Our body language can significantly influence the impression that we make. How we stand, or cross our arms, or where we look when speaking all sends subtle (or not so subtle) messages. In fact, studies show that perhaps as much as 55% of communication is visual (body language, eye contact) and about 40% is vocal (tone of voice, speed and volume), while content, what you are actually saying, is a mere 5%.
This means that you can tell someone that you managed the rollout of a software upgrade on time and within budget but if your body language isn’t giving corresponding messages of confidence, the interviewer might not hear it. With this in mind, paying attention to nonverbal cues when you are in an interview is a good idea.
What is your body language saying? Are you coming across as a competent person who will fit in well with your new company or are you sending unintended clues that might make them think otherwise? Don’t let this happen. Pay attention and use your body language to make sure that it gives off the same positive message that your words do.
- Posture – stand up straight and be confident when you walk in. Sit back and up straight but lean forward a little in your chair. You want to give off a message of confidence. Slouching is indicative of not caring, carelessness, and apathy. Sitting on the edge of the chair or fidgeting around too much expresses nervousness – you may be nervous but you don’t want to show it. At some points you can sit back and relax, but be careful. It’s easy to slouch and send the wrong message.
- Eye Contact – look the interviewer in the eye, not down at the desk, at the wall or out a window. Don’t let your eyes dart around the room. This makes you seem unfriendly, disinterested, or like you are hiding something. Don’t stare intently though either, that makes you seem a little crazy. It’s not true of course but that’s how we interpret these kinds of physical cue. None of that is helpful in an interview! Practice and preparation can help with actual nervousness.
- Hands – a nice firm handshake isn’t a cliche - it’s a good idea. Don’t cross your arms in front of you, this is an aggressive posture that is off-putting. Don’t rest your head in your hands or touch your face too much. Most of the time it’s best to keep your hands folded in your lap, on the table in front of you, or have your arms resting gently on the arms of the chair.
- Feet – keep your feet resting on the floor, generally knees togethers, perhaps crossed at the ankles. Crossing your legs higher than that or leaning back with your foot resting on a knee is too casual and sends the wrong impression for an interview. You want to present an image of calm capability, not picnic friendly.
- Voice – don’t shout but don’t mumble either. Speak in an even, modulated tone and slow down, most of us tend to speak too quickly. Of course you want your personality to show and you don’t want to be robotic, but avoid extremes. Don’t stammer or stumble over your words. Practice and preparation will help you avoid all these.
You should also use body language to your advantage – watch the interviewer for clues that will help you in the interview. Do they look interested or happy with your answers? Do they seem bored or like they aren’t really listening? Look at their body language.
- Posture – for the most part their posture should mirror yours and if it doesn’t, that’s a clue. Are they slouching? They may be sitting back in frustration because you have been speaking for too long or not answering their question adequately. Are their arms crossed? Another message that you might be missing the mark and not giving them what they want.
- Eye Contact – are they making or holding eye contact? Good sign. It means they are interested in what you are saying; they’re feeling good about the conversation. So if they’re not looking at you, if they are staring out the window or excessively looking downward (taking a few notes or referring to your resume occasionally are fine), then those are clues that things aren’t going well.
All the rest holds true as well. The behaviors described above as a no-no for you, are generally also off limits for the interviewer. If the person you’re speaking with is fidgeting in their chair, crossing and uncrossing their legs or holding their head in their hands, it could be a sign that you’re not connecting well enough. You’re not making the impression that you want to. What should you do?
Well, if you’re talking, stop. Let the interviewer lead you to the next question or ask something else. Remember next time to end sooner – talking for too long, even when you have good things to say, is a common interview mistake. Maybe your answer or answers didn’t hit the mark. Perhaps ask for clarification at a good point in the interview – “Am I giving you the information you need?” or “Is this a good example of what you are looking for?”
Now, body language isn’t 100% accurate and sometimes how often someone looks directly at you or where they rest their hands doesn’t always mean something important, but it can, and a savvy candidate can use this knowledge to their advantage. Being aware of your own body language can help you present your best self and make sure you’re not derailed by unconscious behavior that sends the wrong message. Make sure that 100% of your communication is sending the same message of skill, ability, and experience that you are talking about.
Pay attention and give yourself an advantage!