Interviews and Resumes: Detecting The Unspoken

Mar 21, 2018

We all do it.

Perhaps we shouldn’t.

But we’ll keep doing it.

And maybe we should.

[Judging people by their appearance.]

Nowhere is this more true than in the job interview…

What the candidate looks like and does not say, speaks far more than what is said.


Because its been found that the majority of UK candidates either lie on their resume, or in the interview.

However, interviewers can tell a lot by the presentation of the candidate, as well as non-verbal cues, and that’s what this article is about:


Let’s start with the resume or CV; which is, together with the covering letter, the first impression:

Looking at the resume, what does it tell you? For example, is care taken in its presentation, or is it simply a badly printed copy? How is the spelling and grammar? Avoiding the words in it, what would you say is the character of the person who’s resume it is?

As for meeting the candidate… it's got to be said: different strokes for different folks. So discretion must be used about what’s best for the company, because an acceptable appearance for one job position might not, and perhaps should not be, a necessity for another. For instance, if you are looking for an eccentric and innovative person, you’re not going to want someone who looks like a banker…

By the same token, although a candidate for the Receptionist position should be well groomed, if you are looking for a genius IT geek, it may not be a bad thing that the candidate boasts nails bitten to the quick.

Dressing for Job Interviews

Image Credit: NC State University

What does each outfit tell you about the candidate?

In summary, while you shouldn’t allow the norm to dictate to you because it may mean the company loses out on an awesome person, do allow choice of clothing, colours, and how clothes are worn, and especially how the person is groomed, to speak to you.

Here are some basic tips:

  • You may think that candidates who bite their nails are nervous, but studies show that those who engage in ongoing body-focussed behavior like nail biting, skin picking, and so on, are generally impatient, or get bored or frustrated easily. Therefore, it can be deduced that this person may be highly intelligent and/or a perfectionist.
  • There are so many elements around the clothes we choose to buy, that it is actually quite difficult to tell anything from a person based on their choice of outfit, and as a result, judging a person based on the clothes they wear is not credible. Why? Because a person may dress according to habit, or even according to the brands they are exposed to a lot. Someone may wear clothes dating back to the time they were most happiest, but that might not give a clue as to their character. Or abilities. Having said that, choice of clothing is obviously vital in customer facing roles.
  • When a candidate arrives strictly on time for the meeting, it may be an indication that he or she is ambitious, not wanting to waste a minute of their day. Keeping true to form, the task-oriented person will also probably bring with all the right “tools” - a copy of the resume, a pen or pencil and a notepad. When a person arrives late, they are indicating (unless their excuse is truly legitimate) disorganisation, disrespect for others, or is indulging in power play, a psychological tactic to obtain power in the interview.

Related: The Value of the Introvert Employee in the Workplace

Non-verbal cues

The things that are unspoken often speak the loudest…

Tom Panos


  • Tom is a ‘big-picture’ guy
  • It is best to allow Tom to select which detail is relevant
  • Prefers thorough documentation, will see errors easily
  • High tolerance of others
  • Self-reliant
  • High confidence
  • Likes to be in charge
  • Likes to debate
  • Has a dry sense of humour
  • Might like to bait conversations – cheeky
  • Prefers variety.

Source: EliteAgent

Just by looking at the LinkedIn photo of Tom Panos, Alan Stevens, a body language expert, could provide all these character traits.

The best way to find out whether someone is lying, is with behavioural tests.

But there are some signs that give clues as to lying, but bear in mind that they are not conclusive:

  • Repeating certain words or phrases.
  • Giving too much information.
  • Using the hand/s to cover the mouth or other vulnerable body areas like the throat or chest.
  • A change in eye contact. Watch for avoidance, lots of blinking, or staring without blinking.

Related: Techniques The World’s Best Companies Use for Hiring Top Talent

Other ways to detect the unspoken are:

  • Watch for self-confidence via the handshake - a firm one indicates strength while a weak one shows, well, weakness.
  • Fidgeting means discomfort - not a good sign because it may be at odds with what the candidate is saying.
  • If the candidate is attentive, he or she will lean slightly forwards. Smiling shows enthusiasm and engagement.
  • Does the candidate maintain eye contact, or do they keep glancing down? Do they keep contact, or keep looking around, as if looking for something more interesting? When someone can’t maintain eye contact, it’s a warning that they are not good communicators.
  • If the person takes over your space with their goods or gestures, it indicates aggression and self-centredness.

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