The Importance of Body Language at a Job Interview
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When a prospective employer interviews you, he or she is not just interested in how you answer questions, but in the impression you give. Are you confident in your abilities? Are you respectful and attentive? These “impressions” are the result of your body language, which can often affect the outcome of an interview – whether the interviewer is aware of it or not.
You only get one chance to make your first impression. Stand up straight, walk confidently and keep your expression friendly. It is best to get in the zone before you even get into the building or the office, as you may pass someone you will be speaking to in the future. Practice your handshake beforehand to make sure your grip is not too soft or too hard. Try not to bring too many things that you will have to carry and find places to put down, as this will look disorganized. If you have a coat or an extra bag, you could ask to leave it at reception.
Sitting slouched or hunched over with your arms crossed or your legs folded gives the impression of insecurity and discomfort. Sitting sprawled over your chair or with your legs set wide apart can make you seem indolent, or even aggressive. Try planting your feet on the ground shoulder-width apart and keeping an even weight on them – this is also good for focus. Sit far back in your chair, rather than on the edge, to help you feel secure. You can try leaning your weight forward, just slightly, to indicate that you are active and engaged in the conversation. If you can, try to sit at a slight angle to the interviewer, instead of directly across from him or her. This can give the setup a more natural feeling, making both the interviewer and you more comfortable.
Constant, erratic hand movements can be a tell-tale sign of nerves. However, keeping them totally still seems stiff and unnatural. Try to use your hand gestures to your advantage, instead. You can emphasize a point with an outward hand gesture, or show that you are thinking hard by making a steeple out of your fingers (pressing the tips together). Be careful not to make your hand gestures too emphatic, as they might come across as aggressive. It can help to make sure that your palms are open at all times, and that you are not fully extending your arms as you speak. You might be able to “mirror” your interviewer, but this should be done subtly and carefully. The idea is to use the same gestures and movements the interviewer does, indicating that you are “on the same side.” If you keep your movements small and delayed, you may be able to use this. If the interviewer notices, however, this will make a very bad impression, as it may look like a bit of a mockery.
It is important to show that you are being attentive. Staring, however, is unnatural, and will make both the interviewer and you uncomfortable. Try to vary your points of focus, from his or her eyes to different parts of the face. When being interviewed by more than one person, vary your focus across each person’s face when you are speaking. If one of the interviewers is speaking, make sure you are looking at that person. You can break eye contact when thinking about a point, but try not to look too far away for too long as this can create an impression of dishonesty. Nodding can help make you seem attentive. Nod mindfully, however, not automatically. If you nod throughout the entire interview without pause, it looks as though you are not actually listening to what is being said. Tilting your head slightly is also a good way to send the message that you are considering a point.
Your default when trying to give a good impression may be to smile. However, this can look as though you are nervous or hiding something. Smile when you are meeting and greeting, and at the end of the interview. Otherwise, wait until you are talking about something that can genuinely make you smile – a project you are passionate about, for example. In fact, when speaking about an area of interest, emotive facial expressions can be of great benefit. They help show how much you care about an achievement or skill, and can leave a favorable and memorable impression with the interviewer. And, for a slight facial accent, never underestimate the expressiveness of eyebrows.