SMH (Shaking My Head): How Invalid Job Screening Can Lose Great Candidates.

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D./CEO

7-Minute Read

What have we learned about treating people since the pandemic hit society like a cosmic wrecking ball?

I am a behavioral research scientist and a nonverbal intelligence expert. I observe people for a living. We have conducted numerous studies about the effects of the pandemic on consumers, business professionals, educators, and students. One thing is clear. No one went unscathed by the pandemic, especially corporations who, after the dust has settled, are now trying to figure out what condition their condition is in.

But what about the people who are looking for their next gig at these companies? What have they been experiencing? Recently I had the opportunity to talk with several people who have been job searching. With permission, I observed one candidate who underwent two virtual tests that indicate we’ve learned little to nothing post-pandemic.

It seems that not very long ago the labor market was roiling with people who, for the most part, united for a collective Massive Middle Finger pointed right at corporate America. This begs the question. What, if anything, did HR learn from the Great Resignation, also known as the Great Realization, the Big Quit, and the Great Reshuffle? No matter what you call it, people exited stage left from their jobs because of workplace dissatisfaction. Study after study confirms this. One Pew Research study reports that coupled with low compensation and few growth opportunities, feeling abused or disrespected at work compelled many Americans to quit their jobs.

Toxic management is to a corporation what cancer is to the body. Like an attack on your being, toxic managers can increase your stress, kill your job satisfaction, smother individual and team creativity, and rot a company’s culture like an aggressive Black Mold. The result? You end up losing valuable team members.

An example of this? One jobseeker reported that an unchecked toxic HR boss was heard to tell their staff that they valued loyalty over performance. Wait…What? You don’t have to have a political science degree to understand that this is a form of fascism. Yet another recalls an exchange with their Vice President of HR who told this employee that they could not temporarily work from home at a different location to care for a seriously ill family member. Translation? You must choose between your job and your loved one. And then when the employee resigned to care for their loved one, the vice president called back to see how the patient was doing! Oh man, who wants to get up early in the morning to work for these guys, if these bad actors represent the HR department?

Are these random, isolated, incidents of the cold corporate shoulder? Hardly. A New York Times article tells the story of Amanda Shealer, who manages a store near Hickory, N.C. Her boss recently warned her to find additional means to assuage hourly workers who would otherwise ”take this job and shove it”. Her response: “So will I. If I don’t feel like I’m being supported and I don’t feel like you’re taking my concerns seriously and you guys just continue to dump more and more on me, I can do the same thing,” Ms. Shealer, 40, said. “You don’t have the loyalty to a company anymore, because the companies don’t have the loyalty to you.”

Yet another jobseeker decried being ghosted by internal and external recruiters. Sure, they are all over you like maple syrup on pancakes, buttering you up when they need candidates for clients. But when you don’t get the job, instead of courteously calling you back to let you know, they ghost you like a bad date. Wouldn’t it be interesting if these phony phantoms bumped into the very people they ghosted?  

Recently, when I observed another person taking a supposed nonverbal intelligence test while applying for a job, I nearly fell off my chair. The test-taker was asked to identify the emotions of others after being shown still pictures of people exhibiting facial expressions.  Unfortunately, the test was invalid. Why, because it featured only 6 of the 7 possible micro-expressions. There are seven micro expressions that, if you are human, you will exhibit: happiness, sadness, contempt, fear, disgust, surprise, and anger—and the lack of the above, neutral, making eight total emotions. Furthermore, it is difficult to capture genuine emotions from still photographs.

If you’re going to give people a micro-expression exam, at least make sure the test is valid. You see, I was trained on several very unforgiving micro-expression certification platforms. The process of correctly identifying split-second emotional leakage takes extensive practice viewing hundreds of hours of video. Furthermore, it is a very well-known fact and a highly researched finding that we humans are terrible at reading emotions or detecting lies. And just because you detect an emotion it is far from certain that you can ascertain what is causing it. Let’s get this straight. There is no Pinocchio effect! (Navarro 2008, 230). The foremost global experts on lying all agree that there is no single sign that someone is fibbing (cf. DePaulo, Eckman, Ford, Frank, Freisen, Hartwig, Hwang, Levine, Matsumoto, Navarro, Skinner). Anyone who tells you otherwise is likely lying, and since liars lie about lying (John 8:44 NASB) it’s hard to know what to believe.

What I strive to understand in my research is when someone seems comfortable or uncomfortable when communicating. That, in and of itself can say a lot. Understanding the comfort-discomfort paradigm (Navarro 2008, 229-230) is critical to uncovering potential indications of deception. Oftentimes, the same signs that make someone appear untruthful are the same ones that are displayed when someone is uncomfortable. That is why you can never really be sure if someone is lying to you or just uncomfortable (are they hot, cold, ill, thinking of something else entirely, dust in their eyes, contact lenses?).

That this test started with a cold-open and still photos and omitted key emotions like contempt and neutral raises serious questions about its validity. Like a clock that always shows the wrong time, it is highly reliable but invalid. Micro-expressions are subtle facial expressions that can convey emotions, and omitting significant ones could skew the results and undermine the test’s validity. And how is the hiring company going to analyze this data? If the purpose of this test is to gauge emotional intelligence or assess how individuals perceive and respond to emotions in others, how do you do this without face-to-face interaction?

