In the case of a job interview, body language is particularly important because you have such a short time to make a positive impression. You are also more likely to feel nervous in a job interview — and nerves can lead to fidgeting and postures that send the wrong signals to your interviewer.
The good news is that body language can also help you convey confidence, enthusiasm, and reliability. Read on for tips on how to use body language to your advantage in your next job interview.
Be Open and Approachable
In a job interview, it’s important to connect with your interviewer and come across as open, honest, and comfortable. Closed-off or guarded body language can make it appear as if you are frightened or have something to hide
Appearing “open” depends on a few key body language characteristics. First, greet your interviewer with a firm handshake and a smile. Looking them in the eye for a moment conveys directness without implying aggressiveness.
Adopt an open posture when sitting down to be interviewed. Don’t cross your arms or put your chin in your hand, and keep your legs somewhat relaxed (try crossing your ankles instead of your legs if wearing a skirt). Folding hands in front of you is fine as long as you keep your arms loose and don’t appear too stiff.
When it comes to hand placement, another option is to bring a pen and paper to jot down notes. Just be careful to stay focused on your interviewer — don’t let the notes become a distraction.
Pay attention! You want to show your interviewer that you are excited about the position and enjoying the conversation about it. Attentive body language sends a strong signal of real and deep interest that is both flattering and likely to result in reciprocal attention.
Make your interviewer feel like the smartest and most fascinating person in the room. Pay attention to their questions by leaning forward when they speak. Don’t fidget and don’t play with your pen, your hair, or any other distractions.
When your interviewer is speaking at length, maintain natural eye contact and nod occasionally to show that you are paying attention and responding positively. If you don’t provide these cues, your interviewer may start to wonder if you’re following the conversation (or perhaps suspect you’ve wandered off mentally).
Keep Negative Emotions In Check
When discussing a past job or boss, be sure to avoid eye-rolling and dismissive hand gestures or facial expressions. Remember that speaking ill of a past employer casts you in a negative, gossipy light (even if that former employer really was the absolute worst). You want the focus to be on your positive characteristics, not past dramas.
Do your best to keep your face, body, and voice neutral when discussing sensitive topics. This can be difficult if you’ve recently been through a tough layoff or just left a toxic environment. Understandably, you may still have some negative emotions about these issues, but do your best to maintain a calm, cool exterior.
Take some time to anticipate touchy questions and practice responding until you feel comfortable. You want to come across as mature, diplomatic, and ready for the new job.
Don’t Get Defensive
In an interview, your potential employer will be looking for signs of flaws and weaknesses beneath your capable facade. He will be on the alert for red flags and will probably probe any potential issues like gaps in your resume, short job tenures, and perceived inconsistencies.
Try not to take these questions personally. A defensive response will just make your interviewer MORE concerned that you’re hiding something.
If you begin acting assertively, it will only make you seem guilty, and they are merely asking you for your explanation. Throwing up your hands, palms out, will make it seem like you’re being attacked, and could have the effect of making THEM feel attacked.
Likewise, be careful to avoid a sudden shift into closed body language (see #1 above), a breaking of eye contact, or an abrupt change in vocal quality (talking louder, faster, or with anger). These behaviors can also raise red flags that something isn’t right.
Don’t Be Aggressive
Confidence is great, but you can take it too far. Don’t try to overpower your interviewer or attempt to assert dominance.
Interrupting your interviewer, holding up a hand to signal they should stop talking, shushing, or other power-play type language is absolutely unacceptable.
Fighting-type behavior such as this only serves to paint you as an overconfident candidate who is probably hiding insecurities or a lack of qualifications, and should be avoided at all costs.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Nod Off
Job interviews are not exactly a thrill a minute. However, if you want the job, it’s in your best interest to seem fully engaged and interested during even the most tedious discussions.
Avoid yawning, slumping, or resting your head in your palm or elbows on the table or armrests. Don’t fiddle with your pen or jewelry or gaze distractedly out the window.
Show some respect for the potential job offer. Sit up straight to keep blood flowing and pay close attention to whatever the interviewer is saying. Be attentive (see #2 above).
As a side note: If your interviewer is comfortable enough to tell work stories or talk about (appropriate) personal life, it’s a great sign that they are comfortable with you and that the interview is going well.
Practice Body Language on Video
If you’re not sure how your body language is coming across, it’s a great idea to record yourself. You can use the Big Interview practice interview tool to record yourself and evaluate your nonverbal communication.
Another option is to ask a trusted friend or coach to practice with you and provide honest, constructive feedback.
If you follow these guidelines, you can harness the power of body language to convey confidence, enthusiasm, and a sense of purpose — even when you’re nervous.
Your interviewer should not only come away with a sense that you’re qualified, but feel as though you’ve shown them respect, attentiveness, and a readiness to start immediately.
Photo Credit: NYCArthur