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The Role of Kinesics in an Interview- Hailey Berry

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ABSTRACT

The purpose of this research assignment was to evaluate the role of kinesics in an interview and determine if nonverbal cues can affect the outcome of an interview. To further analyze this subject, five candidates were interviewed to explain their thoughts on whether or not they even consider nonverbal cues essential in an interview. To conclude, the finding showed that nonverbal cues, specifically kinesics, influence the outcome of an interview, but the amount of influence is greater among older individuals and less important in younger individuals.

One quote that inspired me to research this topic came from the renowned writer and management consultant, Peter F. Drucker. He said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” By the end of college most students begin the strenuous process of interviewing. Of course, some students have the luxury of a job being given to them, but most are required to go out and interview for the jobs they desire. I have actually interviewed with approximately six companies and have sat through roughly fifteen interviews during my college career. I have often wondered if it was my answers that truly got me the offers, or if it had to do with some other factors. After seeing students do mock interviews I noticed that some people tended to fidget or avoid eye contact during the interview. This seemed distracting, but I began to wonder if I had done that during my interviews. This further made me consider if these nonverbal cues had any real impact on the outcome of an interview. Were interviewers purposefully trying to pick up on your nonverbal cues, or were they merely interested in what you had to say?  This led me to my decision to focus my interview on the role of kinesics and what impact, if any, they have on the outcome of an interview. My paper will focus on what interviewers focus on during an interview and whether or not they are looking for any nonverbal cues, specifically kinesics. To take it a step further I will explore how the interviewers perceive certain nonverbal cues and the effect that places on the final outcome of the interview.


CONCEPTUALIZATION

According to Reflect & Relate, Steven McCornack states that nonverbal communication, unlike verbal communication, is more flexible and ambiguous. By verbally stating something the underlying meaning is more transparent, but if someone were to smile it can have various meanings given the situation. This can mean that someone is interested in you, or that they are just content and happy. This shows that nonverbal communication can be taken differently and that it is important to consider this in any situation. Additionally, McCornack claims that nonverbal communication is more ambiguous because it is governed by fewer rules. Verbal communication is taught in schools from elementary through high school and college levels if pursued, which means that there are a significant amount of rules regarding grammar, pronunciation, spelling, and meanings. Nonverbal communication on the other hand is rarely formally taught in elementary and secondary schools. Many of these rules are instilled through a child’s cultural upbringing, for instances children are taught to adhere to people’s personal space and maintain an appropriate distance when around other people. This is something that is informally taught to children. Relating these key concepts back to interviewing is quite important. Since most people dwell on their verbal responses during an interview, they are missing out on seeing the importance of how they will appear in the nonverbal state and the impacts that can pose for them.

Additionally McCornack explains that during first time encounters nonverbal communication conveys more of an impact on overall impressions than verbal communication. This makes sense because during a first encounter each person is trying to reduce uncertainty so he/she will use what they have available to conclude what type of person the other is like. Without knowing details about how he/she is as a person we are left with using their nonverbal cues to decide if we like them or not. This is very relevant in an interview because most of the time this is the first time you have met the person you are interviewing.

Kinesics is composed of facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, and body postures. People often underestimate the impact that each of these can have on any given situation, but in reality they are all very influential. First, McCornack explains that facial expressions are to be judged with caution because the angle with which you read a person can convey different meanings. This should be crucial in an interview because you, as the interviewee or interviewer, have the opportunity to try and position yourself in the best possible manner. Secondly, McCornack explains that eye contact can convey everything from hostility, interest, and emotion. Next, gestures consist of several movements that can be utilized; many of which are adapted through a person’s culture and can express how a person feels about a particular topic. Last, body postures can signify two messages: immediacy and power. Overall, kinesics is critical to everyday life, but for this purpose it is vital to any type of job interview. Since you have a limited amount of time to convey why you are the person for the job it is important to be aware of how you are acting in a nonverbal manner.

I began this research project assuming that nonverbal cues, specifically kinesics have a large impact on the outcome of an interview. I further assumed this across all age groups. I would like to solve whether or not this is true and if so, to what extent. It is important to understand how interviewers perceive nonverbal cues and the effect it gives the overall results.

