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Look Beyond the Mask: Assessing Visual Cues in Candidates

Sales interviews tell you a lot about a candidate. Their experience, their resume, their strengths and weaknesses — it all comes out. Beyond the verbal cues lies the nonverbal communication, or body language. Think smiling, posture, and hand gestures as examples. 

Pre-pandemic, it was easy to see and assess candidates’ emotional responses. In the midst of COVID-19, candidates are more likely to be wearing face masks. Having half of their faces covered makes reading expressions much trickier, but not impossible.

You have to be careful of falling into traps of well-known “truths.” For example, liars or dishonest people look away when talking, right? Well, not exactly. That was debunked almost a decade ago. 

So how can you still decide whether or not a candidate is a good fit for your team? Even without the full picture, you can still learn a lot about your next hire in the sales interview process. The way they communicate can even tell you how they’ll best learn in their new role.

During your next sales interview, look at cues such as eye contact, posture, and language. Pay attention to how it all fits together for the bigger picture. Recognizing no mold exists for the perfect sales candidate and understanding the type of person you’re interviewing will ensure you don’t misread and miss out on top sales talent. 

Types of People

According to neuroscientist Lynne Franklin, there are three types of people in this world: lookers, listeners, and touchers. In her November 2017 TED Talk, Franklin describes how these three types dictate how a person communicates and how they process information. 

Looker (75% of the population)

Eye Contact: Lots of strong eye contact. If you’re not looking at them, they feel ignored. 

Posture: They have great posture, as appearance is important to them. They are also impeccably dressed. Look for tense shoulders and wrinkles in their foreheads. Lookers often look up when they’re trying to remember something, more so than other people. 

Language: They’ll describe examples and stories with vivid visual details, as they think in pictures and images. 

Build Rapport: Maintain eye contact. Lookers need you to look at them or they feel ignored. Use words that have a visual component. “I see what you mean.” “Look at this.” “Picture it this way.” 

Listener (20% of the population) 

Eye Contact: Intermittent eye contact. Listeners tend to break eye contact and look down and to the left. This is the direction you most often look when remembering something you’ve heard. 

Posture: Listeners have a tendency to put their head in their hands, as if holding a telephone. They’re not as well dressed as lookers, as appearance isn’t as important to them. Listeners are also often the “pen-tappers” in a room. 

Language: They have a tendency to mumble more than others, and they tell stories centered around emotion and feeling. 

Build Rapport: Take breaks in eye contact, so you don’t freak them out. Use words that have an auditory component, as listeners think in words and sounds. “That sounds good to me.” “Let’s talk this over.”

Toucher (5% of the population) 

Eye Contact: Intermittent eye contact. Touchers tend to look down. This is the direction you look when remembering something you’ve felt. 

Posture: Touchers lean forward in conversations. They want to decrease the space between you. In fact, they’re the folks who want to wrap you in a hug when you first meet. They’ll also be the ones to reach and touch your arm when you’re talking. They’ll likely be the least well-dressed, as they tend to dress for comfort rather than style. 

Language: Stories will include lots of emotions associated with tactile experiences, as this is how their brain processes information. 

Build Rapport: These folks may struggle the most in virtual interviews, as they want a point of contact to touch. Compensate by using language with feeling or tactility. “I want to hear what you’re feeling.” “Reach out, and tell me what you think.”

Putting it in Action

In addition to asking the right questions, look for clues that the candidate will be a positive addition to your team. Identify champions of change who can calmly adapt on the fly. 

In addition to learning your candidate’s strengths, look out for red flags of mismatched language and movement. If your candidate is coming across as uncoordinated in their own skin, they might be trying to override their natural tendencies. If it feels like they’re holding something back, press them on it and ask more follow-up questions to get the answers you need.