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Interviewing Sales Candidates: Body Language

I’m In Ireland again for my yearly visit. I’m an Adjunct Professor of Sales and Sales Management at the Dublin Institute of Technology. DIT delivers an eight module program in international selling for Enterprise Ireland, the government organization responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets.

Among the subjects I cover in my module is hiring. All of the 75 sales executives and 50 CEOs that participate at one point or another during my eight days of workshops will be hiring sales people, managers and directors during the course of the next year or two.  If an Irish company hires their first employee in the U.S. (as one of many export alternatives) and gets it wrong, they have a major problem. In the past it has happened far too often.

So, effective hiring has become a very important subject here in Ireland.  I’ve written about sales hiring a lot here on this blog.

One of the things I haven’t discussed here is how the knowledge and interpretation of body language can add to the effectiveness of an interview. ESR’s hiring process model counts on multiple inputs to assure that there is as good a fit as possible between the job requirements and the salesperson’s capabilities: Resume/profile vetting; skill, trait, and behavior profiling; multiple structured interviews; background and reference checking; predictive testing; income verification; and simulations.  If all that is done properly, the likelihood of hiring the wrong person has been significantly reduced.

In addition to asking pre-engineered questions, how can you be certain that the interviews provide accurate data with respect to the candidate’s actual capabilities? One way is to become adept at reading body language.

This idea struck me first twenty years ago. At that point, I read several books on the subject.  Although I’m far from an expert in body language, a little knowledge will get you a long way.

Touching the nose or covering the mouth is one well-known sign of lying.  From Body Language by James Borg (Pearson Books): “Bill Clinton, when testifying before a grand jury about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, adopted neutral body language when giving obviously true answers. But when he was being quizzed more exactly, he touched his nose every four minutes, or 26 times.”  We later found out that he was lying during those answers. This is one of the examples I use during my workshops.

Observing eye movement can also lead to understanding when someone is lying. We tend to look off to one side or another when recalling what actually happened in the past. When making something up, we look to the opposite site. Sweaty hands, bouncing knees, too much direct eye contact can all suggest that someone may not be telling the truth.

Recently I read the book Never Be Lied to Again by David J. Lieberman Ph.D. Lieberman has a very convincing approach to determine whether someone is lying. It’s somewhat extreme—perhaps more geared toward detectives than sales hiring authorities.  But it’s worth the read just to provide some perspective.

Interviewing is a skill. It requires learning, practice, behavioral change, and reinforcement.  I strongly suggest you invest a few hours in learning about body language. It can provide the knowledge, practical uses, and a refresher when you need it.

Please join me for a complimentary webinar hosted by Sales and Marketing Management magazine, How to Hire Great Salesreps, Thursday, November 15, 2012.

Photo source: © TheSupe87 –