Sometimes the hardest part of a job interview is not remembering what to say, but making sure your body is saying it too. It’s easier to control the words coming out of your mouth than what your body is communicating.
An often cited study from the late 60’s states that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken. Although this breakdown might not be exact, it does emphasize the power of non-verbal communication. Just consider the following scenarios:
A) You arrive at an interview feeling upbeat, optimistic and at ease. Even though you don’t have years of experience, you’re confident that you know enough to excel in the position. When you meet your interviewer, you immediately hone in on things about her that you find relatable. Her demeanor puts you at ease and you reciprocate with a warm smile and a firm handshake. In the interview you listen carefully, follow her cues and lean in as if you’re having a conversation with a colleague rather than an interrogator.
B) You arrive at your interview either feeling anxious and self-conscious, or cavalier and overly confident. When you greet your interviewer it’s with an awkward handshake and timid eyes or an arrogant casualness. During the interview, you’re too tense to connect or too self-absorbed.
It’s easy to see why the candidate in A will get the job offer. Employers want to be around people who seem well adjusted, genuine and not high strung. So even if you’re trying your best to act the part, the subconscious mind is brilliant in detecting non-verbal cues that say otherwise.
So what can you do to ensure that your body is cooperating with your intentions? First and foremost, relax! Don’t feel as if you need to be anything other than yourself on your best behavior. Here are some things to remember for your next interview.
This doesn’t mean a frozen beauty queen smile or a tense “from the lips down” politician smile. Rather, the smile that happens spontaneously when you meet a new person for the first time: warm, curious, open. Ultimately that’s how you should see your interviewer – as a person you’re eager to meet.
In addition to your smile, your handshake can set the tone for the rest of the interview. Wait for the interviewer to initiate and then shake their hand firmly and warmly. Maintain eye contact while introducing yourself and follow their cues on when to let go. Nothing’s more awkward than an over-long handshake.
The eyes are the windows to the soul and this is especially true in a job interview. Employers are looking for unspoken clues in your face and body language and your eyes tend to give away a lot. Looking away too much can show that you’re evasive or untrustworthy. Staring can show that you’re aggressive or just plain weird. Throughout the interview, try to maintain eye contact naturally by paying attention to what is being said rather than how you’re doing.
Stand and sit up straight and try not to cross your arms. The goal is to convey confidence and ease rather than stiffness or sloppiness. If possible, sit at an angle from the interviewer rather than straight across. This will feel more collegial and less confrontational.
Regardless of how poised you come across at the beginning of an interview, your hands can betray your nervousness through fidgeting. One of the best ways to avoid the problem of “what to do with the hands” is by using them to express yourself and emphasize points when talking. As long as your hand movements don’t become a distraction, feel free to use gestures as a way to support your answers. Just be cognizant that they aren’t too emotive, nervous or over-the-top.
In most cases, the more prepared you are for an interview, the less nervous you’ll feel. And the less nervous you are, the better you’ll come across in any situation.
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