Context: We're talking about interviews for knowledge workers, like computer programmers, bankers, managers and so on. Highly paid intellectual jobs.
Body language is very important for both the interviewer and the interviewee: it greatly influences the first impression, so it's indicated for both to be a bit careful about that.
For me, it's a crucial component (it tells me a lot about what kind of person you are and your soft skills). But how can I, as an interviewer, correctly establish the candidate's body language baseline? Most candidates are nervous (it's natural/normal) and it's very hard to establish their normal body language and tics.
Maybe this person normally sits with their legs crossed 90% of the time; maybe they do empty swallows every 30 seconds; maybe they simply have a habit of constantly biting their lips when they're relaxed.
As an interviewer, I need to know these things, otherwise I'll draw the wrong conclusion about them.
Yes, the world is a Bell curve and most body language habits fall into the standard deviation i.e. most people have the same nervous tics and pacifiers. But I think it's irresponsible to not consider exceptions, otherwise you might be passing up a great candidate for the position simply because you find him/her way too nervous when in fact they're actually not (for example, if you were hiring for a position where they would have to deal with clients a lot). I know conclusions should be drawn from a cluster of signals, not just one, but I want to catch the single ones too.
So, what I thought was a good strategy is to have a VERY stress-free atmosphere at the beginning of the interview to make the candidate relax as much as possible. That way, you may get very close to the baseline. But, there are some problems with this:
- for most people, it takes about 10-15 minutes to fully relax, which can be quite a long time. You would have to find a sufficiently long list of subjects to fill this "small talk" portion of the interview
- since most interviews happen with the people sitting at opposite sides of the table, you can't see the bottom half of their body. And there's A LOT going on there, from a body-language perspective (actually I think this applies to all portions of the interview)
- a lot of people won't relax properly, even at this stage because they'll remember every 20 seconds "Oh my god, I'm at an interview!"
So, in combination of the above solution (10-15 minutes relaxing) maybe try always interviewing people in pairs? I mean 2 interviewers, 1 candidate. One of the interviewers should sit further away and not say anything, but simply evaluate the candidate's behaviour and demenour.
This achieves 3 things:
- having the other interviewer focus solely on body language will be more accurate since the "main" interviewer will be able to focus on the actual conversation and its details
- sitting further away (10-15 feet) gives them a good angle to see the candidate's legs and feet, which is key here. This is because the candidate will tend to loosen the control over them because the "main" interviewer can't see them (sitting at a table, remember?).
- by being at a safe distance and not saying anything, the candidate might just forget about the second interviewer and just consider them "part of the decoration".
Another possible way would be to interview people at a restaurant or the company's own lunch room at lunch time, again with a very friendly, informal and relaxing conversation. This tends to maximize relaxations (I know it works for me :D), but it's very impractical and also very poor in details since you normally wouldn't talk about job details when people around you are within earshot.
A third solution would be to ask the candidate to hang out after the interview, explicitly saying that the interview and evaluation is over. I could then compare their body language before and after the interview.
This has 2 problems:
- even though the interview is over, most people will still remain in the same "zone" because they don't want to say something stupid and blow the interviewer's impression about them
- doing the comparison backwards tends to be less effective and less accurate because it doesn't come naturally
I like the first solution the most (2nd interviewer at a safe distance) but I want to hear what you guys/girls think. Is there a better way?
Thank you in advance.