Thinking about what your body language is telling others and including it in part of your preparation and interview strategy is vitally important if you are to be successful when being interviewed.
In fact, body language is often reported as being more important than the words you say. Albert Mehrabian’s famous 1971 research discovered there is a “7%-38%-55%” rule regarding words, tone and body language. If your words are saying one thing and your body language another, people will automatically believe your body language. Your body language plays a huge part in how your messages are understood. This means it is incredibly important to understand what your body language is saying about you. An interview is all about how you communicate and the interviewers wanting to understand you and get your measure, so you don’t want to your body language to be sabotaging your chances.
Many interviewers have commented on how many candidates come to interview with impressive backgrounds full of relevant qualifications and experience, with great responses to the interview questions and all signs of being highly intelligent…but they then do not appear confident or interested, or they are too uptight or reserved and so the interviewer chooses a different candidate.
So, how do you go about improving your body language? The first step is to be aware of it. This might mean recording yourself and watching it back, it might mean observing others and reflecting on what you’ve seen and how that affects you, or it might mean asking others about your body language and their responses. The second step is to practice being in control of your body language and let it say what you want it to, regardless of whether that is how you feel. For example, you want your body language to be open and relaxed even if you feel nervous on the inside. The third step is to breathe deeply: it will help you relax and, even better, it will help make sure your brain has enough oxygen, which will help you think clearly and respond quickly to questions and situations that occur during the interview.
Things to avoid
Below are a few things you should definitely avoid doing during an interview (as well as other important occasions).
- Folding your arms – it makes a barrier between you and the other person/people and creates distance, which you are trying to avoid as you want to show that you can be part of their team.
- Don’t slouch – it makes you appear too relaxed, which could give the impression that you don’t care or are too confident.
- Don’t have a rigid posture or body language – it’s clear that you’re not relaxed and less experienced interviewers may not recognise it as nerves and mistake it for lack of confidence. It could also subconsciously affect their own level of relaxation and make them feel uncomfortable around you.
- Don’t have belongings on your lap – it forms another barrier between you and others
How to appear confident
The interviewers are looking for people who believe they are the right candidate, who has the skills and experience they need as well as the potential to go further, who is passionate and enthusiastic, and who is confident that they can do the job and do it well. Your body language is extremely important in conveying this to the interviewers and improving your chances of success.
- Get a good night’s sleep – the signs of sleeplessness, such as bags under the eyes and dull eyes, suggests a lack of preparedness and confidence.
- Smile – it shows you are friendly and open, and a relaxed, sincere smile puts people at ease.
- Maintain eye contact – it shows you are listening and paying attention. Avoiding eye contact suggests you are lying or having something to hide, and it can reveal the extent of your nervousness. If you find it uncomfortable, then look between their eyes on at their foreheads.
- Have an open body language and relaxed posture – demonstrates receptiveness, active listening and interest in what they are saying. Sit (and walk) with your back straight and chest open – don’t hunch your shoulders. Sitting forward (though not too far forward) can also help as it shows you are attentive and listening.
- Be engaged – nod subtly to show you are listening and following what they are saying. Be positive and engage in the dialogue as this suggests that you are actively participating in the discussion and are keen.
- Aim for a great first impression – appear calm and confident as you arrive, be friendly and attentive. Don’t fidget, appear interested in your surroundings and think about your posture. Try and raise gracefully and smoothly to greet them – make sure your belongings aren’t in the way. Hold your belongings in your left hand so you can easily shake the hand of others or take things as they are handed to you.
- Follow their lead – literally follow their lead and also, where possible, mirror their tempo and demeanour as it suggests that you will fit in easily. It also helps suggest that you are confident and comfortable.
- End well – gather belongings calmly, rise gracefully and smile. If you can’t shake everyone’s hand, make sure you shake the hand of the hiring manager and the person who showed you around/to the room. Thank them for the opportunity and remain calm, confident and friendly in your demeanour and attitude as you take your leave from them and the building.
Remember, the interview begins as soon as you arrive and doesn’t end until you have left. Your body language needs to be consistent from start to finish and be aware that all elements of your behaviour will be judged alongside your answers and credentials.