Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

20 Body Language Warning Signs to Watch Out For When Interviewing Candidates!

By Mark Wilkinson | May 18, 2015 | Assessing Applicants

Have you ever had a negative gut reaction about an interviewee that you couldn’t explain?

55% of our communication is non-verbal (put really simply) so it could well be that your interviewee’s body language was the issue that tickled your distaste.

The study of body language isn’t just about detecting your liars, there are other warning signs that could trigger unease, hinting at character traits that could be far worse than a propensity for telling lies.

This week, to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, the serious from the time wasters and the liars from the honest, we’ve investigated 5 of the most revealing body indicators and come up with 20 warning signs that you should be looking out for.

Discover what your candidates really don’t want you to know!

1. The Eyes.

“The eyes are the window to your soul!”

Take a leaf out of Shakespeare’s book and look out for ‘eye language’ that could give you a glance into your interviewing candidate’s soul…

Warning Signs:

  • Glancing to the right when asked to recall is considered a sign of deception!
  • Pupil dilation could betray intense interest, and perhaps even sexual attraction.
  • Excessive blinking implies that the interviewee is really feeling the pressure.
  • Prolonged staring into your eyes. If a candidate’s stare starts creeping you out, then chances are, they’re trying a little too hard to seem calm and collected.
  • Lack of eye contact. This candidate feels insecure.
  • Squinting. Sight problems aside, squinting could mean two things. The candidate could be considering the question or topic or it could be a sign of distrust, or even frustration. If the latter is the case, then it’s more than likely that your intuitive alarm bells will start to ring!

Great Signs:

  • Glancing to the left when asked to recall is considered as a sign of honesty.
  • Comfortable eye contact that isn’t too prolonged shows confidence and ease with the situation and your presence.

(Whether a candidate looks up or down doesn’t really matter.)

Recruiter Pro Tip

There are a many behavioural signs to spot a liar, during an interview and in general life. Make sure you look out for:

  • Sudden changes in voice.
  • Fidgeting too much, or too little.
  • Micro-expressions.
  • Covering up of vulnerable body parts.
  • Giving up too much information.
  • Speaking in the third person.

For more insight, check out our previous blog: 8 Ways to Spot a Liar in an Interview.

The eyes are difficult instruments to fathom and therefore it is very important that you use your intuition while assessing “eye language”.

A combined assessment of a candidate’s behaviour, body language and interview answers will give you a more rounded picture of what’s going on in their brain!

2. The Mouth.

You can acquire a lot more information from someone’s mouth than you might imagine!

But firstly, it is important to note that almost all candidates will be trying to force a smile during the interview to hide nerves, worry and downright panic.

A simple, “cut and pasted” smile is a sign of forced agreement and something you’ll see a lot as an interviewer.

But even these fake (well-meaning) little smiles can appear with subtle nuances.

Warning Signs:

  • A thin-lipped smile, with no teeth could translate this as a sign of anger or rejection.
  • Mouth shrugs could imply signs of denial.
  • A jutting bottom lip is the adult equivalent to crying.
  • A lopsided smile could be a sign of cynicism or sarcasm.
  • A mouth that moves a lot while talking could imply a dominant and over-excited nature.

Great Signs:

  • Genuine laughter implies ease and confidence with the situation. You’ll usually be able to tell if laughter is forced, but in general, genuine laughter will last for a shorter amount of time.
  • A real smile (also called a ‘duchenne smile‘) that draws in the eye muscles also implies ease and confidence with the situation.

Section Two

3. The Lungs.

No matter how accomplished a candidate is at masking their body language, breathing can give subtle indications of how they’re truly feeling.

Warning Signs:

  • A sharp intake of breath or short, shallow breaths could be construed as a sign that the candidate is really feeling the pressure.

Great Signs:

  • Breathing in rhythm with yourself would suggest one of two things:

1) They are feeling at ease around you.
2) They’re skilled in the art of body language and are attempting to gain your trust through the art of mirroring.

You’d like to think that the latter is much less likely.

4. The Hands.

Hand signals can also betray an interviewing candidate’s true emotion.

Warning Signs:

  • Tapping fingers. Despite being fairly rude, tapping one’s fingers could betray impatience, boredom and disinterest in the job.
  • Pointing (especially without context) too much can be a sign of aggression.
  • Clenched fists are a fairly obvious sign of aggression or anger.
  • Hiding their hands could indicate deception (they’ve got something to hide!)

Great Signs:

  • Steepling. Pressing the fingertips together in a steeple position is generally considered as a sign of confidence, deep thought and elevated thinking.
  • Open hand gestures reveal openness, positivity and honesty.
  • Flipping over of hands can reflect genuine thought and deliberation. These candidates are considering their options and it subconsciously manifests in their hands.

Recruiter Pro Tip

The interviewee’s handshake is also very revealing.

We always advise candidates to practise their handshake, to make sure it’s giving the right impression – it’s just interview etiquette!

 A weak and limp-wristed handshake reflects nervousness, whereas a strong and firm handshake implies confidence and ease.

However, an overbearing handshake could indicate a domineering persona and someone who possibly won’t play well with others.

5. The Body as a Whole.

You can tell an awful lot about a candidate based on the way they sit, their posture and their general body movements.

Warning Signs:

  • Slouching. Depending on the kind of slouch, this could be a sign of disinterest and arrogance or (if nervous) a lack of confidence and submission.
  • Leaning forward with hands on thighs. This may seem like a sign of confidence, but it could also be a sign that the candidate can’t wait to leave (not uncommon in interviews!) They’ve already subconsciously started to leave, when they make this motion.
  • Touching their arm. No matter how fleeting this gesture is, the interviewee is comforting themselves with a reassuring hug. They probably don’t think the interview is going very well!
  • Crossing arms is a big interview no-no and implies that an interviewee could be confrontational, arrogant or even bored.

Great Signs:

  • A straight and neutral posture will show interest, confidence and in general, is just good interview etiquette (for both interviewer and interviewee).

Recruiter Pro Tip

When your candidate crosses their legs, you may feel tempted to read into it; don’t.

Some people simply have bad posture and cross their legs for comfort.


If you take a glance online, you’ll find heaps of body language resources, emphasising a wide variety of techniques to suss someone out by minor body movements and involuntary actions.

In truth, you’d need a psychology degree (and more) to understand every micro-expression, twitch and movement.

It’s also really important to bear in mind that interviews are high pressure situations and it’s unlikely that your candidates will offer a natural representation of themselves.

Your assessment will be far more successful if you combine the general body language guidance sketched out above with your own sense of intuition.

Ask yourself…

Does their laugh seem genuine? Was there something to laugh at in the first place?

Does their slouch seem arrogant and uninterested, or is it just bad posture?

Does their smile seem angry, or could they just be self-conscious about their teeth?

To get a proper and fair assessment of your candidates, it’s also a great idea to try and make them feel at ease during the interview.

This will allow them to answer questions more easily and will quell their behaviour to be as natural as possible.

For tips on how to relax your interviewees, check out our recent blog: 10 ways you can put a candidate at ease in an interview.

- Mark Wilkinson
Mark Wilkinson

Mark Wilkinson

Mark is one of the founders of Coburg Banks and heads up the permanent recruitment division of the business.  Every day he helps companies with their recruitment projects, sourcing the very best individuals for their vacancies.  He understands recruitment inside-out.

> More blog posts by Mark Wilkinson

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