Recruiting Technique: Understanding Body Language

According to a recent survey of our clients, we found that body language in an interview is of utmost importance.

It’s equally important for the HR interviewer to watch his or her body language and to assess the body language of the candidate. Understanding body language is an effective recruiting technique to conduct successful interviews.

Conducting successful interviews is of course a vital part of any effective recruiting strategy.

How Important is Body Language as a Communication Tool?

There are some fascinating  studies around body language. In a study of athletes in the Paralympics, researchers analyzed body language of people from around the world, and from all different cultures. They found that athletes used similar gestures to convey a thought or meaning. For example, the expanded posture and outstretched arms were associated with pride.

In another study, researchers observed the body language of  the blind. These individuals have never observed the body gestures of other people. However, they also exhibited similar body gestures like everyone else. They would open up to show pride, or they would clam up whenever they felt fear or shame.

Finally, we see body language as an inherent part of nature. Male peacocks spread their feathers to show off they physical traits to female peacocks. Dogs wag their tails as a sign of excitement.

Body language is a universal tool used by all species to convey a thought or meaning. Hence, it’s very important to be mindful of body language whenever, we’re meeting someone, especially when we’re trying to assess a candidate in a 30 minute interview.

Create a Friendly Atmosphere

People make snap decisions about us in the first few moments:

  • Are we trustworthy?
  • Do we convey confidence?
  • Are we friendly?

If you as the interviewer clam up in an interview, there’s a good chance that the candidate will clam up as well. This doesn’t help anybody. It’s important to talk in a controlled and friendly tone, and to give non-verbal cues that this interview is a friendly meeting.

One quick tip we’ve discovered from an HR veteran was his use of the eyebrow flash.

It’s seems so simple, yet it’s been quite effective. During the introductory phase of the interview, an eyebrow flash and a smile can go a long way to set the tone early. It will help calm everyone’s nerves and loosen up the candidate. This is key if you wish to delve deeper into the candidate’s experience and attitude towards various work scenarios.

The second tip is using a slight head tilt. The head tilt is something that we naturally do when we’re trying to listen more closely. It’s something we do to show that we trust the other person. We’re exposing some vulnerable sections of our neck here when we’re doing this. So, when we do  this people will feel that trust and  feel that we trust them more in return.

You’ll even see animals employing the head tilt technique. Your cat  or your dog may tilt their head to show that they trust you:

Finally, smile! A genuine smile works wonders. It’s simple. It’s timeless. It works.

During the introductory phase of the interview, try these 3 tricks to loosen the nerves of the candidate and set the tone early for the interview.

Pay Attention to the Candidate’s Body Language

There’s a saying: “Say one thing and do another.”

This happens a lot in an interview. The candidate could be talking in a monotone voice about his or her experience in a particular situation. It might seem calm and confident.

But what if during this time, he was fiddling with his thumbs nervously?

He could be talking confidently but his body language exhibits a different tone. In this scenario, he could just be spouting off an answer he or she practiced in the bathroom mirror and hoping you won’t notice his fear.

What exactly is he or she hiding?

As an HR interviewer, it’s your job to pick up on these cues and then use them to dig deeper. If you asked him or her about a particular situation and you saw this dichotomy of behavior, ask follow up questions.

Like all humans, candidates tend to fall back to our caveman days or evolutionary instincts. Back in our caveman days, if a tiger was trying to hunt us down, we would find a secure spot and freeze up. We would try to hide and hope the danger passes by. Or, the cavemen would distance themselves from the situation by running away or some other avoidance behavior. The cavemen could also pick up a stick, make a spear and fight the predator. Finally, another form of defense is blocking. Cavemen would move a rock or build a wall to protect themselves from anyone hunting them.

These behaviors can still be found today. As an interviewer, watch for these non-verbal cues:

  • Freezing up or clamming up
  • Avoidance or distancing
  • Aggression
  • Blocking behavior

Veteran HR recruiters constantly look for these three things as it’s a clear sign that “something is there.” Here’s a quick list to look for in candidates:

  • Leaning back in their chair (distancing)
  • Folding of arms (blocking)
  • Scowl on face (aggression)
  • Fiddling with fingers or pen (clamming up/stuttering/freezing)

Once HR recruiters see any of these behaviors, then it’s a big sign to delve deeper into a particular topic. If the candidate exhibits confidence and answers with a smile and even a nice story, it’s time to move into a different topic.

Understanding Body Language Results in Efficient Interviews

HR recruiters could be interviewing eight or ten candidates in-person a day for a particular job leaving only about 30 minutes to assess the candidate. 

The most skilled recruiters can use both verbal and non-verbal cues to dictate the flow of the conversion.

When you use these vanilla questions, expect vanilla answers:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Walk me through your resume.
  • Can you provide an example of a difficult situation that didn’t work out?

These questions can be found in every interviewing guide on the Internet. Every candidate rehearses this in front of a mirror and have very canned answers. Don’t expect to learn anything new.

The trick is to use these questions as an opening. Then it’s up to the interviewer to pick up on non-verbal cues so then he or she can follow up with more questions.

Understanding Body Language is a Key Recruiting Technique

If the candidate exhibits confidence in technical questions but exhibits distancing behavior when it comes to workplace scenarios, then dig deeper into that. If a candidate folds his or her arms during technical questions, then focus more on the technical side of the job.

You only have 30 minutes to assess a candidate. Pay attention to their body language and you’ll discover a lot about the candidate.

Conducting efficient interviews is an important recruiting technique for any professional HR recruiter.

(Image Source: RawPixel on Unsplash)