Job interview: how to read a recruiter's body language

Job interview: how to read a recruiter's body language

The topic of non-verbal communication was brought to life for television viewers with Lie to Me, a popular series in which Dr Cal Lightman, “the world’s leading deception expert,” used his understanding of body language and micro-expressions to help the police to solve crimes. This was not just fiction, however, as Lightman was based on Dr Paul Ekman, a renowned American psychologist who specialises in this area. Non-verbal communication is also popular with recruiters who use their skills to interpret the body language of applicants at job interviews.

It’s true that this is a powerful means of scrutinising candidates, especially when it comes to figuring out their personality traits. But what if it were time to turn the tables on them by having applicants use this discipline? Because in the end, it doesn’t matter what position you find yourself in when you master the tools to decipher someone else’s body language. Julie Salvador, an expert in “synergology” and a coach in voice communication, has a few tips to help you to better understand the recruiter during a job interview.

What is synergology?

What should you know about synergology? According to Salvador, it can be defined as “a discipline whose object is to allow us to decipher the functioning of the human mind from its body language”. Following this logic, the role of the “synergologist” is to understand the thoughts of a person by deciphering their body language. To what end? Quite simply, it’s to optimise communication with that person so that you both can have a better exchange. To help you out, there is a classification grid with more than 2,000 codes that let you observe and analyse precisely each piece of information conveyed by the human body.

Firstly, it’s important to remember that you can’t really access another person’s thoughts. So each piece of information you pick up is only ever the result of subjective interpretation. A gesture can be related to what a person is thinking, to what they are saying at a specific moment, to their environment or even to something they are feeling that has nothing to do with the professional context. “So while you’re not exactly in the other person’s head, what you observe will allow you to intelligently question their gestures,” said Salvador. “The theories of synergology allow us to compensate for the maximum possible bias. In particular, by focusing on the anchoring of a person in a specific situation to know if, for example, the person is in their head or if they’re with us [in the conversation].” And unlike neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a set of techniques that aims to help an individual to change the way they perceive their environment, synergology does not aim to change a person’s behaviour. “During a coaching session, we are not going to learn how to use appropriate gestures, inasmuch as there are no good or bad gestures. On the other hand, we will help the person to become aware of certain attitudes, which will give them a sufficient head start to adapt their behaviour and thus optimise any form of dialogue.

Explore more in our section: Candidates

Stop thinking you have no contacts! Who to turn to when looking for work

Why can it be useful during a job interview?

If synergology can be helpful in everyday life, it can be even more so in job interviews. Its primary purpose is to develop your powers of observation in order to help you to adapt as well as possible to the interviewer opposite you. And what better way to go through an interview than to be able to decipher how a recruiter works to maximise your chances of winning them over? “It’s not really about being able to get them to like you at all costs. Because if you put yourself in this situation, you run the risk of conforming to what the recruiter expects of you, and then falling into a form of counterproductive seduction,” said Salvador. “You’ll end up not being yourself any more and the communication will cease to be honest. This approach is all the more dangerous if the candidate is subsequently hired having put the recruiter’s expectations ahead of their own. The time they spend in that company may then feel a bit long for them.”So drop the seduction act and think about adapting instead. “The more the applicant is able to adapt to the person facing them, as well as to the environment around them, the smoother the communication will be and the more trust will be established.”

How to read your recruiter?

When it comes to understanding a recruiter, the first step is to observe what is going on around you, rather than focusing on what impression you are making. The focus is often on what you want to say or do, rather than on the main person involved: the recruiter. But any clue as to whether your interview is going well or not will come from them. So keep your eyes open, but all the while remaining anchored in the present moment, otherwise you risk missing out on the exchange. Here’s an overview of the keys to understanding and optimising your time in an interview the Lie to Me way.

1. Be ready to adapt right from the start

To make any form of communication smoother, nothing works better than being adaptable. As soon as your attitude matches that of the person in front of you, you create a synchronisation of movement. And when an exchange goes smoothly, each person’s body language instinctively reflects the other’s. It’s not about imitating the recruiter, but rather of being aware that the basis of the exchange will be guided by the other person in order to be in sync with them,” said Salvador. When it comes to adapting, there is nothing better than giving the recruiter space, especially at the beginning of the interview. Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, has said that it takes only seven seconds for us to judge another person when we first meet them. This very small lapse of time is all the more essential since it can influence the whole interview. But if as an applicant you are judged in these first few moments, it’s also your chance to read their character. Are they friendly, stressed or withdrawn? It’s worth noting as you should not address them in the same way for each of these states. “If the recruiter seems distant, it may not be worth getting too close to them by invading their space, because it may mean that they are voluntarily keeping their distance to better evaluate you,” said Salvador. In short, it’s up to you to spot the subtle signals.

