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Job Interview

Body Language for Interview: How to Make It Work For You

confident applicant job interview

Before you have even uttered your first greeting, your job interviewer has already formed an opinion of you. As you casually stroll across the room from the door making your way to the awaiting interview chair, your interviewer has sized you up according to your non-verbal cues. 

First impressions last, so be conscious of how you look to others. Try to think how what you do before, during, and as your job interview ends will influence their opinion of you. 

Could your body language be the deciding factor between your interviewer choosing you over someone else with matching skills that would be an equally good fit for the job?

Let’s get the answers to these questions! 

Why is Body Language Important in an Interview

Experienced HRs are trained on how to read body language and draw conclusions from it regarding the applicant’s personality. According to UCLA professor and researcher Albert Mehrabian, 55% of messages processed by the brain are based on a person’s body language. This means that you are being judged even before you have opened your mouth to speak.

Additionally, your body language projects your emotions. So if you are feeling uncomfortable, stressed, or unconfident, your movements can easily give it away. And when you flinch around somewhat uncomfortable questions e.g. around your strengths and weaknesses, the interviewer may involuntarily wonder what you are trying to hide (even if you are just being nervous). 

nervous candidate during job interview

All of the above can muddle the impression you are trying to project to the future employer. That’s why you should carefully watch your body language during the interview.

Body Language for Interview: 5 Does and 3 Don’ts 

Body language can be tricky to control as it’s largely fueled by the unconscious. But becoming better aware of your mannerisms and nerve-induced actions is the key to getting them under control. So as you practice your answers to the common interview questions, get in front of the mirror and practice your interview body language too. In particular, watch out for the following habits and gestures. 

1. Don’t Rush

Even the keenest candidate who has brushed up for their interview will have a habit of rushing into their interview to start parading their carefully prepared answers. That’s not a great way to start because:

  • Overly fast speech makes you sound too agitated/anxious.
  • The interviewer may struggle to follow your thoughts and miss important details.
  • They may also fail to understand some of the important deets you are trying to get out there. 

All of the above isn’t great. During the interview, you should try to pace yourself and deliberately slow down your speech a little. 

Because you will already be a bit nervous, it is quite normal to speak at a faster pace than you normally do. Try to focus on pronouncing your words properly in a more measured way. This will help keep your nerves under control and will also mean your interviewer will hear every word you say in reply to their questions. 

There is nothing worse during an interview than your interviewer having to ask you to repeat yourself because they didn’t quite catch your answer.

2. Maintain a Good Posture 

As a child, I am sure you were told endlessly by your parents or teachers to stop slouching. Slouching is not only bad for your posture but it will also give off a negative vibe during your interview.  Slouching screams out, “I don’t care” and your interviewer will quickly pick up on this. If you need to work on your sitting attitude, then practice at home. 

maintaining good posture

Sit in front of a mirror and see for yourself how slouching comes across. Practice sitting up straight and get a friend or family member to do a mock interview with you while you properly. Notice how you feel when giving your responses to their questions while sitting up attentively. Keep checking yourself now and then. If you find yourself starting to slouch, subtly straighten back up again.

3. Lean Forward

To offset the ‘slouching’ focus on leading a bit closer to the interviewer, especially when you are listening to them talk. Studies found that most people tend to naturally lean forward when they are eager and motivated. So doing so frequently can send a positive single to the recruiter.

Flopping back in your chain, on the contrary, may give off the impression that you are not paying attention or feel tired/bored with the conversation. 

4. Do Not Fidget

Humans are very rarely still by nature. We are always moving in subtle little ways. We gesticulate with our hands while we talk, we move our heads around and shift position in our seats or while standing. It is fine to gesture with your hands during an interview, but try to refrain from causing a hurricane! 

Keep the fidgeting to a minimum and if you have a habit of playing with a pen, cracking your knuckles, or twisting a piece of hair, then try to hold out until the interview is over and you have left the building. There is nothing more distracting for an interviewer than your squirming and it may distract them from your answers, which will not bode well for the decision making.

But there are good hand gestures too that you should use to project open body language. A former FBI agent and author of “The Dictionary of Body Language”  Joe Navarro suggests that the following body language examples are strong indicators of confidence:

  • Keeping thumbs up while the fingers are interlaced. We unconsciously do that when we want to emphasize a point we genuinely believe in. 
  • Displaying palms up. This gesture sends the vibe of humility, compliance, or cooperation. 
  • Hand steepling. There’s a good reason why this gesture is popular with business leaders — it’s universal signage of confidence. 

5. Don’t Make It All About You

Our word choices also tell a lot about our personality, especially in tandem with body language. Physiologists from the University of Texas found the people who use “I” a lot in their speech naturally appear more personal, warm, and honest. 

But those who use “I” less appear more self-confident. Typically, people with the highest status in the room will use the least “I”, while someone with the lower status will do so the most. 

6. Do Not Keep Your Legs or Hands Crossed 

Both of these gestures are strong indicators of discomfort and masking insecurity. In some cases, they also indicate the person’s defensiveness and stubbornness.  Authors of “How to Read a Person Like a Book”, analyzed 2,000 videotapes and found that no settlement was reached when either of the negotiators had their legs crossed. But things changed to the opposite when both assumed a more relaxed position. So watch both yourself and the interviewer’s body language for this cue.

arms crossed during interview

7. Make Good Eye Contact

The best way to show your interviewer that you are paying attention to their questions is to maintain good eye contact while they are talking. However, try not to take it to the extreme where you are blankly staring them out — this can be both unsettling and uncomfortable for the interviewer.

It is sometimes easier when there is more than one person on the interview panel. You will naturally be able to switch your gaze between each of them as they address you and ask you questions. But when you are in a one-to-one interview, try to hold eye contact while the interviewer is talking before breaking your gaze to compose your answer.

When you are being interviewed in front of a panel, be sure to make eye contact with all of them – even if some of those present don’t actually ask you any questions. It is good to acknowledge their presence, and you never know – it may even be the quiet ones who are making the final decision about hiring you!

Always look your interviewer in the eye while they are talking with you, but never in an intimidating way. Nod gently to show your understanding of their questioning. You can look away to compose your answer but never stare nervously at the floor when giving your answer – always deliver your response while looking them in the eye. 

Also, Try to avoid nervously darting your eyes around the room. This gives off the impression that you may be hiding something or are not entirely confident about being there. If you feel a little flustered, then you could look down at your notepad or take some notes to refocus your mind.

8. Smile More 

Try to hold a relaxed smile and give a small nod of acknowledgment to questions when appropriate. You definitely don’t want to come across as some sort of drone or robot, so if your interviewer tries to break the ice with a funny story or joke, laugh with them. You want to show that you do have a personality behind all your skills and qualifications. Employers tend to hire people that have a good mix of both skills and personality, so make sure you keep smiling.

smile more

On top of that smiling actually, helps you reduce stress as science found. When we squeeze out a big smile, our brain snaps out of panic mode, our heart level drops, and, as a result, we feel less stressed. 

To Conclude 

Job interviews can give shivers even to the most experienced candidates. But don’t let your nervousness take over! Be mindful of how you walk, sit, and talk. Control those nerves-induced impulses to fidget or slouch. When you feel extra stressed, try to squeeze a big fat grin (if that’s appropriate of course), to calm down a bit, and keep going. You’ve got it!

This article has been originally published on January 9, 2017 and has been extensively revised and updated on December 14, 2020.

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