Body language can speak volumes during an interview
- The most important communication is often the unspoken kind.
- Body language, or nonverbal communication, can let interviewers know more about you than what you tell them.
“We have all experienced instances in which someone is saying one thing and their nonverbal communication says another. We usually believe the nonverbal,” says Susan Bixler, author of five books on professional image and president of The Professional Image in Atlanta. “It’s an absolutely critical element in the job interview process. The best resume, the absolute best spoken words don’t get an individual a job.”
There are many opportunities during a job interview to display bad—and good—nonverbal communication. Here’s how to make the most of what your body is saying.
Shake on it
Your interviewer’s initial nonverbal impression of you comes through your first point of contact—the handshake. Don’t be afraid to display a strong, firm handshake. Doing otherwise can make you seem insecure and lacking in confidence. “You think that’s simple—everyone knows how to shake hands—but that’s not true,” says Sherry Maysonave, communication-image consultant and author of “Casual Power” (Bright Books, $29.95). “People tend not to slide their palm in far enough, they tend to think it may be bone-crushing.” Don’t be timid—slide your palm all the way in and deliver a firm, confident handshake.
If you have several seating options to choose from, ask your interviewer for instructions—don’t just assume and take a seat.
How you sit, too, is as important as where you sit.
“If you are sitting on the edge of the seat it can make you look eager but also scared, like you are ready to bolt out of the room,” Maysonave says. “Go ahead and slide to the back of the chair and sit tall and straight. That will make you look confident and comfortable.”
Women should not cross their legs and instead sit with their knees together. Men should avoid sitting with their legs too wide apart or crossed with the ankle on top of the knee. Both these positions convey a comfort level that’s inappropriate to the job interview situation.
“Anything that creates an intimacy before there’s a rapport established will signal to the interviewer that you don’t use good judgment and that you resort to inappropriate behavior,” Maysonave says. Also, make sure you consistently maintain a comfortable space—about 3 feet—from your interviewer. Shortening that space can feel invasive and, again, inappropriately intimate.
Nervous hand habits, like nail biting, hair twirling and hand twitching, can distract the interviewer and, convey nervousness and insecurity. You can sit with your hands clasped together or hold on to a small briefcase or organizer through the interview, Maysonave says. Avoid steepling your fingers, particularly in an upright position, when answering a question.
“This can be perceived as arrogant, saying ‘I know more about this subject than you do,'” Maysonave says.
The eyes have it
We have all heard that eye contact is important—it conveys confidence and respect—but too much eye contact can be bad, too.
“You don’t want to make eye contact for more than three or five seconds. It’s too intense to sustain it the whole time—the key is make it, break it, make it, break it,” Bixler says. Avoiding eye contact, especially while answering a question, can convey dishonesty.
Practice makes perfect
Because most forms of nonverbal communication are practiced subconsciously, the best way to get rid of bad habits is to become aware of them. Get a friend or family member to practice interview situations with you. Using a video camera to tape the mock sessions can be even more helpful.
“Play the video and view it with a critical and detached eye,” Bixler says. “Ask yourself, ‘What would I like and not like about this person nonverbally? What’s making me feel comfortable, making me feel like I can build a rapport with this person?'” Get your mock interview partner to ask the tough questions that would make you nervous and susceptible to bad body language. “Notice what you do under pressure and be conscious of it,” Maysonave says. “The awareness is half the battle.”
— L.A. Times CareerBuilder, Sunday, Feb. 2,
Nonverbal cues offer insight into interview
Don’t just listen to what your interviewer is saying—watch his or her body language. It can reveal how the interview is going.
“If the interviewer touches her nose, she is disapproving somewhat of what you’re saying. If she looks at her watch or shuffles papers, you’re not on track,” says Maysonave. “If she leans toward you, she is engaged and is really listening and taking you seriously. If she’s leaning back far into the chair, she is evaluating you with a critical eye.”
If your interviewer suddenly switches gears—from relaxing in the chair to sitting upright, for example— you may have said something that he needs to evaluate from a different perspective.
You can tell a difficult question is coming if the interviewer places his fingertips together in an upright, steeple-like fashion.
“This signals that he has disconnected from the interviewee, and is thinking about what he will say next, possibly considering how to say something unpleasant or uncomfortable or how to ask a delicate or emotionally- charged question,” Maysonave says.
And don’t ignore the obvious signs.
“If the interviewer stands up, the interview is over,” Maysonave says.
The 2-Minute Drill
According to one UCLA study, about 93 percent of a person’s communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Think of the Three V’s: visual (appearance), vocal (voice) and verbal (what you say).
Another study by the University of Toledo concluded that the first 30 seconds make or break the connection between two people who meet for the first time. So when you’re on an interview, the interviewer probably has made some conclusions about you before you even say anything!
Follow the seven steps in the 2 Minute Drill to guide you toward a best-case interview:
- Appearance counts. When you look good, you feel good. Make sure you look groomed and neat. If you were a book, would someone want to read more?
- Your clothes and accessories should be conservative and neutral, rather than wild and loud. Your clothes are your packaging and should not take attention away from the product.
- Nonverbal communication sometimes conveys a stronger message than verbal communication. When you slouch, whether sitting or standing, you’re saying volumes about you and your confidence level. Sit up straight — like your mother always told you to. When you stand, make yourself as tall as possible: shoulders back and head held high.
- Eye contact and smiles can indicate a confident and upbeat attitude. You will notice that many job postings ask for enthusiasm and energy. This is a good opportunity to demonstrate your social and interpersonal skills as well as your excitement about the opportunity for which you’re interviewing.
- The handshake sends a strong tactile message. Whether your hands are hot and sweaty or cold and clammy, you can try some tricks to control the temperature. To cool your hands, try running cold water on the insides of your wrists. Use hot water if your hands are cool. If you have particularly sweaty hands, try using a deodorant gel (antiperspirant) as a lotion.
- Your voice and the volume of your speech convey a strong impression. Whether the interview’s over the phone or face-to-face, you should speak with enthusiasm and energy. Use a firm voice to demonstrate your confidence. Your vocabulary reveals your communication skills and ability to interact with people, especially ones you’ve not met before. The words you choose will say something about you, as well as your knowledge of the industry. It is important to use “their” words and talk “their” talk.
— Carole Martin,