Can YOU determine IT job candidate quality based on body language?

Over half of all employers claim they can determine IT job candidate quality in the first five minutes of an interview. This means a great deal rests on their assessment of an applicant’s body language.

Body language has been a key way recruiters and hiring managers have judged job candidates for decades. But is this still as useful a tool as has always been believed?

Perhaps. But perhaps not…

After all, the value of diversity in recruitment is starting to be widely recognised. Not everyone is raised with the same body language norms. Others may excel when in-role but provide bad non-verbal body language “cues” to an interviewer.

Especially in a field like IT, where many roles may not necessarily require top candidates to make good eye contact or deliver a good handshake in their daily work, does judging a candidate based on the first five minutes of an interview still make sense?

What is body language?

Body language – more properly called kinesics – is a part of communication where physical behaviour rather than language conveys information or “cues”.

It’s estimated that over half (around 55%) of the information we receive from a conversation comes from sources other than words. Some of the most common forms of body language include:

-Facial expressions


-Hand gestures

-Eye movement (especially making eye contact)

-Touch (such as a handshake)

-The use of space (particularly understanding personal space)

Potential issues with body language as a candidate quality factor

1) It’s all part of the show

Most candidates know how important good body language is in most recruitment processes. This means many will practice making eye contact, delivering a strong handshake, and so on at the same time as they do some practice interviews.

This can potentially mean you aren’t getting a real impression of the candidate at all. You’re getting a practised routine that may or may not reflect their usual interpersonal skills.

This alone is a fairly reasonable argument for at least treating a candidate’s initial body language as only a mildly useful indicator of quality. It’s the same reason why many recruiters tend to avoid asking stereotypical interview questions.

You’re not trying to trip candidates up. You’re trying to get a more well-rounded impression of their quality and suitability as a whole.

2) Nerves and anxiety

More than 9 out of 10 people feel nervous before job interviews. This is potentially a positive thing. Those who don’t care about the result – that is to say, those who might not care whether they end up working with you or not – surely wouldn’t get nervous.

However, nervousness often manifests itself in awkward body language. A missed handshake. Looking around the room or at the floor rather than making eye contact. Fidgeting or making uncomfortable hand gestures.

None of this may reflect a candidate’s ability when actually doing the job. Even if you’re recruiting for a high-pressure role, a job interview is a unique situation that may not reflect their wider ability to cope with stress or pressure.

3) At best, it’s only 55% of the picture

That study that showed 55% of conversational information comes from non-verbal sources might be completely wrong. But even if it’s on the money, what about the other 45%?

Body language tells you very little about a candidate’s relevant experience, any special expertise, what their previous employers have thought about them, their problem-solving skills, or even their ability or desire to learn.

This potentially makes basing your entire hiring decision – with all of the importance and costs attached to making a poor choice – largely on body language seem like risky behaviour.

Can you determine IT job candidate quality based on body language?

Body language does have some value in an interview process. But with all of the above issues, even highly experienced IT recruiters might start to feel less confident about making candidate selections based on a reading of body language.

Even those who feel confident they do have special skills or expertise in this field – those who feel they can determine job candidate quantity based on body language – may wish to ask themselves if they should.

Consider that people raised in different cultures may have different norms when it comes to body language. A handshake (firm or otherwise) might be less common. Making regular eye contact might be judged rude rather than polite.

Equally, neurodiverse people may prefer not to touch or make eye contact. This fact may have little relation to their ability to deliver excellence in the role you are hiring for.

In an age where the immense value that diversity can bring to an organisation is acknowledged, basing hiring decisions on the strength of a handshake and the ability to make eye contact has rarely felt more tenuous.

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