METHODS

The interview schedule for this research topic consisted of 5 interviews. The interviews were conducted with people who work in a business professional setting in a corporate environment, therefore the interviews were all similar, thus easy to compare. Comparing interviews from a corporate job versus a service sector job would be difficult due to the differences in job requirements. Additionally I interviewed 2 people who were younger and 3 people who were older to see if nonverbal cues during an interview vary among age groups. Additionally 2 of the interviewees were female and 3 were male. Of the female interviewees the ages consisted of 24 and 47, while the three males consisted of ages 24, 29 and 42. The questions I asked started by simply seeing how many interviews they have conducted over their lifetime or how many years they have been conducting interviews. I further asked if other than the interviewee’s responses to questions what else they look for in an interview. At this point I hadn’t divulged the topic of the interview, so they had no idea that I was researching nonverbal cues. This allowed me to get a clear unbiased view of whether or not people even consider nonverbal cues. At this point I then turned my questions to the topic of my paper and had them rank four traits in the order of importance: appropriateness of content, eye contact, body postures and body movements. This would show how much of an impact nonverbal communication had to them. I then followed by asking if an interviewee portrayed signs of weak eye contact or fidgeting and whether or not this would have an impact on the outcome of the interview. I also ended with asking if overall they felt that nonverbal cues did or didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the interview.

Overall these interviews were very informative. It was interesting to hear about how people perceive the way people interact nonverbally in an interview and made me realize that many people don’t consider how they are communicating nonverbally. I did encounter some problems because many of the people I interviewed disallowed me from disclosing where they worked because divulging interview techniques is against their corporate policy and several wouldn’t allow me to give their work email or phone. Another difficulty came when one of the people I was interviewing formed a bias throughout the interview. This will be explained in the results section of the paper.

RESULTS

My key research question focused on whether or not nonverbal cues, such as kinesics, affect the outcome of an interview. My hypothesis basically concluded that people of all age groups would consider nonverbal cues to be extremely important and in fact have an outcome on the overall result of an interview. My interviews concluded that in younger aged people nonverbal cues had less of an impact during the interviews. They were more concerned with the content of interviewee’s answers rather than the kinesics they were portraying. Of course the people I interviewed did say that nonverbal cues did have some impact on the interview results, but only a small impact overall. Of the older aged people I interviewed two had concluded that nonverbal cues, specifically kinesics were essential to an interview. They said that overall they were just as important as the content that the interviewee uses to answer questions. The last person I interviewed portrayed a bias to her answers therefore her answers were excluded from the final results. This will be discussed in the next section. Overall I found that as people age and have more experience with interviewing the implications of nonverbal cues becomes more transparent, or at least that is what my interview analysis indicated.

ANALYSIS/DISCUSSION

As stated above my interviews consisted of 2 younger individuals and 3 older individuals and of them 2 were women and 3 were men. First, of the two younger people, Jay and Andrea, both were fairly consistent with their responses. Both concluded that nonverbal responses were important, but not crucial to an interview. It was interesting that both concluded physical appearance was very important to them. Steven McCormack stated that, “Physical appearance profoundly influences interpersonal communication and relationships” (pg. 278). He also concludes that over 40 years of research proves that the clothing you wear impacts people’s judgment of profession, level of education and even personality values, so it was not too surprising to hear this mentioned in the interviews.

Of the three older individuals I interviewed, Charles, Chris and Kathy, two of them (Charles and Chris) were very adamant that nonverbal cues were crucial to the outcome of an interview. It seemed that they spoke from experience and had often hired people who didn’t possess the best nonverbal skills in the past and it had ended up being a bad situation. Both talked about how they felt people don’t realize that their nonverbal cues are being judged in an interview; therefore people forget to cover up the things that they may not want people seeing. For this mere fact, Charles and Chris both stated that they make it a point to observe each person’s nonverbal cues.

As far as the last person I interviewed, Kathy, I was unable to actually place any reliance on her answers because of an outlying factor that changed the interview. As stated before I began the interview by not stating my topic, so as to truly judge whether or not she considered nonverbal cues important. By asking her what she looks for in an interview other than the responses of the interviewee, she responded that she looks for appearance, attitude and the level of confidence they are articulating. This showed me that Kathy did in fact consider nonverbal cues to be a determining factor in an interview. Then by having her rank, in level of importance, certain verbal and nonverbal cues she said that eye contact was number one and that appropriateness of content was number two. This further indicated that she considers kinesics important. Then after asking her if someone had great responses to questions, but possessed poor nonverbal cues whether or not this would affect the outcome of the interview, she responded ‘most likely.’ It was when I asked about things such as poor eye contact and fidgeting in an interview, when she completely switched her responses and claimed that these would have no impact on an interview. By further probing her for the reason for this switch Kathy confided to me that her son has tremors and his hands shake uncontrollably and that she would never want this to be perceived as fidgeting and affect his chances in an interview. I tried to explain that by fidgeting I meant simply messing with papers and appearing unorganized, but she concluded her interview by stating that nonverbal cues have no impact at all on the outcome of an interview.

This encounter with Kathy taught me a lot about how we are as human beings. She was expressing the fact that her son shouldn’t be judged on something he cannot help. This is true, we as humans feel empathetic towards someone who is suffering with something that we can relate to. Of course what if Kathy didn’t hire someone because they wore clothes that appeared tattered and this person couldn’t afford to buy nice clothes? Is she judging this person based on something they can’t help? Kathy had basically stated that she did judge people on their nonverbal cues but then switched it around to say that she would never do such a thing. She appeared to create a self-serving bias because she credited the fact that she would never do this on the mere fact that she is empathetic, when in reality she was jut being empathetic towards something she could relate to.

Overall this project showed that nonverbal cues do affect the outcome of the interview and that the amount of this depends on the age group that is doing the interviewing. Of the types of kinesics mentioned people claimed how you portray eye contact, body movements and body postures all have an impact on how you appear and whether or not you will be hired. First, people claimed that poor eye contact could be a sign of low levels of confidence and being shy. Second, by slouching in your chair this can signify disrespect or signs of not caring about the situation, which comes across very disrespectful. Last, by expressing body movements in a way that shows you fidgeting or appearing disorganized this can translate into you appearing incapable of doing tasks on your own.

CONCLUSION/RECOMMENDATIONS

Overall this interview analysis showed the importance of nonverbal cues, specifically kinesics, in an interview and that if not portrayed positively it can negatively affect the outcome of an interview. Additionally, and somewhat by accident, I learned that an interviewer can be empathetic towards a person who is displaying nonverbal characteristics that they, or someone close to them has struggled with too. To keep focus on my original topic, I learned that by listening to what someone isn’t saying could tell you more about that person than any response. Beginning this project I assumed that this was accepted by everyone and across all age groups, but this wasn’t quite the case. I feel that there could be more research done on the differences in why younger people felt nonverbal cues weren’t as important as the older individuals. Is this caused by less experience, or some other contributing factor? Additionally, it would be interesting to see if people truly change their decision on whether or not to hire someone because they are empathetic towards a quality that the interviewee possesses. To conclude with a bit of advice it is important to always be aware that speaking or not speaking, you are communicating and being aware of it can definitely help you in life and possibly help you land a job! To help raise you level of awareness you can practice mock interviews where you get feedback on your responses and how you are portraying yourself nonverbally.


REFERENCES

McCornack, S. (2007). Reflect & relate. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.


APPENDIX 1

BLANK INTERVIEW SCHEDULE

  1. What is your name and profession?
  1. On average how many interviews have you conducted? How many years have you been doing interviewing?
  1. Other than their responses to questions, what types of things do you look for in an interview?
  1. Of appropriateness of content, eye contact, body postures and body movements, which do you feel is the most important during an interview? Rank in order of importance.
  1. If the interviewee portrayed great skills, but failed to possess positive nonverbal cues, would that affect the outcome of your recommendation?
  1. If they portrayed limited eye contact, did that signify anything to you?
  1. If they portrayed signs of fidgeting, did that get documented on your part? If so did it negatively affect the interviewee’s outcome?
  1. If the interviewee wouldn’t pause after a question did that matter to you as the interviewer?
  1. So overall, do you say that nonverbal cues during an interview can affect the outcome for the interviewee? If so, by how much?

APPENDIX 2

COMPLETED INTERVIEWS

Interviewer Name: Hailey Berry

Interviewee Name: Kathy

Interviewee Phone & Email:

Date/Time/Place: 2/16/09 @ 10:30 a.m.; Kathy’s office

  1. 1. What is your name and profession?

Kathy; Office Manager

  1. 2. On average how many interviews have you conducted? How many years have you been doing interviewing?

She couldn’t remember how many interviews she has conducted, but says she has been doing interviews for 14 years.

  1. 3. Other than their responses to questions, what types of things do you look for in an interview?

She said definitely appearance, attitude and the level of confidence they are articulating during an interview.

  1. 4. Of appropriateness of content, eye contact, body postures and body movements, which do you feel is the most important during an interview? Rank in order of importance.

She said definitely eye contact is number one, then appropriateness of content, body movement, and body posture.

  1. 5. If the interviewee portrayed great skills, but failed to possess positive nonverbal cues, would that affect the outcome of your recommendation?

She said most likely it would affect the outcome of her recommendation.

  1. 6. If they portrayed signs of fidgeting, did that get documented on your part? If so did it negatively affect the interviewee’s outcome?

