How to Leverage Body Language in Interviews
By Martin Yate
All species communicate with body language, and as humans we developed this communication skill before speech. Everyone constantly gathers information from visual clues in all interactions, both consciously and unconsciously.
When a person's body language agrees with their spoken word, we believe what is being said. When it doesn’t … questions are raised.
Such misgivings unconsciously sent during a job interview can keep a candidate from making the final cut. The interviewer may or may not be aware of what is causing his or her mis-givings, but you should recognize that the messages your body sends have real impact on your candidacy.
Because job interviews are naturally stressful, it’s smart to be a master of good body language and be able to manage any negative body language a stressful situation might induce.
Let’s focus on a handful of positive body language signals that reinforce one another and then address some movements you’ll want to avoid.
First Impressions Are Critical
Studies suggest the impression you create in the first few minutes of meeting someone are the most lasting.
Show Perfect Posture
In interviews, the interviewer often does most of the talking in those first minutes, so, it’s up to your body language to help make a good first impression:
- Stand tall, with good posture, and walk slowly as you enter the room.
- On greeting your interviewer, make eye contact, smile and mimic the interviewer’s lead as you respond to greeting and handshake -- same response to greeting, same hand pressure, etc.
- As you sit, get your butt well back in the chair. This allows the chair back to help you sit upright, and stops you slouching. The slight forward tilt the chair gives your body makes a more alert and attentive impression. Build on this by unbuttoning your jacket as you sit down (“I have nothing to hide.”).
- Keep your head up and maintain eye contact a good portion of the time, especially when the interviewer is speaking and when you reply. This means nearly all the time, but, since constant eye contact is seen as staring and aggressive, triangulate between eyes, mouth, and chin. It is especially important to keep your focus above the shoulder line.
- Try to relax, and smile naturally whenever the opportunity arises.
Manage Your Nerves
Most of us are more klutzy when we are nervous, so:
- Try to remain calm.
- Don’t hurry your movements. Consciously slowing your body movements will lessen the chances of knocking things over and demonstrates a more self-controlled professional.
- When we are nervous we forget to breathe, which leads to oxygen deprivation, and that screws up your ability to think and to express yourself. Remember to breathe!
Strengthen Postive Impressions
Use mirroring techniques to reproduce the positive signals your interviewer sends.
Say the interviewer leans forward to make a point. A moment later, you lean forward slightly too, signaling that you don’t want to miss a word.
This can seem contrived at first, but observe people at work and in your social circle and you’ll notice that this is a quite natural behavior.
Your Hands Are Especially Important
When nervous, your hands and fingers take on a life of their own, fidgeting with themselves, your clothing, your hair, or your tie / jewelry -- the latter should always be kept to a minimum.
- If in the interviewer's office, never touch anything on their desk. That would be an invasion of personal space.
- It’s a good idea to take a folder with pad and pen. This makes a much better impression than using your phone or iPad, something many interviewers object to. The pad and pen routine also says that you are paying attention and having both hands occupied lessens the chance of doing something dreadful like picking your nose.
- Subtly exposing your palms now and then as you speak, can help demonstrate that you are open, friendly, and have nothing to hide. You can observe this habit used to great effect by politicians and television talk show hosts.
- Don’t rush to blurt out an answer, pause for a second to show you are considering the question. It can, very occasionally, be beneficial to “steeple” your fingers for just a few moments as you consider a question or when you first start to talk. That will be seen as a natural demonstration of your thoughtfulness. Steepling also offers a change from holding your pad and pen, while giving you something constructive to do with your hands.
Negative Body Language to Avoid
You need to avoid sending negative signals that can lessen your chances of a job offer with body language that can imply you are defensive, withholding or perhaps being less than truthful.
- Moving your hands toward a personal feature that you perceive as deficient, this is a common unconscious reaction to stress. A man with thinning hair, for example, may unconsciously put his hand to his head. Such protective movements are likely to be perceived—if only on a subliminal level—as an acknowledgment of low self-esteem.
- Picking at probably invisible bits of fluff on your clothing. This gesture looks exactly like what it is, a nervous tic. If you do have a bit of lint somewhere on your clothing, just forget about it or ignore it until it can be removed it discreetly.
- Showing insecurity by constantly adjusting your tie or other items of dress. When a man is being interviewed by a woman, the tie gesture can be interpreted as displaying something beyond a businesslike interest in the interviewer.
- Slouching in your chair, with hands in pockets or thumbs in belt, brands you as insolent and aggressive (think of any teenage boy). When this error is made in the presence of an interviewer of the opposite sex, it carries negative sexually aggressive overtones as well.
- Pulling your collar away from your neck or touching your nose is interpreted as defensive and that you could be withholding something. The same goes for scratching your neck before, during or after your response to a question.
Manage the impressions your body sends in job interviews. Interviews bring out your insecurities, and those aren’t messages you want to send at an interview.
You will absorb and integrate these ideas more quickly when you start taking notice of body language in action, by observing colleagues, friends, and family. As you come to understand body language in others, you’ll be more aware of your own, and more capable of controlling the messages your body sends.
About the author...
Successful careers don't happen by accident. Professional resume writing expert Martin Yate CPC is a New York Times best-seller and the author of 17 Knock Em Dead career management books. As Dun & Bradstreet says, "He's about the best in the business." For FREE resume-building advice and to view Martin's resume samples, visit the Knock Em Dead website. Join Martin on Twitter at @KnockEmDead and also on Google+.