2. Easily discern good feelings…

Anyone can pretty much instinctively sense if an interview is going well. But if in doubt, here are some keys to confirm this good impression:

  • Interest

If the recruiter is open to communication and shows a real interest in your application, their chair will be positioned at the centre of the table with their body leaning forward towards you.

If they touch their forehead area, they are thinking. This means not only that they are really interested in what you are saying, but also that they are taking it all in or even projecting ahead?

If they blink, it’s a good sign. Blinking makes it possible to memorise a given piece of information, which shows that it’s being anchored in the present moment.

  • Enthusiasm

Moving their eyebrows is always a positive sign, because the eyebrow area symbolises connection. It means that they are open to the encounter. This is why people who don’t show any response often seem less friendly.

If they smile in reaction to what you’re saying, bingo! It’s almost always a sign of satisfaction or encouragement. To detect a genuine smile, remember that it takes in the whole face, especially the eyes, not just the mouth. When someone is really smiling, you can see and hear it in their voice. So don’t see masks as an obstacle to communication, but rather as a way to tell real smiles from fake ones.

3. …and a bad feeling

This can be much harder to detect, so here are a few key details that are often a bad sign. The goal is to spot them as quickly as possible and then to turn the tables in your favour.

  • Dissatisfaction

If the recruiter scratches their cheek, it’s considered to be a sign of annoyance and irritation. Think about what you might have said or implied so that you may correct this.

If they move forward in their chair while you are talking, and then suddenly move backwards, they are withdrawing from communication. In other words, something you’ve said has displeased them or made them think twice. You’ll then have to pull them back into the conversation. The best way to do this is to ask them a specific question about the position or about the company in general. So make sure to read up on the company beforehand so that you have some questions at the ready.

  • Uncertainty

If the person is constantly moving around in their chair and is having a hard time finding a comfortable position, it means they’re also having difficulty figuring out something in their head. This difficulty in “making a choice” will also be visible if they scratch their chin, because this area symbolises doubt. So it’s up to you to make the right argument.

If the recruiter is stressed, you will hear it, as the voice becomes curt and staccato when under pressure. Listen to how quickly they’re speaking: if it’s getting faster, it means you need to move on.

  • Impatience

If the recruiter puts their finger on their mouth, it’s because they’re waiting for you to finish your answer, but more importantly because they really want to have their turn to speak. So it’s important to keep it short so as to make time for them to speak. An interview is first and foremost about having a discussion.

If they tap their fingers on the table, or tap with an object, it means that you’re not answering fast enough for them. It’s time to pick up the pace.

  • Boredom

If the recruiter isn’t blinking or only very infrequently, it’s often because you’ve lost them. Are they actually looking at you when they nod their head? In this case, you will see a certain lack of body movement since the person has remained frozen in that position. It’s up to you to get their interest back by pulling them back into the conversation as quickly as possible. Perhaps with a well-placed reference or a strategic question?

  • Authority

If the recruiter moves backwards, it is because they are creating a physical distance between them and the applicant. And if they fix their tie, jacket or collar, or if they adjust their clothing in any way, or if they touch the area between the lips and the nose, it means that they’re trying to reclaim their authority. In this situation, it is wise to show your respect for the hierarchy by not trying to invade their space. Also, you can subtly acknowledge their authority, since they feel the need to assert it, by asking a strategic question about their position within the company, for example.

To be a good observer, you must first be comfortable with being observed and evaluated. It is normal for interviewees to feel uneasy in such situations but that is often the root cause of the stress that applicants feel, along with the fear of not being able to answer difficult questions. This stress, however, can get in the way of any interaction or analysis. This is why it is essential to be prepared and to take a positive approach to any interview. It is difficult to gain a recruiter’s confidence if you are not confident in yourself. If you remain open-minded, attentive to the recruiter opposite you and ready to adapt to the environment, you will increase your chances of success. So now it’s up to you.

Translated by Kalin Linsberg

Photo: WTTJ

Follow Welcome to the Jungle on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to receive our articles every week!

  • Add to favorites
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on LinkedIn

Related reads

Latest articles

Follow us!

Receive advice and information on new hiring companies directly in your inbox each week.

You can unsubscribe whenever you want. We won't bother you, promise. To learn more about our data protection policy, click here

And on our social networks: