Most of us are vaguely aware that we are sending some kind of message with our nonverbal behaviors. But did you know that body language can account for as much as 60% of communication? You make a first (and critical) impression before you even get to “Hello.”
If you’re thorough in your preparations, you will have practiced for your interview—doing rehearsals and, hopefully, a mock interview or video-recorded interview. Most job seekers, however, focus most of their attention on the words they will use and the concepts they want to convey.
While these are certainly important, your interview prep would be incomplete without attending to the subtle but influential cues you are sending out without even speaking a word.
So how are you going to communicate that you are interested, intelligent, confident, and trustworthy, all while coming across as genuine? Let’s walk through the phases of an interview and address some of the best nonverbal techniques you can use to master your body language at each stage.
The Waiting Room
You thought your first impression began when the interviewer greets you? Guess again. You send important signals from the minute you enter the waiting area.
First, greet the receptionist warmly. This is your first point of contact with the employer. Just because he or she isn’t conducting the official interview doesn’t mean the person’s opinion isn’t part of the big picture. You never know whether the employer will ask the receptionist how you interacted with him or her.
Second, practice expansive body language. If you’re nervous, it’s understandably tempting to hunker down and look at your phone while you try to mentally rehearse meeting the interviewer. But this posture sends out contracted, defeatist body language.
Instead of retreating into your mental or digital world, look around you. Walk around (if there’s room) and observe what’s hanging on the walls. Pick up the reading material on the table. If you see the organization’s annual report or other proprietary information, all the better to spend your waiting time leafing through it.
Finally, make sure your hands are visible. Humans’ brains are hardwired from days of old to look for a sign that a newcomer is a friend or foe. This mental calculation isn’t intentional and happens automatically and lightning fast. So when the interviewer does come to greet you, be sure your hands are out of your purse or pockets and ready to shake theirs.
Which brings us to the next phase of the interview—the introduction. From the moment the interviewer walks into the waiting area, he or she will take about 10 seconds to register a first impression of you. Follow these tips and you’ll be set to pass the all-important “glance test.”
Get the handshake right. It sounds so simple, but it’s a surprisingly effective tool to establish an initial connection with the interviewer. Practice shaking hands like Goldilocks. Not too firm. Not too weak. Just right.
Pair it with a smile! Again, it sounds obvious, but when you’re nervous it can be easy to forget. This is a good chance to show your genuine happiness for the opportunity.
Now we’re getting down to brass tacks. While the body language tips in the introduction are meant to establish warmth and connection, these tactics will help you send out competence cues during the actual interview.
First, maintain good eye contact. Don’t burn holes into the person’s head—you need to look away every once in a while or it will seem kind of creepy. But try to avoid being distracted by the visual environment. Your attention should remain with the interviewer.
Nod occasionally. You don’t want your head bobbing up and down like a bobblehead doll, but you do want to send the nonverbal message that you’re listening and engaged in the conversation.
Vary your posture. Practice alternating between sitting back in your chair and leaning in toward the other person. You don’t want to look like you’re in a straitjacket, but you also want to avoid crowding the interviewer’s personal space. It’s all about balance.
Try mirroring. In this technique, you align yourself with the interviewer and mirror his or her posture. If he or she sits back, you then sit back. If the person leans in, you lean in, too. Be sure to make your movements subtle, or the interviewer will notice and maybe conclude that you’re being inauthentic.
Find something productive to do with your hands. This is going to look a bit different for everyone since what comes naturally isn’t the same for all. Ideally, you will strike a balance between holding them still (but visible!) and making small gestures that don’t detract from what you’re saying.
Above all, avoid nervous fidgeting, like playing with a pen, putting your hair behind your ear, itching your nose, or a hundred other tics and twitches. A video-recorded or mock interview can help you identify any nervous habits you need to correct.
You may be so relieved just to have the interview over, but remember that it’s not yet finished until you walk out the front door. As the interviewer will likely lead you back to the reception area, walk side by side through the hall, if possible. It suggests a peer relationship, rather than one based on unequal power.
Don’t miss the last chance to make a connection and an impression. Shake hands, maintain good eye contact, and smile. Thank the interviewer for the opportunity. Greet the receptionist on your way out.
Now you can breathe that sigh of relief.
If you incorporate these techniques into your next interview, you will have mastered the art of body language and made an excellent impression on what could be your next employer!