Body language – how to make a powerful impact at interviews
The New Year is a time when many people decide that a change of job is in their annual goal plan. As an interviewee, you should never under-estimate the impact of body language in an interview. Body language is non-verbal communication conveyed to another person.
Many interviewers make their minds up in the first 30 seconds of meeting someone so it pays to be aware of your body language. You want to appear calm, composed, confident and clear.
Having been invited to an interview, it’s vital to appreciate the importance of the initial greeting. This is your opportunity to make an impact. First impressions last. Good eye contact and body language have to then be followed through to the very end of the interaction.
Body language tips to ace your interview
Here are a few reminders with some tongue in cheek exercises for you. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re probably already doing a great job. I’ll be taking you through:
- grooming and attire
- eye contact, nodding, smiling
- the parting
Grooming and attire
Dress as if you really want the job. What do you wear to an interview and how do you wear it? Your clothes must be smart and you must “look the part”. Whilst how you dress is not in itself “body language”, if you’re uncomfortable or if you're not dressed appropriately, your body language will speak volumes!
For most job interviews, both men and women must wear a smart suit. Men are encouraged to wear darker colour suits for interviews with a lighter (preferably white or pale blue) shirt and a sensible tie that is not too vibrant in colour or pattern. Also remember that you need to have matching socks and smart, cleanly polished shoes too. It helps to have applied a suitable amount of aftershave but be careful not to overdo it.
Ladies should similarly wear a smart suit, blouse, and smart shoes. Colours that are too bold can be distracting so keep in mind what the purpose of the meeting is and dress to get the job. If you are ever unsure of what you can wear for an interview for any particular organisation, you can contact me.
One tip – check the company website profiles and observe what the senior players are wearing.
Once you arrive at the interview and meet your interviewer, you must pay attention to your handshake. A firm grip is a must – avoid the charmless limp grip. A limp handshake, where one does not hold the others hand confidently and fully, sends out a message that you lack confidence. You may not think that you do but it is the impression created.
Your hands must not be sweaty and ideally not too cold either (in Winter you can excuse yourself in a light-hearted manner for cold hands but sweaty hands do not go down well whatever the weather!).
If this all sounds a bit over the top, find a willing partner to practice handshakes on – try a limp one. How does it feel to you? Ask your partner what they think about your handshake? Now try a firm one (not too tight). Your “shake” should be three shakes, no less.
Whilst shaking hands make eye contact and smile. Greet the interviewer with a warm, audible (not too loud), clear “Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you”.
You are likely to be directed to a seat. Do not sit down until you have been invited to do so. Once you are seated, sit with your back to the back of the seat. Avoid slouching.
Watch the interviewer. Observe his or her body language (not so as to make it obvious). Even if they are very relaxed, slouching or otherwise, this is not a signal for you to mimic them. At interviews, the general rule of thumb is to treat it as a professional interview, a formal situation.
Throughout the interview, your posture should remain upright (not uptight) with your back to the back of the chair. Shoulders should be relaxed not clenched.
If you would like to experience how different you feel when slouched as compared to sitting upright in an interview situation, try this. Sit down in a chair, an office chair if you have one. Imagine you are at an interview slouching lazily and observe how you are sitting. Can a partner observe with you? Now sit upright with your hands together on your lap (to avoid fidgeting). Does this feel different? Could it affect your demeanour at a real interview?
Avoid folding your arms as this can be interpreted as being guarded or defensive (even if it is the most comfortable position for you). Also, avoid having your arms and hands anywhere but on your lap – no waving arms about, no crossed arms across the desk in front of you and so on.
Eye contact, nodding and smiling
It’s sensible to offer a nod periodically in a meeting as it can demonstrate you are listening carefully. It should, of course, be combined with good eye contact! If you are being interviewed by more than one person, it is in your interests to talk to all the interviewers, making eye contact with them all throughout the meeting, albeit that one will take the lead.
Similarly, smiling during the discussion is acceptable and encouraged at appropriate intervals. Do not over-smile though as this can suggest desperation or a lack of confidence. You may be very excited about the opportunity but remain composed and professional.
Hands and arms during the interview
What can you do with your hands at an interview? The simplest thing to remember is to just keep hands on laps. It’s perhaps easier to remember what not to do!
- Do not clench fists.
- Do not rest arms on the back of chairs.
- Do not play with your hands or tap the table.
- Do not point.
- Don’t put your hands towards your mouth.
- Don’t put your hands behind your back.
- Do not put your forearms on the desk if there is one.
- Do not fold your arms.
- Do not rest your chin in your hands.
- Do not rub any part of your face or neck.
- Do not flick your hair with your hands.
As a general rule, do not fidget in any of the above or other ways as this suggests a lack of confidence, disinterest or plain rudeness. If you find you are not interested in the role as the meeting progresses, it’s polite to remain focused.
Some hand gestures are appropriate where combined with a genuine enthusiasm for what you are saying (in which case, hand gestures tend to come naturally) but they should be kept to a minimum. If you have a tendency to extend arms throughout a conversation, you may need to find a way to reduce this.
Legs and feet during the interview
What is your most comfortable sitting position? Now ask yourself, is this suitable for an interview? If not, practice getting comfortable in a formal setting.
You must not, even accidentally, shake your legs up and down, tap your feet or tap on your legs as any such movements can be interpreted as a lack of confidence or boredom.
Keep the bottom half of your body still and you will be fine.
Finally, as important as the greeting is the parting. Be graceful, be polite. Once again, a firm, short handshake, and something along the lines of “thanks for your time, it was good to meet you and learn more about the role”.
Following the parting, take a view - does it make sense to send the organisation an email confirming your interest?