04 Sep

The role of nonverbal cues in an online interview

Remote interviews can be challenging because you aren't in the room with your candidate and can miss out on valuable input from body language. However, nonverbal cues can help you understand the candidate's personality and how they might fit in with your company culture. To help you out, we've compiled a list of nonverbal cues to watch out for during an interview, as well as some tips on how to make it work when interviewing virtually. 

Whether you know it or not, when interviewing in person, you are constantly taking in nonverbal cues. They can be a powerful source of information or, if you aren't careful, they can be a source of unconscious bias. But is the same true when you are interviewing someone remotely? What can you tell about a person by watching their nonverbal cues? What are the most important things to watch out for, especially when interviewing virtually? 

What are nonverbal cues, and what can they tell us about a person?

Nonverbal cues are the things that people do that don't involve words. Nonverbal cues can include body language such as eye contact, nervous ticks, excessive fidgeting, gestures, and body positioning and posture. They can also be facial expressions or how a person dresses. They are what make up your first impression of a person before they even say anything. 

While helpful in determining whether a candidate is a good fit for your organization, you must interpret nonverbal signals with caution. While these nonverbal behaviors may reveal feelings and opinions, recent research shows that body language is more subtle and less definitive than previously thought. 

A Few Things to Keep In Mind

Most of the research done on nonverbal cues during an interview is focused on in-person interactions. However, some studies have shown that there can be some carryover to virtual settings, but it will not be as strong. Still, whether you are in person or virtual, there are some universal truths about nonverbal cues: 

  • Don't over-react on first impressions. Instead, let the candidate redeem themselves during the interview if you can. 
  • Make sure to build rapport with the candidate by making eye contact and having a pleasant demeanor so that they feel confident in you. 
  • Pay attention to the interviewee's level of engagement and how engaged they are with the conversation. For example, if their eyes seem to be glazing over or wandering around, then it might mean that they aren't interested in what is being said.

Nonverbal Cues to Watch For

Eye Contact

Watch to see if they make eye contact. If they do not, this could signify that the candidate is nervous or doesn't have much experience with interviews. They may also lack confidence or self-esteem. Eye contact is essential during an interview, and if you can't establish it, then the candidate might not be a good fit for your company because they won't be able to work well with clients. Keep in mind that remote interviews can make it difficult to maintain eye contact because of the camera’s position. If the candidate actively engages with the interviewer on the screen, their line of sight is slightly lower than expected because of the camera location. 

Body Language

Watch their body language to get a sense of how they act when speaking.  Do they fidget and shift around a lot? This can be a sign of nervousness or that the candidate might not want to be there. On the flip side, if they don't fidget at all, this could mean that they are too stiff and uncomfortable with the conversation. Specifically, watch for shifts in posture before answering a question.  Does the candidate lean in or shift in their seat? Be careful not to put too much stock in over-interpreting certain postures as "defensive." Arm- and leg-crossing are not necessarily indicative of a negative response but self-soothing gestures that most people engage in naturally when they are nervous. 


Do their hands do anything when they speak? If they are gesticulating wildly, the candidate might be excited about what they are saying or passionate about their work. On the other hand, if their hands seem to be glued to the table, it could be a sign that they aren't comfortable with themselves or are too formal for your company's culture. Hand gestures that expose the wrist and inner arm can indicate a willingness to be open and vulnerable. 

Posture and Body Positioning

Does their body position indicate that they are interested in the conversation, or do they slouch and try to blend into the background? If their body is completely slumped down so that you cannot see them at all, then they might be shy or lack confidence. On the other hand, if their posture is too stiff and formal, this could indicate a lack of comfort with themselves or discomfort with the conversation. 


Does their attire fit in with your company's culture? If they are dressed too informally, then it could be a sign that they don't take themselves or this interview seriously and will not make an effort to advance or go above and beyond what is expected of them. On the other hand, if they dress too formally, it might be a sign that they are too stiff for your culture. 

Faces and Expressions

A great deal of research has been done on the role facial expressions play in communication. It's essential to watch for anything out of place here, as it may indicate that the candidate is being dishonest or isn't interested in the job. For example, if you ask a question about a candidate's experience, but they give you a facial expression that shows nervousness or fear, it might mean that they are hiding something.  This can be a red flag and indicate some issue in their past, such as past criminal history. Nonverbal Cues to Note During an Online Interview Take note of how engaged the candidate is during the interview.  If you notice that they are glancing off to the side, this could mean that they have something else on their computer screen like a chat or another application open. You can ask them about it to see if there's anything else distracting them. If they try to avoid the question, this could be a sign that they are hiding something or don't want to be there. 

Tone and Volume of Voice

Listen to how they speak: Do they seem informal or too relaxed? This will tell you more about their personality.  If they speak in a monotone voice, this could indicate that they are bored or not interested. 

A Few Caveats

These are some great things to keep your eye on in any interview, regardless of location. That said, be careful not to judge a candidate too quickly based on their nonverbal cues. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification about something that seems out of place with their nonverbal communication.  And don't fall prey to pop culture pseudoscience that is built up around nonverbal communication. A candidate who looks off and to the right, touches their mouth or nose when answering, or covers their mouth when considering a question are merely soothing gestures and not necessarily indicators of deception. 

Joe Navarro, the author of What Every Body is Saying, has this to say about pop culture's belief in the "Pinocchio Effect": 

“There is not one single behavior indicative of deception – there is no Pinocchio effect. There are behaviors that are indicative of psychological discomfort, anxiety, or distress, but those can be because of the setting (testifying before congress) or because of the interviewer (dislike for authority), or perhaps the questions are intrusive. It can also be because the person is lying or has guilty knowledge. In any case, the best we can do is look for behaviors that shout something is bothering this person when I ask a question. The minute I sense discomfort, I wonder why.”

When interviewing a candidate for a position, it's important to pay attention to their body language, tone of voice, and how they dress. Be aware of any nervous ticks or excessive fidgeting and lean into questions that elicit a change in nonverbal cues. Remember: nonverbal cues are not always indicators of dishonesty! It pays off to ask follow-up questions if anything seems out of place with their behavior during the interview process online or offline.

Learn more at www.interviewdive.com and create the perfect interview script.