Body Language Cues Hiring Managers Look For During Interviews

In a lot of ways, hiring managers are often tasked with a much more important job than a lot of people seem willing to give them credit for. Not only are they responsible for setting aside their own cognitive biases and wading through a massive stack of resumes for every position that needs to be filled, but they also have to make sure that a candidate is the best fit for the position, the employer and the larger culture at play.

What is Not Being Said?

Hiring managers will often gear their interview questions with prospective employees towards making these goals easier, but oftentimes it's necessary to go even deeper. More important than what someone says in response to a question is usually what they don't say - which, of course, comes down to their body language.

Unconscious Gestures

Conscious and unconscious gestures and movements are a great way to quickly learn a great deal about someone, even if that person has yet to open their mouth at all. If you're a hiring manager looking for ways to improve your own interview process and make it more effective, there are a few key body language cues in particular you're going to want to watch out for.

Why Body Language Matters

But before the discussion moves onto what those cues actually are, one must gain a better understanding of why they matter so much in the first place.

According to a piece that originally ran on, the major reason why body language speaks volumes ultimately has to do with science. More specifically, it deals with how the hormones testosterone and cortisol impact how we react - even unintentionally - in certain environments.


Testosterone, for example, produces confidence and competitiveness in human beings. When someone's testosterone levels begin to increase (particularly in a job interview), so does their self-confidence -- which will usually lead to very specific body language cues as a result. It means they're feeling good. They feel like they're doing well and they think they're a good fit for a position, even if you don't.


Cortisol, on the other hand, is a hormone tied to stress. If someone's cortisol level increases, it means their mental state is quickly becoming compromised. It also means that their physical state probably is as well. They don't feel like they're doing such a good job. They're doubting themselves and their ability to give you what you need. It's probably a fairly accurate reflection of what their actual experience with your company would be like.

Once you've learned how body language operates in relation to our homes, you can then move onto the ways in which you can use that information to your benefit. This means knowing precisely what to watch for when interviewing a candidate and, critically, what those often subtle cues are really trying to tell you.

Body Language Cues during In-Person Interviews

As a hiring manager, there are a number of body language cues in particular that you're likely to encounter given the situation you regularly find yourself in. These include but are not limited to ones like the following:

  • Pay careful attention to the way an applicant sits during a job interview. Poor posture is often a sign of two distinct things -- laziness or arrogance, both of which can speak volumes about the person sitting across the table from you. If the person you're talking to has excellent posture and is sitting upright with their back against the chair, however, this is typically a very good sign.

  • Along the same lines, pay attention to the way someone smiles both during and after their answers. Smiles are a great way to tell whether or not someone is interested, if they're excited, or if they have a much-needed sense of empathy that will be important if you actually choose them for the job. This is an especially helpful quality to watch out for when someone first enters a room during their greeting, before the situation has had a chance to turn over towards a more business-oriented focus.

  • Equally important is eye contact, something that is often seen in North America as an important sign for conveying interest and attention. If someone has poor eye contact it could just be that they're nervous because they're in the middle of an important job interview, but at the same time it could be a sign of a deeper problem rooted in trust or even sincerity.

  • Always be on the lookout for someone who crosses their arms during an interview. According to an interview with a body language expert that originally ran on, this can be a sign of defensiveness or even resistance. If your applicant crosses their arms, consider what may have triggered that response. Did you tell them something they didn't like? Do they feel like the interview isn't going well? Why is that the case?

  • One of the oldest - and often most accurate - body language cues to watch out for has to do with sweating. Yes, it could be a hot day and the temperature in the room may be uncomfortable. Sure, some people just have a tendency to sweat more than others. But when considered within the context of a hugely important job interview, sweating almost immediately tells you that someone is nervous. If they sweat more and more as the interview goes on, the next most important question to ask yourself is "why?"

  • If the person you're interviewing begins to suddenly or repeatedly rub their forehead, this is actually one of the more subtle and interesting body language cues that you'll be dealing with. Generally speaking, this means that someone is going through a bit of an internal struggle and they could even be growing uncomfortable.

  • Finally, some of the most common body language cues that a hiring manager in particular is likely to encounter involve the wide range of rituals of nervousness that a lot of us tend to go through in stressful situations. These can include but are not limited to playing with an object like a pen to occupy one's hands, playing with their hair (especially in females), stroking the arm of a chair, constantly adjusting one's clothing and more.

Body Language Cues during Online Interviews

Body language cues during online interviews are just as important to look out for as with face-to-face interviews. Here are some typically-overlooked tips that become more obvious when you’re aware of them:

  • Head nodding, like in face-to-face interviews, is a good indicator that the interviewee is understanding and patient.

  • Maintaining eye contact is even harder online because computer screens are separating you and the interviewee. If they’re having trouble maintaining eye contact, that’s typically a sign of nervousness and a lack of confidence.

  • Leaning forward towards the screen is also a great indicator, like head nodding, that the interviewee is in showing interest in what you’re saying, they’re understanding, and they’re genuinely concerned with what you’re saying.

  • Frowning shows concern in a negative light, that the interviewee is uncomfortable, and that he/she is tense.

Judging This Book by its Cover

While it's true that you should never "judge a book by its cover," it's hard to argue with what a lot of these body language cues are trying to tell you as a hiring manager. Any one of these negative signs may not mean much on the surface, but if you start to encounter a lot of them - and also consider them within the context of the actual answers to the questions you've been asking - you'll begin to get a much more vivid picture of what you're actually dealing with in a candidate.

Furthermore, you have to keep in mind just how these subtle cues will translate into office politics be it you hire that applicant.

Again: nobody is saying that you should disqualify a job applicant based on body language alone. But once you begin to understand more about what certain cues mean, you'll be surprised by just how helpful they can be in terms of identifying the right person for the right position at the right time.