Deciphering the job applicant’s body language

Font Size
Rey A. H. Elbo

In The Workplace

How would you know if the body language of job applicants can help you predict how they would perform in real, work life? And what are those small things that we should look for, especially when interviewing candidates for a managerial post? — Wondering

Six-year-old Mary came home from school with a small card she said was given her by the teacher for knowing an answer to some question in the animal kingdom. “I said giraffe had three legs.” Her mother corrected her: “But a giraffe has four legs.”

Mary agreed: “I suppose so, but my answer was the closest of all the answers given by my classmates.”

Just like little Mary, the body language of job candidates is the closest thing you have to approximate how job applicants will perform on the job. Even if the applicants can ace all of the hiring manager’s killer questions and they have all the qualifications for the job you’re offering, still one can’t ignore those small things before, during, and after the job interview.

No, I’m not talking of the applicant’s tardiness. That’s too obvious. What I’m referring to are minor gaffes that some managers don’t take seriously or tend to ignore, because they’re too insignificant to consider, given the fact that we decide based on the total package of a person, and not on small things alone.

Career expert Richard Bolles in the 2014 edition of What Color is Your Parachute? talks about the principle of “microcosm reveals macrocosm.” It means that what job applicants “do in some small ‘universe’ like in a job interview reveals how (they) would and will act in a larger ‘universe.’”

Bolles, who is married to a Filipina, tells job applicants who are the target readers of his book that “during the small universe of the interview,” hiring managers are assuming that the applicants’ behavior reveals how they would act in a “larger universe” or the real job itself.

I must agree with Bolles. Small things can make or unmake a job candidate. And so, taking the cue from Bolles, how would you read the body language of a job applicant, particularly those who are interested in some managerial position in your organization? As a hiring manager, you should pay attention to the following body language of applicants:

One, appearance and personal habits. This includes having clean fingernails, freshly laundered clothes, pants with a sharp crease, and well-polished shoes. Further, he doesn’t give any hint of tobacco smoke or wear an overpowering cologne that fills the enclosed space of the office. This is important even if one is applying for the post in the preventive maintenance department of a factory.

Two, nervous mannerisms. This is often manifested when an applicant responds with a limp handshake or continually avoids eye contact with the interviewer. According to experts, avoiding eye contact possibly relates to stress or anxiety, complemented by nonverbal cues like an endless fidgeting of his hand, cracking knuckles, or playing with hair during the interview.

Three, lack of self-confidence. This is evident when an applicant speaks softly, reluctantly gives an answer, stammers a lot, or responds with very short answers. The opposite can happen when an applicant constantly interrupts the interviewer, or is overly critical of his current or past boss or employer. If not, the applicant may appear with folded arms and crossed legs, in a defensive position.

Four, lack of consideration for other people. This is best shown in the applicant’s lack of courtesy to the security guard, the receptionist, or the secretary in the office or to the waiter or waitress, if the job interview is being done in a restaurant.

Five, forgetting about social courtesies. This is related to number four. Conducting the job interview in a restaurant or hotel gives the hiring manager the best view of a candidate in the short list. You can learn a lot about the candidate if he orders the most expensive meal on the menu, or some messy meal like crab or spaghetti, finishes his meal ahead of you, or orders an alcoholic beverage during the interview process.

Six, showing signs of emotional instability. This can happen when a job applicant talks a lot about his political beliefs, criticizes some government officials or the competitors of the prospective employer or other religions. These topics are inappropriate in a job interview, even if the hiring manager opens up with those topics as a way to break the ice.

Last, disregard for health and safety.  Many employers, including those who smoke, prefer a non-smoker over a smoker. I guess this is true even among tobacco manufacturers who admit that smoking is bad for one’s health. This could mean the difference between two candidates on the shortlist. Bolles says 94% of the time, the non-smoker will win, citing a study done at Seattle University.

Even the smartest hiring manager can be easily fooled by a less qualified job candidate if he ignores those little things. It is not enough that an applicant must ace the killer questions in an interview process. There are many things that one must consider, including the personality of the applicant. After all, the hiring manager or anyone who makes the ultimate decision to hire will be working with the candidate on a daily basis.