Body language in an interview: importance and tips
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Most people are familiar with the phrase 'actions speak louder than words'. This is especially true when it comes to a job interview, as employers can pick up on your feelings and attitudes with very little prompting. The way you present yourself physically, from posture and eye contact to handshakes and smiles, has a significant impact on the interviewer and whether they offer you a job. In this article, we discuss the importance of body language in an interview and provide some tips on how to adapt your body language in a job interview setting.
The importance of body language in an interview
Controlling your body language for interviews is a key skill for any applicant. While your verbal responses to questions may determine your suitability for the role, an interviewer often bases their opinion of you on your body language. A skilled and experienced interviewer looks out for non-verbal cues, they may even be affected subconsciously by the body language you adopt.
Key areas of body language in a job interview
Employers are trained to pick up on various non-verbal cues during an interview. Here are some of the key areas of body language that they might look at:
It may be a bit of a cliche that potential employers look for a strong, firm handshake more than anything else, but it's nonetheless an important part of making a good impression. A good, solid grip and direct eye contact show that you're confident and self-assured. Out of politeness and personal hygiene, wait until the interviewer offers their hand before making the appropriate gesture.
Related: What is Professional Body Language?
Perhaps the most important aspect of body language for interviews, eye contact is also one of the hardest to get right. Interviewers look for candidates who can make and maintain eye contact naturally. Keeping eye contact with a person during a conversation shows that you're listening to what they're saying and that you're engaging with them. This doesn't mean staring directly into the interviewer's eyes, which may make them feel uncomfortable.
If there's more than one interviewer in the room, try and establish eye contact with each of them at some point during the interview. Address whoever's talking to you directly, but take the time to acknowledge the other members of the interview panel to demonstrate your awareness.
Good posture gives a positive first impression to any interviewer. Whether you're standing, sitting or walking into a room, it demonstrates confidence and reliability. For most job interviews, you're likely to be sitting in a chair, so ensure your back is straight and flat against its support. Try to keep your shoulders down and pulled back, with your neck and head forming a straight line while facing the interviewer.
It's preferable to avoid slouching during a job interview. Although you may wish to appear casual and relaxed, this kind of position often comes across as you being uninterested in what's being discussed. That said, it's a good idea to lean forward when being asked something, as this anticipates your answer and further engagement with the interviewer.
What you do with your hands during the interview can be as important as what you say. Simple gestures, such as touching your fingertips together, moving your fingers while you talk and clasping your palms are indicators of openness and honesty. Hand gestures can be subconscious, and trying to control them may be stressful if you don't have the practice. If in doubt, keep your hands gently clasped in your lap. Not only does this stop you from fidgeting with your fingers, but it also gives the impression that you're calm and at ease with the situation.
If it's appropriate to the situation, a warm and genuine smile can do much to improve your prospects in a job interview. As with eye contact, it's important to maintain a balance since a constant grin throughout the interview may come across as unnerving. Try to smile when you both enter and leave the room so that your first and last impressions are positive. When the interviewer makes a light-hearted comment or laughs at something they've said, it helps if you smile also. This shows that you have a sense of humour and appreciate what the interviewer has to say.
Mirroring the interviewer
One of the most effective ways to leave a lasting impression on an interviewer is to mirror their body language. If they nod at something you've said, do the same to show that you understand one another. If they sit up straighter, try adjusting your own posture to demonstrate that you're paying attention. The key is to keep your mirroring subtle. If the interviewer scratches their nose or has a sudden coughing fit, mirroring them looks strange and unnatural. Likewise, if there's more than one interviewer in the room, trying to mirror all of their movements is obviously not practical.
Body language to avoid during an interview
Using the right body language is essential to a successful interview, but it's also important to be aware of more counterproductive body cues. If you adopt negative body language, you give a bad impression to whoever is interviewing you for the job. These are some examples of body language that you may want to be wary of:
In body language terms, blocking describes putting up a physical barrier between yourself and the person you're speaking to. Crossing your arms and legs appears defensive, making you look unapproachable. Likewise, clenched fists or wild movements with your hands can indicate that you're either nervous or unpredictable.
Touching your face
If you're in the habit of touching your face, try to avoid doing it during your interview. Face touching covers a range of movements, from nose-rubbing to playing with your hair. Touching your face can indicate nervousness or dishonesty while playing with your hair can make you look uninterested. Biting your nails is particularly unattractive, as it can make you look distracted and nervous.
Some job interviews can go on for some time, so keeping still in your chair may be difficult. Some range of motion is okay under these circumstances, but constantly fidgeting and changing your position can create a negative impression. It might make you appear as if you're anxious to leave or uninterested in what's being discussed, which are undesirable employee traits that interviewers can quickly pick up on.
Scanning the room
Fidgeting is not just limited to your body movements. If your eyes are constantly darting around the room, it gives a similar impression of disinterest and boredom. Breaking eye contact to look at the walls, floor or ceiling of the room can also make it look like you have something to hide.
Tips and tricks for successful body language during interviews
Presenting a good picture of yourself through your body language requires preparation and practice. Here are a few tips that can make the process easier:
Handshake: If the interviewer offers to shake hands, do so firmly and with eye contact.
Posture: Keep your shoulders down and back, and keep your chin lifted to show attentiveness and focus.
Leg position: Keep your legs uncrossed and motionless where possible.
Hand position: If there's nothing in front of you, lay your hands in your lap, gently clasped or with the palms visible.
Eye contact: Make eye contact with whomever you're talking to, but try not to stare.
Mirroring: Do what you can to ensure your body language reflects that of the interviewer, but avoid outright copying their movements.
Entering and exiting the room: Maintain good posture when walking in and out of the interview room. Walk with confidence and take the opportunity to take a few deep breaths to relax yourself.
Responsiveness: Lean forward slightly when the interviewer is speaking to show interest in what they're saying. Smile and nod when appropriate.
Be respectful: Whether you're shaking hands, listening to the interviewer or responding to a question, temper your body language to show respect. Treat the interviewer with dignity, hold your posture well and limit the number of movements you make with your hands.
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