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I think nobody argues that body language is an important factor to a successful interview - both for interviewee and interviewer.

There are plenty of articles explaining how to control your body language when attending an interview. However, the question remains if you are an interviewer. Let me clarify.

Overall positive mood. Everyone says an interviewee should smile and express positiveness. But what if they really have some disaster like a loss of a close relative? If someone is in such a situation and smiling during an interview, I would have good reasons to think this person is a liar and pretender. How can I trust him in the future?

Invading personal space. What if someone is a great professional in the business area, but a bit rude during an interview? As a human, I could say, I don't care how good he is, I just don't want him, but my opinion might be argued by the team who may say this person is great, please hire.

The same applies to the opposite situation when an interviewee demonstrates lack of eye contact, bites their nails, etc. What if she just feels discomfort because of me? Yes, I do make people feel discomfort during an interview, because I need to know how they behave. I just worry my judgment may be subjective.

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    "I'm confident there's no ultimate or objective answer on this question" <-- My understanding is asking a question to which you believe there is NOT an answer is completely against the purpose of this site. – enderland Aug 21 '12 at 15:46
  • @enderland I've used this guideline. – bytebuster Aug 21 '12 at 16:00
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    You mean the section that says "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site [...]"? – yoozer8 Aug 21 '12 at 16:33
  • The answer is ....it depends. – mhoran_psprep Aug 21 '12 at 16:37
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    My favorite is when the interviewer keeps checking his watch. – user8365 Aug 22 '12 at 21:33
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Here's a few of my heuristics:

Expect people to be human

It's pretty reasonable to expect that an interviewee will tell you if they have just had a horrible life event - death in the family, accident on the way to the interview, etc. At this point, I'd suggest changing from expecting for a normal, energetic, enthusiastic demeanor to one that may be somewhat muted, or downright unhappy. The process changes from trying to see if the candidate is engaging to trying to see if they exhibited good judgement in continuing with the interview instead of cancelling - if they can still talk about the nature of the work and answer reasonable interview questions, then you can respect their ability to focus despite personal tragedy. If they can barely follow standard questions, you have to wonder if they have good judgement or whether they should have rescheduled. After all - I wouldn't want to have someone doing any sort of knowledge work for me on a day they were too rattled to make good decisions.

Caveat - different jobs have different expectations. There are certainly some jobs where a nearly maniacal ability to fake emotion may be a required quality. For example - literally last night - an actress I was interviewing told me her worst performing experience was performing while suffering acute food poisoning. If she was a software engineer - I'd think she was nuts - she should go home and rest. But in a theater environment, there may not be an understudy, you can't replace an actress midshow, and emulating emotion in an unnatural context is the name of the game.

How rude is too rude?

I'm a big fan of the unanimous vote on that one - any set of interviewers you come up with will undoubtedly be fewer people than this person will have to interact with. So if you have 5 interviewers and 1 thinks the candidate was rude - it could be (extrapolating wildly) that 20% of the corporate environment he's working in will find him rude. For me - that wouldn't be acceptable unless there was a mitigating circumstance - for example - the guy doesn't respect personal space from an American perspective, but he's flown in for the interview from another country where you know personal space expectations are much smaller in the dominating culture. He'll be working in his native country primarily and only travels for an annual meeting.

Interview context

Be careful to interview for what you want. In a knowledge working team, I expect people to seem open, honest, and helpful - I don't really care if they react negatively to an uncomfortable or intimidating situation - as the manager it's my goal to reduce these, and my folks have every right to look and feel intimidated when such a thing comes up. Better yet, I hope they'll tell me that something disquieting just happened. I probably wouldn't even bother to consciously test an interviewee for the ability to stay cool while put through a stressful situation of a psychological variety. That's not what I'm hiring them for, and so it's a waste of my time and energy to try to construct such a test.

OTOH - I know that screenings for sales positions and other high-pressure, people facing work deliberately seek to produce a stress reaction typical of what might occur in day to day work to verify that the potential employee will act appropriately and productively on behalf of the company.

End point

There is no candidate that will be perfect for all things - structure both the verbal and body language to get someone who fits the role you want to fill. Avoid constructing situations that don't get you useful information - as not only are they a waste of energy, but they can set up a false expectation on behalf of the candidate - after all - they are evaluating you, too.

  • This is exactly what I was concerned about. There are old-fashioned corporate standards that you can't avoid completely. It's a pity to reject someone who otherwise is good (except some bad manners), but it's even worse to hire someone who's impossible to work with. – bytebuster Aug 21 '12 at 20:25
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    Exactly - the need to work on a team hasn't become outdated - if he's so rude the team is avoiding him, it's a problem. If he doesn't use a tie-tack or get his shoes shined, this only matters if there's a specific image he needs to convey for a specific reason. – bethlakshmi Aug 21 '12 at 20:30
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As someone who has had a horrible life event, I would certainly have told an interviewer if I had an interview scheduled at that time. Most likely I would have asked to move the interview to the next week at the very least. Others might not however, thinking such things are private. However, the price you pay for privacy is that you need to appear normal because you cannot expect people to cut you any slack for a problem they don't know exists. Therefore if someone is not animated and does not give a reason, I would consider it a valid measure of the person's basic personality.

I remember one guy we interviewed who literally could not say a single positive thing about himself. Clearly he had self-esteem issues (he was more qualified than 90% of the candidates we had) and we felt bad for him, but we didn't hire because we didn't feel he could handle the stress of our particular job. Perhaps he could have and we made the wrong call, but I don't think so. And as the people we did hire turned out to be pretty good, I don't feel that we should have been easier on him. If we had fewer good candidates, we might have reconsidered. All of the evaluations are in comparison to the other candidates in any event. If the field of people who can do the job is small, then the hiring official will tend to cut more slack than if you have plenty of good candidates.

In hiring you are trying to get the best fit for your position. In the process you will eliminate many people who might have been a good employee. But when someone is doesn't appear in the interview to be the type of person you are interested in hiring, then they get eliminated. You can only go on what information you can glean from the interviews.

Rudeness in an interview for me is an automatic no. It shows a serious lack of judgement. I've worked with a couple of people who were rude in the interview but the hiring official took a chance on them because their technical skills were so good and guess what, everyone hated working with them. Now @bethlaksmi is correct, you may have to determine rudeness (especially concerning the amount of personal space they give) based on culture. But if even one person who talked to him or her felt the person was rude, then that is an automatic disqualification to me. No need to make current employees unhappy by hiring someone who will make them feel uncomfortable. There are usually plenty of candidates who can do the job who won't make people unhappy.

As far as looking people in the eye, there are cultural reasons why some people may not do this either and I certainly have had experience of people who had abused childhoods who had difficulty with this. So it doesn't automatically mean the person is a liar. However, in the US culture, it is often taken that way and hiring such a person for any kind of client-facing position would probably be a bad call. Hiring them as a software developer might not.

I fail to see how biting nails would be a factor for anything except a sales position which requires perfectly groomed nails. Does it matter in the slightest if the accountant does this or the software developer or the janitor?

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