Hire Better Employees by Learning to Read Applicant Body Language

by Patricia Schaefer

The ability to read body language is an invaluable tool in the interview process. Learn it and you’ll be able to tell many things about your job applicants that their words may not reveal.

read job candidate body language
Image source: Photospin.com

Everyone communicates with body language, but it takes place mostly on a subconscious level. At the same time, studies claim that 93 percent of communications about our feeling and attitudes are conveyed through our bodies and voice tones. People are untruthful with their words at times, but body language almost never lies.


The ability to read body language is an invaluable tool in the interview process. Learn it and you’ll be able to tell many things about your job applicants that their words may not reveal. And if their words are saying one thing and their body is saying another, you can trust that body language speaks louder than words.

Patti Wood, internationally renowned body language expert, author and professional speaker, recently shared with Business Know-How a mistake that many interviewers make: “We have a tendency to pick job candidates who match our own body language because we are attracted to people like ourselves. But that person is not necessarily the best candidate for that position.”

RELATED: Questions You Should and Shouldn't Ask Candidates During Job Interviews

Wood recommends instead that interviewers think about the position and what specifically is needed; i.e., a project manager might need to communicate well and be decisive. She also recommends identifying the qualities of those who have already been successful in a particular company position, and seeking candidates who exhibit those same characteristics.

Learn these established body language interpretations gleaned from the experts and you’ll be better equipped to make an accurate assessment of prospective employees


Before the interview
An excellent way to get a snapshot of people’s true inner feelings and attitudes is to observe their “resting face,” the expression worn when they’re not interacting with anyone. Try to take a peek at your job applicant prior to the interview without being detected. Does his or her face have a pleasant demeanor? Look at the person’s mouth. Is its resting position upward, downward or straight across? This will tell you what this individual does most frequently: smile, frown, or a little of both. A negative resting face, among other things, makes someone less approachable to others.

Come in to my office
An applicant walking in tall and erect, and taking fairly brisk strides, shows some confidence and enthusiasm. Candidates dragging or shuffling their feet or taking short choppy strides are less assured. If a prospect walks in with hands in pockets and shoulders hunched, it’s a sure sign of dejection; perhaps the last employer no longer needed this individual’s services. If so, was he or she let go because of downsizing or poor work performance?

RELATED: How to Avoid Hiring Bad Employees

The handshake
When someone offers you a firm, palm-to-palm handshake accompanied by direct eye contact and a pleasant smile, this shows the person to be confident, interested and sincere. An affable smile sets the stage for a congenial interaction, sends a positive message and adds some warmth to what can feel like a cold process.

Someone who crunches your knuckles is dominating and lacks sensitivity. A limp, lifeless handshake shows a lackluster personality. Handshakes that are too familiar, like the cupped handshake, are inappropriate for a business introduction. Someone with a vigorous and over-pumped handshake is usually over-eager and a little insecure. No one likes a clammy or sweaty handshake, but this may simply indicate that the candidate is experiencing a temporary nervous reaction.

Have a Seat
Confidence, interest and alertness are projected when prospective employees sit tall but not stiff in their chair, and hold their head erect. Unbuttoning a coat upon being seated is a sign of openness and warmth. Someone who leans slightly forward while you’re speaking is usually engaged in what you are saying.

Slouching in a chair can be a sign of indifference. If someone is perched on the edge of the chair, that person is probably nervous or overly eager. Leaning or tipping back in a chair, especially with hands clasped behind the head, is a gesture of arrogance and disdain. If the candidate moves so that feet and body are pointed toward the door, it’s an indication that person wants to end the conversation and leave the room.

Eye Contact
A desirable job prospect maintains good eye contact. When someone fails to look you in the eye, it can mean that individual is nervous, introverted, disinterested or even dishonest. On the other hand, if someone’s gaze turns into a stare, it may signify aggression or fear. Applicants who stare blankly are showing disinterest in actively participating in the interview process.

RELATED: 5 No-Fail Hiring Tips for Small Businesses

The Face
“When an interviewer is talking, he or she should observe the applicant’s responsive face,” says body language expert Wood. If the response is real, the face will show it and then a verbal response will follow; for example:

Interviewer: This job would require traveling.

Applicant: Smile, and then, “That would be great.”

If the reverse happens, you should question the person’s sincerity:

Interviewer: This job would require traveling.

Applicant: Blank expression while saying “That would be great,” and then a smile.

Look for the “heart window”
Wood shared one of her most valuable interviewing tips: When an applicant is answering a question, look to see if the “heart window” – “the front of the chest where the heart is” – is turned toward you. This will indicate, according to Wood, that the individual is “self confident, tuned in to you, and proud of themselves as a person.” It is particularly important to look for this when prospects are “talking about past jobs, work experience, what they’re capable of, and what they can do for you.”

Hands, Arms, Feet and Legs
Job prospects who place their hands calmly on their lap are confident and relaxed. When an applicant articulates with open hands and palms visible, this is an indication of sincerity, openness and warmth.

Someone who is drumming fingers is either impatient or not paying attention. And finger pointing is a clear sign of aggression. Although a somewhat expressive gesture of hands is acceptable, waving hands about is unprofessional and can denote aggression.

Crossed arms send a negative vibe and show the person to be closed off, defensive or in disagreement with what you are saying. Crossed arms and legs together may convey a very reserved and suspicious nature. If someone rests an ankle on the other knee, this reflects an arrogant or overly casual attitude.

It ain't over till the applicant exits
Just when you think your job is over, think again. Wood shared a recent discovery of hers that few interviewers may be cognizant of: You can tell a lot about a job candidate’s genuine self by observing that person in closing.

When they get up out of the chair, and walk to the exit, are they still confident and comfortable? Or are they hesitant and slumped? “This is when their actual confidence level will be most evident, when they’ll be more of their real self,” said Wood.

During the job interview process, never underestimate the value of nonverbal communication. Being able to read body language can be significantly instrumental in finding the right candidate for a particular job. Nevertheless, no matter how much you know about body language, don’t make the mistake of becoming overconfident in applying that knowledge to a job candidate – someone who you really don’t know that well. If uncertain, you may want to give the person the benefit of the doubt.

© 2016 Attard Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be reproduced, reprinted or redistributed without written permission from Attard Communications, Inc.

About the author:
Patricia Schaefer is a staff writer for Business Know-How. She can be reached by email at pschaefer@businessknowhow.com 


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