Employer Branding

How to Decode Non-Verbal Communication in Interviews

“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.

– Charles Dickens

It is said that if you interview for employment and answer all questions correctly while effectively selling yourself, you might get the job. Honestly, it is easier said than done. While articulating properly is important, it’s imperative to understand that little things, too, can make a world of a difference between pass and fail.

You might think that non-verbal behaviour is incapable of sinking the ship. According to CollegeJournal, an interview comprises of 55% body language, 7% verbal communication, and 38% paralanguage or intonation. Hence, non-verbal communication is not just essential, but exceptionally vital to ace the process.

There have been numerous cases where qualified candidates did not make the cut due to their behaviour or manner of dressing. Body language in its entirety can wheedle out the no-getters from the go-getters. It is to the applicant’s advantage to fully grasp the fundamentals of non-verbal behaviour for ultimate success.

Basically, non-verbal cues:

  • Supplement verbal communication. Example: nodding your head when saying “yes”.
  • Define relationships between two people. Example: shaking hands when exiting the room.
  • Convey information about the emotional state of the applicant. Example: blinking too much or tapping your feet (nervousness and anxiety).
  • Give definitive feedback.
  • Control the flow of communication. Example: signalling to start or stop speaking.

Before we go any further, let’s throw some light on the different components that define non-verbal behaviour:

Body language or kinesics:

Body movements include posture, gestures, hand and head movements, or movements of the whole body. Body language constitutes a vital part of communication as it reinforces what an individual is trying to say while offering information about their emotions and attitudes. Sometimes, it’s possible for body language to conflict with what is being said. For example, when answering questions in an interview, a seasoned observer could pinpoint discrepancies in behaviour and use them to reach a certain conclusion.

According to research, body language can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Emblems: Gestures that mean the same as what is being said. For example, the sign for “OK” and “V” for victory. However, the interpretation of these gestures can wary internationally. “V” could mean the number two in US and the symbol is downright offensive in Australia.
  • Illustrators: Gestures that supplement verbal communication. For example, pointing to something that you are talking about. Such signals reinforce what is being said. Illustrators, too, are different from culture to culture. ‘Looking into the eyes’ while emphasizing a point is considered rude in Asia, but shows interest and confidence in America.
  • Affect Displays: Gestures or facial expressions that show emotions. They are normally unintentional and may easily conflict with what is being said. For example, shaking when in anger or using silence to show displeasure.
  • Regulators: Gestures that provide feedback during a conversation. They modulate, regulate, and maintain the flow of speech. For example, using sounds like “uh-huh” when nodding your head to indicate understanding.
  • Adaptors: Gestures that satisfy a physical need. For example, scratching an itch or biting fingernails when nervous. Such body movements are carried out at a low level of awareness.

Eye movements or oculesics:

The magic of sight can make or break your chances of landing a lucrative job prospect. Staring at the panel with a look of utter terror on your face is a sure shot ticket to instant dismissal. Pupil dilation, blink rate, frequency of glances, and the intensity of your gaze can publicize hidden intent during an interview. Eye movements are a window into ones soul and have a tendency to divulge information, unintentionally. To avoid embarrassment, it’s best to focus at a point close to the interviewer’s eyes, maybe the nose, while glancing briefly at the other interviewers when addressing them directly.

  • Maintaining eye contact indicates interest, which is one way to give and receive feedback.
  • Oculesics cultivates relationships. For example, you avoid eye contact when you are uncertain about answering an interview question, whereas, you maintain a positive eye contact when you are eager to respond to a query.
  • A steady gaze forms a bridge between speaking and listening.
  • Eye movements have a tendency to imply different emotions. For example, looking down when you are unsure of an answer, or blinking too much in a state of confusion.

Voice modulation or paralinguistics:

Paralanguage refers to all those aspects of speech which are not directly related to “words”. Voice modulation includes intonation, pitch, tone, and audibility level of your baritone. When answering questions in an interview, always be aware of how you enunciate, the volume and speed of your message delivery, and the pauses between words. Emphasis on certain words can be easily picked up by the hiring manager.

  • Paralinguistics indicate feelings about what is being said.
  • Emphasizing certain words gives way to prompt feedback.
  • Voice modulation helps in judging your situational temperament.
  • Girls generally have a shrill voice which can be mistaken for nervousness, whereas boys have a deeper baritone which could indicate ignorance.

