This is part 1 of a 3 part series. To read part 2, click here, and to read part 3, click here.

The purpose of an employment interview is to gather sufficient information from an applicant to assess the applicant’s technical abilities and skills, personality, and behavior patterns to identify a candidate who will merge well with the existing team and remain as a long term and loyal employee. It can be difficult to select an appropriate interview format from the multitudes of formats that are available. Of course, candidates will present themselves in the most positive and favorable light, so digging below the surface to determine matters of substance can be challenging. There are three items that can be incorporated into any type of interview and assist with decoding the candidate; personality colors, performance types, and facial micro expressions. Identifying a candidate’s personality color allows the interviewer to guide the interview questions and assess if the applicant’s personality would be a good fit into the position and the team. Assessing the candidates performance type will help determine if the candidate will be happy with the position in the long term. Interviews are composed of verbal and nonverbal communication. The nonverbal communication includes body positioning and facial expressions, (which can be taught to candidates) whereas micro-facial expressions cannot, and these can assist with the interpretation of the candidate’s answers. This first part of this three part series will provide an overview of micro-facial expressions and how they can be effectively incorporated into selecting a successful candidate.

Recruiters and interview experts often guide interviewees on nonverbal communication which includes eye contact, facial expressions, posture, and hand gestures. It is recommended to maintain good eye contact because it will demonstrate that the interviewee is confident, sincere, interested, and receptive. It is often recommended to keep constant eye contact during the interview process because if not, it will make a person look intimidated, disengaged, or untruthful. However, it has been demonstrated that when a person is considering an answer and searching through their memories they often take their eyes off of the person that they are talking with. Therefore an interviewer familiar with this will not and should not interpret this as being untruthful and intimidated because you might miss out on a potentially good candidate. Interviewees are also recommended to make positive expressions to convey a positive attitude. Unless interviewees receive direction and spend significant amounts of time in practicing these expressions, it is very easily noticed by the interviewer that the interviewee is trying too hard and is being insincere. Posture and gesturing during the interview process also plays an important role, and basic recommendations include sitting up straight without slouching or adopting a commanding stance, both of which demonstrate that the interviewee is confident. However, there are many other movements such as leaning forward and back, crossing arms and/legs, and exaggerating hand gestures which all can tell the interviewer specific items about the candidate and add another piece to the assessment puzzle.

Body language and facial expressions are a big part of how humans and animals communicate and can be far more important than what a person says during the interaction. Studies have found that nonverbal communication can account for over 90% of a presenter’s impact.1 This study demonstrates that it is imperative that interviewers, who often concentrate on what a person says, make sure that verbal and nonverbal elements of the interviewer’s responses support each other. This nonverbal communication extends into facial expressions, which have received an increased amount of attention during recent years, although it is not a new topic.2-5 Darwin, in 1872, observed that humans, across races, use the same facial movements for a variety of emotions.6 Slightly over 80 years later, Ekman and others demonstrated that micro-facial expressions, unconscious and involuntary miniscule movements of facial muscles, of emotion denoting anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, shame, and surprise are universal across human cultures. 7,8 More recently studies have shown that facial expressions are found across many species from mice to primates 2,9- 11 and have been studied in various areas including evolution, perception, depression, neurodegenerative disease, pain assessment, and of course communication. 12-20

Initially it was thought that it was not possible to use these micro-facial expressions to detect deceit. More recently it has been demonstrated that micro-facial expressions can assist with identifying deceit especially in stressful situations such as occurs with criminal investigations.21-23 It has been further demonstrated that microfacial expressions can be generalized across various deception circumstances. 22 One myth alluded to earlier is that eye behavior is a poor indicator of deception and that gaze aversion during an interview cannot be used to assess dishonesty.24

As a result of these studies, the assessment of facial microexpressions has been incorporated as one of the assessment tools into the interview process. It is important to recognize that facial expressions have to be interpreted within the context of the situation, alongside other behaviors such as body language and tone of voice. Many facial expressions are very familiar to us such as jaw tightening, rapid blinking, and lip licking which are often demonstrated by a nervous person. However micro-facial expressions, which can be complex and last less than a second, are difficult to notice and interpret without rigorous training and dedication.25 Examples of these micro-facial expressions are slightly raised eyebrows, widened eyes, and a slightly opened mouth, which often indicate surprise. From this author’s experience, it has required participation in multiple courses, training sessions, and viewing hours of video content over the last two and a half years to become comfortable with interpreting micro-facial expressions in the context of the interview process.

There are many resources available to initiate facial expression recognition training. One of the more popular is Dr. Paul Ekman’s website where you can also test your facial expression assessment skills by viewing the demo. (

In conclusion, interviewers with appropriate training and practice can learn how to utilize and incorporate micro-facial expressions during the interview process which will allow them to judge applicants more reliably.


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Szczepan Baran, VMD, MS is the President for the Veterinary Bioscience Institute, Piedmont Triad Research Park, 415 East 3rd Street, A1a Building, Winston-Salem, NC 27157. He can be reached at

This is part 1 of a 3 part series. To read part 2, click here, and to read part 3, click here.