Body Language in Interviews

Whether we like it not, first impressions count. Judgments are made about us by the way we look, facial expressions, and our posture. What can you do beyond a firm handshake that will really impress the interviewer?

Studies have shown that your body language communicates more to another person than what you say or the tone of your voice. This is even truer when you are interacting with a stranger, as one naturally sizes up someone new. For that reason, your body language during a job interview has a large effect on the hiring manager’s perceptions of you and consequently, your likelihood of being hired.

How you present your body can convey subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle) cues that project anxiety, hesitation, confidence or even arrogance. With this in mind, you should observe of your own habits and what meaning they give off (with or without you consciously noticing). Additionally, any preparation for a job interview should include a review of good body language and not focus solely on what you say:

As body language is frequently as a lie detector, it is hard to fake your body language and most of us cannot make our bodies do everything we want when we are nervous. The key is not to fake it! The trick is being relaxed and connected with your body during an interview. When you leave your body on automatic and ignore basic sensations, you would be surprised how quickly you slouch in your chair or start tapping your fingers nervously

Tips to ensure your body language makes a good impression:

Do: Make eye contact
This is the best way to show you’re actually paying attention and engaging with the situation. Of course this doesn’t mean stare blankly at your interviewer, but strive to hold eye contact for a few seconds at a time.
If you’re faced with more than one interviewer, be sure to make eye contact with all of them. Address the person who asked the question, then hold eye contact with the other interviewer for a few seconds, before returning your attention to the first interviewer.

Don’t: Slouch
Sitting hunched forward, or lounging with arms and legs everywhere has the effect of looking a little too relaxed. You don’t want to sit there tightly clutching your fists in your lap, but you also don’t want to portray a casual, not really bothered attitude. From the moment you arrive in the reception area, try to keep your posture perfect. Sit up straight and lean forwards a little when you’re asked question, it gives a sense of curiosity and engagement.

Do: Use your hands
Subtly, of course. Touching your fingertips together suggests authority but, as with all things, use it in moderation.
Keeping your palms facing up is a sign of openness and honesty, so keep them in your lap. Try not to clench your fists or wave your hands around to make a point, it will make you seem nervous and unpredictable.

Don’t: Touch your face
People who play with their hair or excessively touch or rub their noses can seem dishonest and untrustworthy. Also try to avoid rubbing your head or neck, it can give the impression of being bored or disinterested. Same goes for sitting with your arms crossed, it just makes you look defensive and unapproachable.
All your personal gestures should be open and expressive. Keep your shoulders relaxed and facing the interviewer to ensure they’re always involved in what you’re saying.

Do: Smile
Smile and nod where appropriate, and laugh when the interviewer does. You want to show you have a personality and you’re paying attention to what’s being said. It goes without saying that you should listen attentively and try not to interrupt. Focus on keeping your tone of voice even and polite. Too soft and you’ll seem timid, too loud and you’ll seem domineering.

Don’t: Move about
This includes tapping your fingertips in the arm rest or jiggling your leg up or down. It’s a sign of boredom and impatience. Keep both feet planted firmly on the floor to avoid the temptation. It’ll help to keep your posture straight and focussed on your interviewer, which in turn will make you seem more focused.

Do: Mirror
You can quickly get on good terms with your interviewer by matching their positive body language. But do so sparingly and carefully, if you’re too bold you’re more likely to frighten the poor interviewer! Mirroring a nod or a subtle shift in posture can create common ground between two people, while matching a handshake is always a good equaliser. When it comes to handshakes, always remember to stick to the middle ground. Too firm is arrogance, too weak is a pushover. Most importantly, be respectful and keep a professional personal distance at all times. The first image the interviewer has of you is most likely the one that will stick, but a graceful goodbye is just as important as a classy hello.

Do: Slow down Speech
Another thing you can practice is slowing down speech. Often when we operate at the speed of our minds, we lose control of our body language. So talking slowly and deliberately is a good way to keep our bodies in check during an interview. Since our main focus during the interview will be what we say anyway (not our feet or shoulders), how fast you speak is a reliable path to greater control over your body and a generally more relaxed state. When you do a practice interview with a friend, record it and observe how you perform. You can see your body language, but also track how fast you are speaking. There is an additional benefit: unless it is unusually slow, slower speakers tend to relax whoever they are speaking to, in this case the hiring manager.

Your aim is to always keep the focus on the conversation, so keep your expression interested, your posture confident and your head high from the moment you arrive in the lobby until the second you’re a safe distance away.

What to Do the Day Of the Interview:
Your body language is a product of your energy level. Hormones like adrenaline can play a significant role in your mental and physical state. So if you have a tension releaser, like exercise, yoga or meditation, it is a good idea to do it the day of an interview (but not over do it). On the other hand, only drink enough coffee to keep you awake and attentive, as caffeine can wreak havoc with jitteriness

Good luck!
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