At this point in the interview Kathy mentioned to me that she has a son that has tremors and said that she would never want anyone to misinterpret his shaking for inappropriate nonverbal cues. She then said that fidgeting would not affect her decision.

  1. 7. If they portrayed limited eye contact, did that signify anything to you?

She said no, it would not affect her decision.

  1. 8. If the interviewee wouldn’t pause after a question did that matter to you as the interviewer?

She said no, not really.

  1. 9. So overall, do you say that nonverbal cues during an interview can affect the outcome for the interviewee? If so, by how much?

She said no, it wouldn’t.

*Note here that Kathy had mentioned that eye contact was the number one important item that she looked for, but then after she thought about her son possibly displaying negative nonverbal cues she changed her decision and said that nonverbal cues did not affect the outcome of an interview.

Interviewer Name: Hailey Berry

Interviewee Name: Jay

Interviewee Phone & Email:

Date/Time/Place:  2/1/09 @ 11:00am; Jay’s house

  1. 1. What is your name and profession?

Jay; Service Manager

  1. 2. On average how many interviews have you conducted? How many years have you been doing interviewing?

I just graduated last year, so probably only 15-20.

  1. 3. Other than their responses to questions, what types of things do you look for in an interview?

Definitely physical appearance- do they look appropriate? I also look at how they act-their mannerisms to decide on their confidence level.

  1. 4. Of appropriateness of content, eye contact, body postures and body movements, which do you feel is the most important during an interview? Rank in order of importance.
    1. Appropriateness of content 2. Body movements 3. Eye contact 4. Body posture
  1. 5. If the interviewee portrayed great skills, but failed to possess positive nonverbal cues, would that affect the outcome of your recommendation?

I don’t think they would be completely eliminated, but if they portray negative nonverbal cues, then that would hurt them if we were deciding between two candidates.

  1. 6. If they portrayed limited eye contact, did that signify anything to you?

This could mean they are shy and it might be difficult for them to work around others.

  1. 7. If they portrayed signs of fidgeting, did that get documented on your part? If so did it negatively affect the interviewee’s outcome?

Depends on how bad they were fidgeting, if they weren’t paying attention at all that would negatively affect their interview.

  1. 8. If the interviewee wouldn’t pause after a question did that matter to you as the interviewer?

No, I haven’t really thought about this.

  1. 9. So overall, do you say that nonverbal cues during an interview can affect the outcome for the interviewee? If so, by how much?

Yes, but not as much as the content that the person brings to the interview.

Interviewer Name: Hailey Berry

Interviewee Name: Charles

Interviewee Phone & Email:

Date/Time/Place: 2/9/09 @ 5:30 p.m.; Charles house

  1. 1. What is your name and profession?

Charles ; Senior Account Manager

  1. 2. On average how many interviews have you conducted? How many years have you been doing interviewing?

I have lost track of how many interviews, but I have been interviewing for 30 years.

  1. 3. Other than their responses to questions, what types of things do you look for in an interview?

I have definitely learned to pick up on the other things the interviewee is doing. First, on their listening skills and whether or not they answer the question I have asked. This is usually obvious on whether or not they are making eye contact with me, or if they are looking at the wall or something else. I also look for how they handle themselves, if they appear organized, sit confidently in their chair- these seem to be people who really want the job and show that in their actions.

  1. 4. Of appropriateness of content, eye contact, body postures and body movements, which do you feel is the most important during an interview? Rank in order of importance.
    1. Eye contact 2. Body movements 3. Appropriateness of content 4. Body postures
  1. 5. If the interviewee portrayed great skills, but failed to possess positive nonverbal cues, would that affect the outcome of your recommendation?

Yes, several times they try to say what they think I want to hear and this is obvious in a rehearsed comment, but several times their true intentions show in their nonverbal cues, which is something they forget about, so I can typically use this to my advantage.

  1. 6. If they portrayed limited eye contact, did that signify anything to you?

Sometimes it feels like they are not interested, or they are trying to come up with what they are going to say, but several times it is a display of how confident they are- to be able to stare back at someone shows you are confident. Many times people who had poor eye contact ended up having low confidence and this made it difficult in situations at work when he/she had to work with others.

  1. 7. If they portrayed signs of fidgeting, did that get documented on your part? If so did it negatively affect the interviewee’s outcome?

If they come into an interview and they are constantly messing with their papers and not sitting and listening to what I am saying it almost shows disrespect and whether or not they are nervous they should realize that it shows you aren’t paying attention.

  1. 8. If the interviewee wouldn’t pause after a question did that matter to you as the interviewer?

