Body Language: What messages are you sending?
Body language is an important consideration in a job interview. Yours, primarily, but also that of your interviewers. I’d like to share with you a few of the main things you should focus on. These are all elements of body language that can influence decisions about candidates. Decisions that – in some cases – can make a difference between going on to additional interviews (and a possible hire) … or not.
I’ve read articles suggesting that up to 90% (!) of what we communicate to others, we communicate non-verbally. I’m not a subject matter expert in that particular area. I believe it, though, because I know the kinds of judgements and decisions I make based on the body language of others. As a frequent presenter (when I’m not undercover, of course), I also have to be very aware of my own body language when I’m behind a podium on a stage, standing to present in a boardroom, or speaking at the front of a class.
So what elements of your own body language do you need to think about when you’re a candidate?
Posture and position
An upright posture sends a message of confidence; a slouched posture signals the opposite. An interviewer needs to believe you can do the job. A lack of confidence – real or perceived – undermines that belief. If you’re walking with the interviewer (down the hall to their office, for example), match their pace. Don’t walk ahead (you don’t know where you’re going), and don’t fall behind. When you enter the meeting room, wait for them to indicate where you should sit. (True story: one candidate sat in my office chair, and it was uncomfortable for both of us.) When you do sit, keep both feet on the floor. If you’re well into a long meeting, and the interviewer sits more casually, it may in some cases be okay to mirror their position, but a more formal posture is always the safer bet. Through the interview, keep an ‘open’ body position, with your arms either on the armrests or subtly gesturing. Don’t cross your arms, you might come across as stubborn or defensive.
Eye contact and facial expressions
Maintaining confident eye contact is a learned skill. This is one of the many skills that candidates refine over a period of interviewing. If you’re out of practice, you’ll likely need to be conscious of it at first. Good eye contact isn’t ‘creepy’ or glaring. Brief glances away – gesturing when answering a question, or pointing at something on your resume – are perfectly fine. But if your eyes wander around the room when the interviewer is asking you questions, or if you’re always looking down or to the side when you’re answering, you could come across as disinterested or evasive. Or both. Finally, I’m not sure how to put this except … smile appropriately. Smile confidently, maybe nodding, when the interviewer is asking you a question. Smile when you’re telling a happy or funny story. A perpetually serious or grim expression doesn’t leave a positive impression.
We all have those little things we do. Tapping our feet, talking with our hands, fidgeting in our seats, clicking a pen. These manifestations of nervous energy can be off-putting, particularly if they’re pronounced or constant. If you have any nervous habits like this, be aware of them so you can rein them in if they start to show up in your interviews.
Don’t get lost in translation. Make sure your own non-verbal communication is sending the right message. Look for part 2 shortly, where we’ll look at how to read an interviewer’s body language.