HR & Management

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6 types of body language to watch in an interview

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The challenge for the interviewer is trying to understand the candidate in an effective manner in as little time as possible. This obviously poses some challenges. Questionnaires and astute questions will tear away some of the mystery of the person – but body language is arguably your greatest tool to understand who they are.

In some ways, you’re in the better position. It’s up to you to decide how you feel about someone. These impressions will largely be dictated by they way they behave with their bodies, and the sense of them you develop as they do so.

So, where to begin?

Good: strong and frequent eye contact

An employee, especially one going into a sociable role, should be able to look you direct in the eyes. While unwavering eye contact can come off as confrontational (even creepy), an employee who both makes and breaks eye contact shows confidence and respect to a potential employer.

Bad: fidgeting hands, quick head movements

An interviewee who fidgets can be either preoccupied – for example, with a lie they just told – or lack social skills. It has to be remembered that an interview situation is nerve-wracking, and a normally social person might find it very difficult. Be aware of this, and try to establish what their ‘default’ social state is through your questions.

Good: laughing, smiling

A person who can adopt all these strong behaviours at once displays confidence and an affinity with the interviewer. These are important behaviours, as they mean they’ll be a high energy and social employee; lifting the spirits of the people around them. These behaviours are also very difficult to fake.

Bad: aggressive gestures like ‘cutting’ and ‘slashing’ with hands

A person who uses aggressive gestures such as thrusting his or her hands; standing up or leaning too close (leaning in is a good thing, but not if it breaches the personal space of the interviewer) suggests they lack empathy. And that they might have aggressive, domineering and abusive personalities.

They instead might be nervous and trying to impress the interviewer into thinking they confident. A piece of general advice would be to try and make an interviewee as comfortable as possible.

Good: shoulders down, legs still

These behaviours suggest the person is relaxed in your company and focused on the answers you’re giving. That means they’ve addressed the stress of entering an interview well.

Bad: downturned eyes, body motionless

Passion, drive and clear-sightedness are important. Many of the good behaviours listed above come from passionate interviewees who are excited by the prospect of working for your company. 

Make sure to ask questions that will attempt to bring out these behaviours, such as “What are your favourite aspects of the job role?” and “What problems in this field need solutions?” The more excited they are, the more productive they will be.

Above all use common sense: each of these behaviours is likely to vary by person. For example, many of the ‘good’ behaviours won’t be found in introverts, who are likely to be less open and less excitable than extroverts. Use these points as a guideline for getting the right employee for the your company.

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