People are very nervous to leave a pause after a question, but when people do they actually have better responses. When a person does this it shows they have done interviews before and that they are confident to leave a gap of silence to think about their response.

  1. 9. So overall, do you say that nonverbal cues during an interview can affect the outcome for the interviewee? If so, by how much?

Definitely I would say that nonverbal cues are just as important as the content that the interviewee brings to the table.

Interviewer Name: Hailey Berry

Interviewee Name: Chris

Interviewee Phone & Email:

Date/Time/Place: 2/8/09 @ 3:00 pm; Chris’s office

  1. 1. What is your name and profession?

Chris; Senior HR Manager

  1. 2. On average how many interviews have you conducted? How many years have you been doing interviewing?

I have been interviewing for 20 years.

  1. 3. Other than their responses to questions, what types of things do you look for in an interview?

I have definitely learned to look at their body movements and how they carry themselves. That can tell you a lot about their confidence level and how well they care to present themselves. Also I try to look at eye contact. I understand some people are shy, but it is important to show you are paying attention in an interview.

  1. 4. Of appropriateness of content, eye contact, body postures and body movements, which do you feel is the most important during an interview? Rank in order of importance.
    1. Body movements 2. Appropriateness of content 3. Eye contact 4. Body posture
  1. 5. If the interviewee portrayed great skills, but failed to possess positive nonverbal cues, would that affect the outcome of your recommendation?

Yes, it would depend on how bad his/her nonverbal cues actually were, but overall it would reflect poorly on them.  I feel it is essential to have nonverbal qualities and since many times interviewees don’t seem to consider them, you have the opportunity to see how this person really is through their nonverbal cues.

  1. 6. If they portrayed limited eye contact, did that signify anything to you?

Depends on their body movements too because it can signify rudeness- acting as if they aren’t interested in what you are saying. Sometimes if they seem timid overall this could mean they are very shy. I understand being nervous, but many times in work environments it is important to be able to speak in front of groups and be a team leader, so this could pose a problem.

  1. 7. If they portrayed signs of fidgeting, did that get documented on your part? If so did it negatively affect the interviewee’s outcome?

If they were messing with their papers constantly and seemed very disorganized then that would definitely be documented. I would hope most people would at least try to appear organized during an interview.

  1. 8. If the interviewee wouldn’t pause after a question did that matter to you as the interviewer?

It wouldn’t really be negative if they didn’t, but I definitely think it is good to pause and think about what you want to say. Many people just rattle something out and sometimes it has no relevance to the question, but people don’t seem to like silence during interviews.

  1. 9. So overall, do you say that nonverbal cues during an interview can affect the outcome for the interviewee? If so, by how much?

Definitely yes. I think that is it just as important as their answers.

Interviewer Name: Hailey Berry

Interviewee Name: Andrea

Interviewee Phone & Email:

Date/Time/Place: 2/7/09 @ 11:30 a.m.; Andrea’s house

  1. 1. What is your name and profession?

Andrea; Senior HR Associate Manager

  1. 2. On average how many interviews have you conducted? How many years have you been doing interviewing?

I just graduated last May and at my old job I conducted 40 to 45 interviews. I have recently started this job within the last month and have not conducted any interviews yet.

  1. 3. Other than their responses to questions, what types of things do you look for in an interview?

As far as nonverbal communication I look for eye contact to gauge their confidence level. Also what they are wearing. Definitely how they answer questions tells me if they are taking charge of answering questions.

  1. 4. Of appropriateness of content, eye contact, body postures and body movements, which do you feel is the most important during an interview? Rank in order of importance.
    1. Appropriateness of content 2. Eye contact 3. Body movements 4. Body postures
  1. 5. If the interviewee portrayed great skills, but failed to possess positive nonverbal cues, would that affect the outcome of your recommendation?

Not completely, but if someone else had better nonverbal cues they would get the job over them.

  1. 6. If they portrayed limited eye contact, did that signify anything to you?

This would tell me they lack confidence. Many people would say they are withdrawing from the interview because they are shy, but I have found that it is usually a confidence issue.

  1. 7. If they portrayed signs of fidgeting, did that get documented on your part? If so did it negatively affect the interviewee’s outcome?

No, not really, but I suppose it depends on how much they are doing it.

  1. 8. If the interviewee wouldn’t pause after a question did that matter to you as the interviewer?

No, I guess I don’t really consider that an issue.

  1. 9. So overall, do you say that nonverbal cues during an interview can affect the outcome for the interviewee? If so, by how much?

Yes, it does matter, but only probably 10 to 15% overall.