Most people think that it's difficult — or even impossible — to determine how well they're performing during a job interview. But if you look closely, the hiring manager's body language and subtle cues will probably tell you exactly how they feel about you as a candidate.
“It behooves you to read between the lines and gauge the interviewer's actions and responses, so you can shift your approach, presentation style, or better clarify your answers,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert, author, and leadership coach.
For example, you can take note of what appeals most to the hiring manager about your background and what triggers a yawn, such as long-winded answers — and take a different direction. “Other times the fit just isn't there, or you had an off day. In the worst-case scenario, by looking for subtle cues, you'll be better prepared at the next job interview,” she says.
If you detect any signs that the interview is going horribly, it's important to maintain your confidence and a positive attitude, no matter how discouraged you may be.
“The hiring manager may just be distracted for other reasons or could be having a bad day,” Taylor says. “So don't give up and shut down.”
Here are 17 telltale signs that the interview may not end with a job offer:
1. The hiring manager doesn't maintain eye contact
If you feel like saying, “Hey ... I'm over here!” as your interviewer seems to be looking everywhere but at you, that's not always a great sign.
“Gauge what is going on and whether and how you can improve the situation,” Taylor says. “Maybe you need to take up the energy level a notch, or perhaps you should find a way to connect with the interviewer on a more personal level.”
2. They display negative body language
If the interviewer is crossing their arms, leaning away from you, or looking at the door, it could mean that they aren't impressed or interested.
“This is a good time for you to lean forward with enthusiasm as you speak; it's likely to get attention and exude confidence,” says Taylor.
3. They seem distracted
If the hiring manager is texting or checking email, surfing the web on his or her computer, or walking around the room as you speak, this is never a good thing.
“Try to make your presentation and dialog more engaging,” says Taylor. Then ask yourself, “Would I really want to work for someone who is this distracted?”
4. They don't smile — ever
“Maybe this is just their personality — but if you noticed the hiring manager laughing and smiling prior to entering the interview room, and then they suddenly look like their cat just died, it could mean they're simply not excited by you as a candidate,” Taylor says.
“If you feel daring, try a few lighthearted comments. And if that doesn't work, consider whether this is just the tip of a very chilly iceberg. You might want to run for the hills while you can, anyway,” she says.
5. They cut the interview short
If the interview comes to an abrupt end just minutes after entering the room, you probably aren't going to get the job. Of course, there may be a special circumstance like an emergency, but if the hiring manager wraps things up quickly and doesn't explain or apologise, that's not a great sign.
“You can't ask for more time, but you should thank the interviewer for his time and remain poised,” says Taylor.
6. They go on the offensive
When you feel like you're playing a battle of wits as the hiring manager tries repeatedly to put you in the hot seat, this isn't great.
“Don't play the game and challenge back. Remain calm and determine if this is an aberration in the discussion — or the sign of a merciless tyrant,” says Taylor.
7. They pause often as they try to think of the next question
“Sometimes in a bad interview, it seems like it takes five minutes for the hiring manager to come up with the next question,” Taylor says. “This happens because hiring managers don't always know how to handle their lack of interest.”
You don't have to be reactive, however. This is your opportunity to take the floor and ask questions.
8. They don't listen carefully to your answers or ask pertinent follow-up questions
If you feel like you're speaking to a wall, try a different tack, such as asking for their opinion on the topic: “How do you structure your team for those kinds of projects?”
Once you get the interviewer talking, they're more likely to perk up, Taylor says.
9. The interviewer mentions there are other qualified candidates in the running
“This is a warning of sorts so you're not too let down later,” Taylor says.
Remain undeterred: As long as you're in the interview, you still have a shot.
10. It seems as if they're reading your résumé for the first time
It's possible that a hectic day is at fault and your interviewer wants to be thoughtful about his questions. But if they seem somewhat clueless about your background or detached, you can assume the interest level is dwindling.
11. They ask you about your biggest weakness, then dwell on it
“If the hiring manager continues to needle you throughout the interview about your primary weakness, this is a bad sign,” Taylor says. “They are seeing a clear problem in the lack of a required skill set, or they see issues they feel may hamper your success in the new position.”
12. There's little discussion or enthusiasm about your skills, accomplishments, or goals
This one may seem obvious, but it's worth mentioning, says Taylor: “When this happens, ask about what would define success for them in the job and at the company.”
13. They highlight the negative aspects of the job
If they repeatedly “warn” you that the job requires a lot of travel or that you may be expected to work long hours, they could be trying to turn you off and drive you away.
“The hiring manager might be attempting to put a damper on your enthusiasm, to let you down indirectly,” says Taylor.
“Chemistry is measurable ... by your gut,” says Taylor. “You know when the conversation flows and you have a feeling of camaraderie and when you don't. Don't discount your own emotional intelligence or how you physically feel during the interview.”
15. They don't mention 'next steps' or ask about your availability
“If you're not introduced to other managers or the interviewer fails to show interest in moving forward, you can be proactive,” Taylor says.
For instance, if you feel like you still have a shot at the job, you can always say, “I'm very interested in the position. What would be the next step?” It's at least another data point on where you stand.
16. You get the limp handshake
If on your way in the interviewer had a nice, firm handshake, and then on your way out you get a “cold-fish handshake,” which seems obligatory at best, you probably won't be getting an offer.
Regardless, be firm with yours and smile, Taylor suggests.
17. You're asked to follow up with an assistant
“This may be a sign that the hiring manager doesn't want to spend further time evaluating you for the position, unless the follow up is about a second interview,” she says.
“By taking careful note of job interviewer indicators, you can shift your approach and take action in the moment, when it counts the most,” Taylor adds. “Also remember that just because you didn't feel you performed well doesn't mean you lost out. The job interview is also your opportunity to vet the prospective boss and company, so remain objective.”