3 Simple Non-Verbal Signs to Assess when Interviewing

Non-Verbal Signs

The very first thing we should recognise is that the body cannot lie. The voice can lie, the face can deceive, but the body simply cannot lie.

Non-verbal intelligence is also termed as understanding body language: Identifying what the body is telling us. People think that body language is all about reading people’s faces and eyes for deception. Also in that deception there is just one sign or tell. Unfortunately, there is not just one tell. Each non-verbal sign or tell alone is meaningless unless clustered with other signs.

Gestures, such as the folding of the legs, could be as simple as the candidate making themselves comfortable. Signs such as hand movement or scratching the nose could also be a comforter. OR it could be a deceptive sign if it is clustered with something else.

Make Them Feel At Ease

To assess the non-verbal signs, you have to find the baseline of where that person is comfortable. The way to do this is to precede the formal interview by spending a little time in informal discussion. From this discussion you will begin to recognize traits of a comfort baseline where they display characteristics of their relaxed manner. In this state they may fold their arms or scratch their nose and you can establish that these are not deceptive language traits.

Lots of interviewers may have different techniques when they are interviewing. Some may think that an interview should be a cross-examination or interrogation. Really, from my own experience, the best way to interview is to make the candidate feel very comfortable and relaxed. If a candidate is totally relaxed they will tell you everything you want to know and more. Under interrogation they are likely to be defensive and even the tonality used can have an impact on the reaction of the candidate. So the best interview style is total relaxation in the form of a chat.

It is always better to conduct initial interviews on a one to one basis as if a potential candidate is faced with two or more at that initial interview; it results in an intimidating environment before the questions have even started.

Organize your room so that the door is always visible to the candidate. Not squarely but at a 45-degree angle so that the gesture sign to the door is very obvious.

We have mentioned some of the familiar non-verbal signs already so let us look at three of these in more detail.

Three simple non-verbal signs to assess when interviewing.


The greatest tell tale of somebody’s pure intention is in the feet. When we are looking at people from a body perspective most people would assume that the attention is paid to the face. We really need to start from the ground.

non-verbalIf I am going to have an interview with a person I will create an environment where there are no barriers to my view between us. There would be no desk or table creating a barrier and I would be able to view the entire body to study the body language displayed.

A candidate may face you head on without movement in their upper body yet their lower body may fidget and shift and the feet may move to point towards the door. When this happens during the interview, I now know that a question asked has made that candidate uncomfortable. Tip: Move away from that topic for a moment and then re-frame the question and observe the feet again. If the same movement occurs, then this signals that there is an issue that needs to be explored.


Whilst progressing through the interview, pay particular attention to the hands. People who are confident in their answers will display a lot of hand movement. They will use a lot of hand gesturing and will generally speak with their hands.

People who are uncertain of their answer, intimidated or shy may sit on their hands or keep them out of sight. They may also keep their hands on their lap with no movement at all. This rigid stance is indicative of someone who is really, really uncomfortable with the line of conversation.

non-verbalKeep note that a stand-alone gesture is not fully indicative of a deceptive indication. Pay careful attention to the hands in conjunction with the rest of the body.

When we are comfortable and contented blood flows into the hands making them warm and pliable. Stress makes our hands feel colder and more rigid.

People when they are strong and confident, the space between our fingers grows making your hands more territorial. Feeling insecure, that space disappears, in fact, thumbs may disappear under the fingers when under a lot of stress.

Pay attention to the thumbs, they will rise more often when being confident. This is especially if the fingers are intertwined in front.

Steepling is a positive confident gesture (fingertips together like a church steeple) but it will vanish the moment there is a lack of confidence.


Signs Of Stress

When people are stressed, notice the rubbing of the hands together (self massaging or “pacifying”). This will increase in frequency and force commensurate with the stress.

As stress progresses, you may notice rubbing of the hands together with fingers stretched out and interlaced (Tepee Hands). A behaviour noted when things are really bad.

Our handshake is our signature, it’s important, it may appear trivial. However get it wrong and it will leave a lasting negative impression. Get it right and you score emotional points.

Hands also indicate how much we care for ourselves and how we view social convention. Therefore pay attention to how maintained the hands are. Clean or Dirty, soft or calluses, nails manicured or grubby. Pay attention to rings and where they are positioned and tattoos. These are just a few of the messages we derive from the hands


The eyes are also a good tell. There is a presumption that when people are speaking to you and they look away then they are lying. This is complete and utter nonsense. Some people hold gaze and some people don’t hold gaze. It does not mean they are lying or uncomfortable, it could just be the way that they talk.

non-verbalThe people that don’t look at you at all are the ones that you really have to pay attention to in respect to the rest of their body language in order to understand what it is that is going on. You may also find, when speaking to a candidate, who does not look at you, may not use their hands either. Now this clusters of tells gives me an indication to explore the topic of conversation as there may be an issue with the subject matter of the conversation.

If you observe a glancing of the eyes to the left hand side, we could surmise that the candidate is looking backwards into time to recall and collect information. By the same token if they look to the right, then you can be absolutely assured that the observation is 50% incorrect.

Why is it 50%?

Because the candidate could be left handed and, if they are, their eyes will operate in the opposite direction. So we need to establish whether they are right or left handed in the baseline conversation before the formal interview starts.

Once that has been established, we still have to make sure where the person’s recall is as some peoples may be at a cross over to the general norm.

Establish The Baseline

So we ask a line of questioning in the baseline interview to establish where the recall is. To determine where the creativeness is. Once this has been established, then, during the interview process, we will be expecting the candidate to look to the past for information. Not to the future. If they don’t look towards their recall, then we can be confident that we need to explore the matter further.

Also observe the up and down look. This is quite good. Looking up is a gesture that is seeking answers or inspiration. They may be making it up, or they may just need a little inspiration on how to answer the question.

Looking down is much more interesting because when we look down we are looking into our emotion. This could be a positive or a negative emotion so when we ask a question of somebody and they immediately drop their eyes and look down they are searching into their emotions as to how they feel about that question. If this happens, then re frame the question to ascertain what is the positive or the negative that we have triggered.


I am doing an interview with a young man and it is for a social media role. He is doing a relatively good interview until he starts to tell me how important social media is in terms of marketing. I am very pleased that he has raised the matter of social media and I begin to talk about Facebook. When I do his eyes drop down into his chest.

We change the subject but then I re frame and come back to Facebook and I ask how he used Facebook in a work environment and he is able to look at me straight on and explain his experience. I now know that it is nothing to do with his work experience so I move on to ask how Facebook interfaced with his training on social media and again he could squarely look at me and explain. So I know that it is not about that.

As now I have an idea of the issue. I make a statement about how I feel it is such a shame that young people today use Facebook in a negative way and they might post things on the platform that are not flattering to themselves.

Now his eyes drop down to the ground.

So now I know what the issue is. I know that his Facebook profile is not going to be flattering for me as a potential employer. The interview ends and once he has gone I check his Facebook profile. Sure enough he has imagery and posts up which are very unflattering for me as an employer to employ. I cannot employ him now.

These are only three of the many signs that can be acknowledged and utilised when conducting an interview. There are many more and, again, note that these are only useful when assessed in a cluster. Along with other non-verbal intelligence signs.

For more information on interview success using non-verbal intelligence, please contact David on info@davidellis.ie or 0872555404


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Email

“If I have no Honour or Integrity, then I have nothing”

David Ellis