Body of evidence

Jul 08 2002 by Brian Amble Print This Article

It is often overlooked but the body language of the interviewer is important in setting the right tone for the discussion.

We can all recount anecdotes about interviews we have attended where the hiring manager stared out of the window, failed to look us in the eye, sat with their feet up on their desk, answered the phone and so on. Sadly these things really do happen.

Rather, in addition to displaying open posture, maintaining good eye contact, smiling, nodding and displaying good listening skills, the interviewer should sit on a seat at the same level as the interviewee and without a desk in between them and should put the candidate at ease with both words and actions.

At Courtenay, we have tried to create an environment that, while professional, is not overly formal. It puts candidates at ease and our consultants adopt a style that encourages a candidate to open up and be their true self. You find much more out about a person if they are not “on best behaviour”.

Similarly, there are many examples of interviews we have conducted where candidates talked at our chest rather than at our eyes, fidgeted and shifted around in their chair, sat with their hands in their pockets or practically lay on the chair in a horizontal pose, and it is of course hard not to let these things influence you opinion of that individual. However, it must be remembered that interviews are stressful and many of the negative body language traits can be put down to the candidate’s nerves.

What is more important to stress, and something that can to a certain extent be determined by body language, is the level of an interviewee’s interest in the role they are being interviewed for.

It is quite common that candidates appear very alert, interested and animated while the discussion centres around them – what they have done, their achievements, what they enjoy and want they want. After all, most people enjoy an opportunity to talk about themselves.

The same candidates can then appear to lose all interest and display appalling listening skills when the interviewer goes on to talk about the company, the role, and its needs. It is as though the interviewee feels that they’ve “done their bit” and can now switch off.

Assessing a candidate’s body language at this point of an interview is therefore often a good guide as to whether or not they are really interested in the job.

One other reason for taking body language into account is the need to assess how a candidate would behave in the role in question and how they would be perceived by their peers and customers, both internal and external.

Meeting a candidate more than once, and perhaps making one meeting with them a more informal occasion, should make it possible to distinguish between interview nerves and actual poor body language awareness.

If, even in a less stressful setting, a candidate does not maintain eye contact, displays closed posture and does not appear to listen, then this is of much greater concern in terms of their suitability.