese can indicate disrespect, low confidence, nerves, and defensiveness.

Watch for people who lean towards you or towards the screen as you speak — these are people who are engaged in what you’re saying and are actively listening!

Gestures

Head nods, arm gestures when speaking, and hand gestures (like thumbs up or OK) are signs of engagement in the conversation and can indicate proper social skills, which is great for social and communicative roles.

Chopping hand motions or finger pointing can often come across as authoritarian. 

Staying stiff or lacking gestures while speaking can be a sign of deceptiveness, but it can also be a sign of nerves or someone who is lacking social confidence. Fidgeting & shifting, on the other hand, can come across as being unengaged or distracted.

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It Goes Both Ways!

As employers and interviewers, we sometimes forget that recruitment is a two-way street.

Of course, you’re evaluating and interviewing potential candidates for your company. However, these candidates are also evaluating you and your company, meaning they also pick up your body language & gestures as well.

In order to give off a great impression to this candidate, focus on demonstrating that you’re engaged, listening to them, and open to what they have to say. 

It’s hard on Zoom not to just look at yourself on the camera (we all do it!), but try to keep your eyes focused on theirs when they’re talking. Keep your body open and towards them as they’re talking and try to avoid crossing your arms.

Try to limit fidgeting, checking your watch, looking around the room, etc as this comes across as disrespectful and like you’re not engaged with the candidate.

Cultural Differences and Limitations

It’s important to understand cultural differences and candidate limitations when it comes to reading body language. 

Not all cultures use handshakes or gestures or even eye contact when speaking. Be careful not to favor those from your own culture simply because they perform culturally specific nonverbal communication… or fault those outside of your culture for not doing those things.

Same goes for those with disabilities. Not everybody is capable of making prolonged eye contact or understanding social cues. Some are unable to stop slouching or are unable to shake your hand.

That’s why reading body language is just one part of the evaluation process — not the entirety.


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Focus on the Big Picture. Don’t Get Too Caught Up in How to Read Body Language.

While this information can help you get a feel for different candidates, we caution you from reading too far into things. You should use this info to help you make decisions, not as the deciding factor.

For example, someone may be avoiding eye contact or shifting constantly in their seat. However, these are signs of shyness and nervousness just as much as they are of deception.

Look for a number of body language indicators throughout the interview instead of seeing one and deciding that represents the person.

Also keep time in mind. At the beginning of the interview, many candidates might avoid eye contact, slouch a bit, look nervous or shift, or appear to lack confidence. 

Watch and see if these things improve as the interview goes on. Most people get more comfortable with time and you’ll see these negative body language indicators fade.

However, if you notice shifting, fidgeting, and crossed arms consistently with no change, then there may be cause for concern. 

How to Read Body Language in an Interview — Context Is Key

As you know, people are complicated. Knowing how to read body language in an interview depends on understanding that people are more complex than single gestures or expressions suggest.

Understand the context in which the person is speaking to you. They’re nervous, they need or want this job, and they’re bound to show some of those nerves in their body language. 

Also understand that shyness or low confidence or poor posture doesn’t have to mean they wouldn’t be an amazing employee! Look at a person as a whole — not just how they appear in the first 15 minutes of an interview.

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