How to Leverage Body Language in Interviews

How to Leverage Body Language in InterviewsAll 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.

Body Language vs. Spoken Words = Misgivings

When the body language doesn’t match what is being said… questions are raised.

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 concerns, 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

The impression you create in the first few minutes of meeting someone is the most lasting.

Have Good 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

    Stand tall, with good posture, and walk slowly as you enter the room.

  • Give a Friendly Greeting

    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.

  • Sit Upright

    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.”).

  • Maintain Good Eye Contact

    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.

  • Relax

    Try to relax, and smile naturally whenever the opportunity arises.

Manage Your Nerves

Being excessively nervous can damage your ability to respond appropriately in a job interview. The interviewers usually expect, and discount, your nervous ticks, but best to keep your nerves under control.

Most of us are more klutzy when we are nervous, so do your best to manage your nerves:

  • Be Calm

    Remind yourself that this isn’t a life-threatening situation. Try to remain calm.

  • Don’t Rush

    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.

  • Breathe

    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 Positive 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 can take on a life of their own, fidgeting with themselves, your clothing, your hair, or your tie / jewelry — NOT good!

Keep your fidgeting to a minimum.

  • Don’t Touch!

    If in the interviewer’s office, never touch anything on their desk. That would be an invasion of personal space.

  • Be Prepared to Take Notes

    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.

Also, consider:

  • Display Open Palms

    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 Answer

    When asked a question, 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.

Interviews bring out your insecurities, and those aren’t messages you want to send at an interview.

  • Don’t Touch Your Face

    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.

  • Don’t Remove Lint

    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. Better, remove the lint before the interview.

  • Don’t Adjust Your Clothing

    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.

  • Avoid Looking Angry or Aggressive

    Slouching in your chair, with hands in pockets or thumbs in belt, brands you as insolent and aggressive (think of a teenage boy in the principal’s office). When this error is made in the presence of an interviewer of the opposite sex, it carries negative sexually aggressive overtones as well.

  • Don’t Make Defensive Moves

    Pulling your collar away from your neck or touching your nose is interpreted as defensive and a sign 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 to be the most impressive you can be.

Bottom Line

Observe others, and you will see the signals being sent by body language. 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.

More About Successful Job Interviews

Martin YateAbout 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.
More about this author