One of the most common truisms trotted out by pub bores is that 90% of communication is non-verbal, but the fact that the majority of these people can’t find regular sexual partners demonstrates that, though we may all know that body language is important, very few of us are any good at it. No situation is more vital to get your body language right than the interview. Interviews are often pivotal points in life and yet up until shaking hands with the interviewer for the first time you are nothing to them but two sheets of professionally put together paper.
So how do you wield that extra 90% effectively in an attempt to land the job of your dreams? There are more negatives than positives associated with body language, more don’ts that dos as it were. The first priority is to identify the subconscious things that you do that might count against you and the solution is pretty simple. Video yourself. Go through a whole mock interview with a camera trained on you, and a friend who can control their giggling to pose the questions. This will provide ample ammunition to address the negative points of your personal body language, (it will also help you to hear whether your voice is pitched correctly, preferably somewhere between dizzy sing-song and monotone, but that’s a whole different matter). Sit down alone later and watch the video, look at your eye contact when you respond to questions, the things you do immediately after sitting down or standing up and what you do with your hands, all of these are areas in which your body language can betray you.
Before the interview, make sure you are comfortable in the clothes you intend to wear, try to ensure your nails look reasonably well manicured, biting nails or evidence of bitten nails are an obvious indicator of nervousness. Turn your phone off and put any coins somewhere they won’t jangle annoyingly. Walk briskly and stand erect when you are entering the office, this allows your natural physical presence to assert itself and gives you confidence. Whilst you are waiting for the interview try and appear relaxed and confident, but not overly so, sitting with your hands behind your head and legs crossed suggests superiority. Don’t slouch in your chair either, appear attentive and ready, perhaps reading an industry magazine that is to hand, don’t open a broadsheet though in case it obstructs your view of the interviewer coming out to greet you.
When you meet your interviewer, hold their gaze as you shake hands and smile. Smiling is the most important aspect of positive body language as it conveys openness and warmth, it can also be a good indication of how an interview is going if your smile is naturally reciprocated by the interviewer. When you move into the room where the interview will take place, try to be aware of what will be in your field of vision when you sit down. Try not to be staring at a bright window or you may be forced to squint throughout which can be perceived as untrustworthiness. Don’t be worried about asking to move your seat if necessary, the interviewer may have been unaware that the sub has come round to glare directly at the chair opposite. When you take your seat undo your jacket and make sure that you are comfortable enough to prevent any unnecessary fidgeting. Sit upright, relax your shoulders without letting them slump and keep your hands in your lap, you should now be able to carry out the interview in comfort.
As your conversation with the interviewer progresses watch their body language. HR staff are often trained to put candidates at ease by mirroring body language but if you are speaking to a line manager or interviewing for a role in a small company it can be useful to use this mirroring technique to reverse the process and put the inexperienced or untrained interviewer at ease. Your hands can betray you during an interview, avoid crossing your arms at any time as this can look defensive, instead try to ensure that gestures are made with your palms visible. Try to avoid touching your face as this is a minefield of negative body language, touching or rubbing the nose can be a sign of lying and pinching the nose with your eyes closed suggests you are making a negative evaluation. Touching or patting the hair or ears is, again negative and can be seen as demonstrating insecurity and indecisiveness. On the positive side, a tilted head expresses interest and steepling the fingers is an authoritative gesture that can come over well. Otherwise it’s a case of keeping those hands still, or with open palms if you must gesticulate, and smiling on through whilst trying to remember all the things you shouldn’t be doing and answering the questions posed.
Mastery of the complex unspoken language of humanity seems like a big task with all the other considerations whirling around your mind in the interview process and the above is meant only as a guide. The key things to remember are the usual favourites relax, smile and be confident. If you can carry that pose off the job is half yours, augment it with a tilted head and a bit of mirroring and the keys to the senior executive’s washroom might be just that little bit closer.