The Eyes Have It: Nine Ways to Decode What Your Interviewer is Thinking

eyes interviewer thinking

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Ashley V. knew the exact moment she lost the job interview as a nanny for a very wealthy Hollywood producer. She had taken great care in preparing for the interview. She chose conservative clothing, pared back her makeup, tied her long, blond hair back into a ponytail and got a demure French-tip manicure. Satisfied that she was "nanny-material," she greeted her interviewer, the producer's wife, with confidence.

Unfortunately, there was no way she could miss the interviewer's eyes as she did a slow head-to-toe evaluation, once up, then down, then up again. She noted the pursed lips and then the very cold voice as the interviewer asked her why she was the best candidate for the job. As she recounted her past experience, which met the expectations of the job, she noticed her interviewer's eyes wandering. Clearly, she was not interested ... and sure enough, despite the "we'll call you", there was no call.

In Ashley's case, her interviewer gave very visible, easy-to-read signs that her model-like looks were not acceptable. For the rest of us, though, the signs might be more subtle, but still highly readable if you know what to look for during the interview. Psychologists Richard Bandler and John Grinder pioneered the field of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), beginning in the 1970s. One aspect of this field of psychology has to do with what eye movements can tell us about what people are thinking. These conclusions are especially appropriate for the job interview setting -- where if you know what to look for, you might have time to change the direction, and ultimately the outcome, of the interview.

First, the good signs

1. Looking directly into your eyes

Making eye contact with you is usually a great sign of rapport. It shows that you have made contact and are keeping their attention.

2. Blinking in sync with you

Another sign of rapport. When someone is aligned with you, their blinking may slow down and even begin to match yours.

3. Tilting the head and looking to the side

People who do this are usually trying to recall something, which of course, means that they're actually listening to you.

4. Looking to the right and downwards

This usually happens when people are having an internal dialog. Maybe you said something interesting that makes them think or they could be debating a comment you made.

Now, the bad news

These eye movements are a sure sign you're skating on thin ice:

5. Up and to the right

When people are accessing the creative area of their brain, in other words, lying, this is the outcome. As Ashley found out, if they are looking at your resume and fidgeting, do not count on this job.

6. Sideways glance

You may try to ease the tension by making a joke. If your interviewer makes this sign, you can be sure your most recent comment did not go over well ... in fact, they are irritated.

7. Long, intense eye contact

Do you know the feeling of having someone boring their eyes into you? Well, it's not always a bad thing, sometimes it just indicates that they're paying very close attention. But if it continues, it either mean that the interviewer is lying or that they feel like the interview is a strain.

8. Rapid blinking movements

The researchers say this is a sign of hard thinking. More likely, their mind is somewhere other than the interview or they are lying to you as in, "thanks for coming in ... we'll call you next week."

9. Quick glances

If their eyes dart around, it usually means the interviewer is looking for an excuse. If you're being long-winded, or droning on, this gesture could mean "please, go away."

It goes both ways

Of course, NLP is not "one-size-fits-all." There are many factors that go into actions, and there could be many interpretations (unless we are talking about "rolling of the eyes." That's one gesture that does not need an explanation).

Keep in mind that eye-based gestures can be read, as well as given. Your eye movements during an interview are also sending a message, regardless of how skilled a particular hiring manager might be at reading them. So, be sure to be mindful of your thoughts. If you're thinking, "this is boring ... get me out of here", that message is probably being communicated by your eyes. So make the effort to be totally focused during the interview, then when it's over and you're back in your car, feel free to express your true feelings!

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