How Influenced Are You by the Nonverbal Behavior of Job Candidates

These days, people spend more hours developing the skills they need to excel at interviews than they do honing their job skills. Here are ways to pick winning employees-not actors.

July 21, 1999
Editor's Note: On a whim, Workforce Department Editor Scott Hays signed up for a class titled "Human Resources Management," as part of the HR/Management Certificate Program at the University of California, Irvine. Each week, he'll visit one nugget of knowledge from the course, helping you move slowly in the direction of becoming a more strategic partner.

It’s possible you’ve been hoodwinked in the past by the adept nonverbal interviewing skills of job applicants.

Ever hire what you thought was the perfect person for a job, only to realize later that he or she lacked the necessary job skills?

These days, people spend more hours developing the skills they need to excel at interviews than they do honing their job skills. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but still ... consider the title of one book on the market, The Interview Rehearsal Book: 7 Steps to Job-Winning Interviews Using Acting Skills You Never Knew You Had. Here, the directors of a consulting firm help viewers learn such "trade secrets" as how to research the role you’re playing, how to look the part, and how to use simple exercises to effective physical communication.

Well, Gary Dessler in his book, "Human Resource Management" (Prentice-Hall Inc., 1997), makes the point that interviewers can be influenced by these nonverbal behaviors. Dessler mentions several studies in which job candidates who demonstrated greater amount of eye contact, head moving and similar nonverbal behaviors were rated higher than candidates who demonstrated low eye contract, low energy and low voice modulation.

"An otherwise inferior candidate who is trained to ‘act right’ in an interview will often be appraised more highly than will a more competent applicant without the right nonverbal interviewing skills," writes Dessler.

He also claims that an applicant’s attractiveness may play a role, and that according to one study, attractiveness was consistently an advantage for male applicants seeking white-collar jobs, and only for female applicants "when the job was non-managerial."

So what can you do to avoid the pitfalls of hiring someone just because of he or she happens to be attractive or possesses exceptional nonverbal skills?

The Santa Rosa, California-based has produced two videos: "How To Hire the Best Person Every Time" and "Nonverbal Communication—the Silent Language." Here are several suggestions from both videos:

  1. Communication during an interview takes place on several levels: 7 percent verbal, 38 percent tone of voice and 55 percent body language. While the job applicant may say one thing, the subconscious often reveals the truth through nonverbal behavior. By observing and correctly interpreting these communication skills, even if rehearsed, you can greatly improve your hiring decisions.
  2. Remember that certain gestures may be used differently by different cultures. Always probe deeper by asking more questions or rephrasing original questions to uncover the truth.
  3. Take copious notes during interviews on how each candidate responded to your questions and on the questions each person asked you.
  4. Develop a candidate-performance summary chart. Review the job description, review the primary technical and performance skills you’ve identified as essential for the job, and then review your notes and make your evaluation.

Source: "Human Resource Management" (Prentice-Hall Inc., 1997) by Gary Dessler.