The Body Language of Job Applicants Tells a Lot if the Interviewer Can Read It

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UNDERSTANDING the body language of job candidates is a strategic approach we can use to predict how they will behave and perform on the actual job. Even if the applicants can ace all of the hiring manager’s killer interview questions and they appear to be qualified, still…we can’t ignore those small things that candidates would show in their unguarded moments before, during, and after the interview process

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 is right. Small things can make or unmake a job candidate. Excellence in the hiring process can be done by paying attention to details. And so, how would you read and interpret the body language of applicants, particularly those who are interested in some managerial position in your organization? There’s no other way but for us to pay serious attention to the following body language of applicants:

1. Showing poor personal habits. You know what it means about good personal hygiene. It includes having clean fingernails, freshly laundered clothes, pants with a sharp crease, and well-polished shoes. Further, the applicant must not 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.

2. Having 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 hand, cracking knuckles, or playing with hair during the interview.

3. Lack of self-confidence or being defensive. This is evident when an applicant speaks softly, reluctantly gives an answer, stammers a lot, or responds with very short answers. On the other hand, an eager beaver is someone who 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.

4. Lack of consideration to other people. This is best shown in the applicant’s lack of courtesy to the parking attendant, 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. If an applicant snubs the greeting of any of these people, then we have a problem that pertains to one’s lack of social skills.

5. Forgetting about social courtesy. This is related to number four above. Conducting the job interview in a restaurant or hotel gives the hiring manager the best view of a candidate. 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.

6. Showing signs of emotional instability. This can happen when a job applicant talks a lot about his political or religious belief, criticizes some government officials, the minority groups (including the LGBT community), badmouths his past or current employers, if not mocks the religion of other people. 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, if not to establish rapport.

7, Disregarding personal 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 a lot if we are to choose 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 dumb job candidates if the former 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.

Now, imagine this. Who would want to work with someone with smelly feet?

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Rey Elbo or Mr. Elbonomics is the pioneering newspaper advice columnist on total quality and people management issues in the Philippines. His “In the Workplace” column started in BusinessWorld in 1993 and “Beyond Buzzwords”  column in The Manila Times in 2002. Send feedback to 

Image on waiting job applicants is credited to

This article is brought to you by Kairos Management Technologies (est. 1997), organizer of the following cutting-edge management programs. Contact Ricky Mendoza at or call (632) 846-8951 or mobile 0915-406-3039.

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