Personal space or proxemics:

In today’s multi-cultural society it is very important to understand the detailed nuances of personal space expressed in different ethnic groups. Violating an individual’s space can be highly offensive and completely open to misinterpretation. In Western society proxemics is defined by 4 types of relationships that are internally divided into a close phase and a far phase:

  • Intimate (up to 45cm): This distance stretches from “touching” to 45cm. Invading an individual’s intimate space without permission can be very disturbing.
  • Personal (45cm – 1.2m): This is the most appropriate distance for having a conversation. Handshaking takes place within this boundary. At this distance it is very easy to see and analyze the other person’s body language.
  • Social (1.2m – 3.6m): This form of proxemics comes into play when sitting for an interview. It is the normal distance for impersonal business. This is where the different aspects of non-verbal communication like facial expressions, eye movements, posture, etc. become prominent for observation.
  • Public (3.7m – 4.5m): At a far distance of 4.5m it is essential to exaggerate non-verbal cues for effective communication. Facial gestures are normally lost at such long distances so bold hand movements are employed as a clear substitute.

Study of time or chronemics:

The language of time can be very technical to understand. Getting a hang of chronemics makes for good interview ethics and bodes well for your character in case you get hired. The concept of time in interview preparation pertains to interactions, punctuality, patience, and willingness to wait. Your time-usage acumen can define whether you are suitable for a particular job position or not. The simplest example is reaching the interview venue on time.

Chronemics across cultures in divided into:

  • Monochronic time: Everything is organized, scheduled, and pre-planned. Events and occasions are conducted at one particular point in time. Switzerland, Germany, and Canada are monochronic.
  • Polychronic time: Multiple proceedings are conducted at once, and scheduling time is highly flexible. Latin America, Africa, and Asia are polychronic.

Pointers to impress:

It’s easy to simply talk about non-verbal behaviour, but it’s quite a different story when it comes to practising it in real time. There are no tips or pointers about non-verbal cues that you can mug-up before giving an interview. These are inherent traits which could manifest themselves in any form on the final day.

However, to abate nervousness and gain some confidence, keep these suggestions in mind when preparing for an interview:

  • Dress appropriately for the interview – business formals, polished shoes, and ties for men.
  • Keep stray hair in check by clipping them properly. It is a massive turn-off for an interviewer when a candidate’s face is obscured by tufts of hair.
  • Tone down the bling when it comes to jewellery, makeup, and especially fragrance.
  • Ensure that tattoos and piercings are well hidden.
  • Bring several copies of your resume to the interview centre. (organized)
  • Smile when you meet the hiring manager for the first time. (openness)
  • Glance at the interviewer from time-to-time but never stare or avoid eye contact completely.
  • Be attentive and pay attention to detail.
  • Sit confidently and do not shrivel in your own space. (strength of character)
  • Relax your limbs and sit naturally. NEVER start scratching in front of the manager. Control the itch if required.
  • Take care of your intonation, pronunciation, and rhythm. Do not shout or raise your volume.
  • Be positive when narrating experiences and avoid negative comments.
  • Remember to listen attentively.
  • Keep your emotions in check, always.
  • Prepare interesting questions to ask the hiring manager.
  • Thank the interviewer for his time and patience.


  • Chew gum in front of the hiring panel. You will find yourself walking out the door the very next instant.
  • Proceed with a “limp fish” handshake. Keep it firm, but not bone-crushing.
  • Lounge in the chair. Sit straight, preferably at the edge of the seat to appear eager and attentive.
  • Flail your hands around when enunciating.
  • Wipe sweat off your body indecently.
  • Stop speaking abruptly in the middle of a sentence and trail off.
  • Tap your feet, doodle, drum your fingers, or keep touching your hair incessantly.
  • Lean too much towards the interviewer. It is a clear violation of his personal space.
  • Demean or speak ill of your previous employer.
  • Bring a cell phone, gum, iPod, candy, cigarettes, dirty clothes, or a soda can to the venue.
  • Interrupt the hiring manager.
  • Glare at the manager out of anger.
  • Use words like um, er, uh, like, you know.
  • Slouch, slump, or drag your feet.
  • Behave indecently on being rejected. Keep your cool and accept defeat gracefully.
  • Be completely expressionless. This behaviour can be quite irritating. Hiring managers are interested in people, not robots.
  • Come armed with a bag full of attitude. It is never cool to act haughty and superior.

Final thoughts:

Non-verbal communication is an essential part of a candidate’s profile. Several job seekers are unaware of this form of communication; hence, making mistakes is quite common. With sufficient practise and repeated interview sittings, you will not only grasp the minute details of this daunting process, but will begin to understand the non-verbal cues of the interviewer as well. An in-depth knowledge and understanding of the aforementioned pointers will lead to greater shared interaction, which is the sole purpose of effective communication.

Author: Tina Jindal is a professional content writer who works on a variety of topics like employment, real estate, and education. A career advisor for, she has been involved with renowned publications and has tried her hand at editing works on Cookery, Gardening, Pregnancy, and Healthcare. 

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