But just when you thought it couldn’t get any less personal for candidates, here is something really deflating. The same company that administered the faulty body language test also made candidates record themselves while being timed as they answered questions. I guess if you’re Brad Pitt, this is not a problem. But if you’re not, this approach is loaded with problems.

  1. Evaluation Bias: These automated systems could introduce bias into the evaluation process, potentially marginalizing certain candidates based on factors such as nationality, accent, speech patterns, speech disability, or appearance. This can also happen during in-person interviews.
  2. Technical Difficulties: I pretty much live on Zoom. Eventually, you will encounter technical issues like poor audio, poor lighting, internet connectivity problems, and software updates/glitches that can all combine to hinder someone from putting their best foot (or face) forward.
  3. No Personal Interaction: Video recordings lack the interpersonal interaction that occurs in face-to-face or live virtual interviews. Thus, how can the hiring company establish rapport with candidates or have them demonstrate soft skills such as communication, empathy, and rapport-building?
  4. Lack of Context: When the hiring company uses technology like this, it hinders their ability to assess a candidate’s natural ability to respond, missing important contextual or nuanced answers.
  5. Lack of Authenticity: Nothing in this process seemed natural. These types of video snippets do not accurately reflect a candidate’s true abilities or personality.
  6. Impersonal Touch: this type of interviewing tends to tarnish the hiring company’s brand. Who wants to work for a company that treats candidates so impersonally? What other videos will they have me do?
  7. Unequal Access: Hiring companies will marginalize those candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds or those with limited access to technology. And some candidates live in dwellings without private spaces for recording. What about them?

Sure, these automated technologies are designed for the scalability and efficiency of the recruiter, and perhaps to weed out bad fits. But is this process potentially culling the roses with the weeds? One editor who covers the job market has serious misgivings about this new technology. Nick Corcodilos is the editor of Ask the Headhunter, The Insider’s Edge to Job Searching & Hiring™. Spoiler alert! The title of a recent blog gives away his sentiments about these new tools: ”A.I. Job Interview: You need to know why it’s crap.” The article reviews and highly recommends Hilke Schellmann’s new book, “The Algorithm: How AI decides who gets hired, monitored, promoted and fired and why we need to fight back now.”

Corcodilos quotes an independent psychologist to evaluate the claim that these AI tools can be windows into candidates’ souls. The psychologist disagrees: “We just don’t know what the meaning is of someone looking up or down…the movements don’t have inherent meaning…People scowl when they’re angry…when they are really focused, when they have gas.” This is true, but the key is understanding these emotions in context. In the right context, emotions can be identified accurately.

Flatulence aside, we strongly believe that AI can be a window into the soul–assuming it is used appropriately and with human interaction. For example, we use AI to back me up when I am interviewing respondents. As a body language expert, I am trained to spot the slightest indications of emotions through micro-expression (and full body) detection. The AI is trained to do the same thing. Together, we provide a powerful check on the emotions re-spondents exhibit. We call it Fault-Tolerant Qualitative research. It’s like wearing a belt and suspenders to keep your pants up.

But, if you’re using invalid tests, or screening out potential candidates with video tools, you are inviting thorny issues around fairness, a positive candidate experience, the ability to accurately assess a candidate’s background and qualifications, and overall fit with the company and its culture.

It has long been my contention that more HR professionals should be trained in nonverbal intelligence. But not this way. You see, most of us have learned to feign certain emotions with our faces. For example, growing up I was often told to “wipe that smile off my face” or “look interested”. Thus, I would suggest a more wholistic approach to nonverbal intelligence—that is, not only candidates’ facial expressions but below-the-neck body movements. Easy to fake the face but not the body.

I am not an HR professional, but this much I have found. It costs on average about 30% of a candidate’s salary to fix a bad hire. Human-to-human interaction is the only way to avoid this.

And so, I ask again, what did we learn from the dramatic disruption of human communication since 2020?

SSMH (Still Shaking My Head)

If you need a research firm or body language training to navigate post-pandemic workplace dynamics, contact Merrill Research.


Parker, K., & Menasce Horowitz, J. (2022, March 9). Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected. Pew Research Center.

Casselman, B. (2023, July 6). The ‘Great Resignation’ Is Over. Can Workers’ Power Endure? The New York Times.

Ekman, Paul. Telling lies: Clues to deceit in the marketplace, politics, and marriage. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2009

John 8:44 NASB: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies.”

Hartwig, Maria. “Telling Lies: Fact, Fiction, and Nonsense, by Maria Hartwig: Should you believe Paul Ekman, world’s most famous deception researcher?” Psychology Today, (2014): 15

Navarro, Joe, and Marvin Karlins. Essay. In What Every BODY Is Saying: an Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2015.

Timothy R. Levine.  “Duped.” The University of Alabama Press: Tuscaloosa, Alabama, (2020)

Matsumoto, David Matsumoto, Ph.D., Hyi Sung Hwang, Ph.D. San Francisco State University and Humintell, LLC , Lisa Skinner, JD, SSA Federal Bureau of Investigation Mark G. Frank, Ph.D., “Evaluating Truthfulness and Detecting Deception and New Tools to Aid Investigators “ University at Buffalo, State University of New York In press, Page 2, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.