How to read nonverbal cues for effective communication

In the staffing industry, we often hear two different interpretations of how the interview went. The candidate will think, “This went great!”, while the hiring manager may tell us, “This person may not be a good fit.” Whether you are the interviewer or the interviewee, there are some things that are communicated by each party in an interview nonverbally. If we understand those, we can do some better active listening, and maybe even communicate a little better in the future.


First, what is nonverbal communication? It may seem obvious at first, but sometimes there are cues that we just don’t think about communicating. Nonverbal communication is any sort of communication that is done without using words. Some examples of cues that we are already familiar with might be eye contact, the way you are seated, your affect displays (smiles or frowns), or even the tone of your voice. There are some other body movements or gestures as well like drumming your fingers on the table, waving your hands as you talk, or even simply keeping your hands in your lap as you talk.


A lot of candidates will seem nervous in an interview. They might communicate this through some nervous energy by shaking their foot as they cross their legs, lack of eye contact, or even a nervous tone to their voice.


Candidates, the best thing to do when you find yourself having these nervous moments, is to:

  • Breathe

Taking deep breaths before you go into the room with the interview can help slow down your heart rate, and keep you calm.

  • Remember you are interviewing them as well

We encourage our candidates to remember that you are interviewing the interviewer as much as they are interviewing you. If this isn’t a good fit, you want to make sure you understand that when you leave the interview. Be confident in your skills, and know that if this isn’t a perfect fit, there’s something else out there.

  • Watch for your nonverbal cues

If you see your hands waving everywhere, find a pen or something to hold to keep your hands steady, or place them in your lap. Make sure you are making adequate eye contact. You don’t want to have too much and be creepy, but it’s important to show interest by making that eye contact.

  • Watch for the interviewer’s nonverbal cues

If the interviewer stops giving you eye contact, and you see him or her, drumming their fingers, or staring off into space, the interview may not be going well. Try to engage them by asking a question such as “What might you see as success in this role?” or “How do you see this position making an impact on the company’s overall goals?”


Hiring Managers, here are some things to watch out for:

  • Eye contact

Is the interviewee engaged in the discussion? If they are making eye contact, generally they are engaged, and interested in what you are sharing about the role.

  • Do they smile when they talk about their past job or a current one?

You want someone that enjoys what they do. Unless this is a complete career change, it’s important to see that they do enjoy some of the work they do. Ask them to tell them a story of an accomplishment that they are particularly proud of.

  • Watch for their body movements/gestures.

Are they sitting comfortably in the chair, or are they on the edge of their seat? Do they have their legs crossed, or are they flat on the floor? All these cues tell us how confident they feel because of their comfort level. If they seem stiff, they could be nervous, or they could lack confidence in their ability to do the job.


Whether you are interviewing today or have no plans for the future, it’s important to be aware of how we are communicating nonverbally. Take some time today to be aware of how you tend to communicate, and if there’s anything you might need to adjust in the future.


Let's get started.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.