In an increasingly digital world the importance of face-to-face communication and body language is easy to overlook. In an interview situation, body language can be a game-changer.
“Before you say a word, the interviewer will have made crucial decisions about you through the way you communicate with your body and through your facial expressions,” says Joan Kingsley, psychotherapist and author of The Fear-Free Organisation.
Of course, what you actually say in an interview is still crucial, but the interviewer will also be watching to determine if the body language is consistent with what you are saying, points out Sue Whaley, HR director of intercity rail operator, First TransPennine Express.
Master your body language and get the right message across with the following dos and don’ts:
First impressions do count
And that’s the impressions of everyone you meet on the day of the interview – in the lift, in the reception area, even in the toilets. Whaley says: “These people are your potential colleagues and they need to get the impression that you would like to join their team.” You don’t know who they are, but they might just be asked for their first impressions of you.
“Look ready and prepared, not flustered and late,” Whaley says. “Be approachable and friendly, smile, make eye contact and give a firm but not forceful handshake.”
Stand, walk, and sit with good posture as it relates directly back to people’s perception of high confidence, according to body language expert Robert Phipps, author of Body Language – It’s What You Don’t Say That Matters.
Body language expert Mark Bowden suggests gesturing with open palms at exactly navel height is an instant way to show you are calm, assertive and confident.
“Gestures in this area of the body create a strong impulse both in the interviewee and the interviewer for open engagement,” he explains. “Not only will you feel more confident but the interviewer will feel more confidence in you and everything that you present to them,” he says.
Show an interest in the business
Demonstrate you are listening to the questions and to the information about the role and the organisation. “Engage with the interviewer don’t just answer their questions, lean forward, use your body, hands and facial expressions,” says Phipps.
Give them good eye contact, he adds – around about 65-70% when conversing, and a little more when you are the listener. “Anymore can come across as intimidating or threatening. Any less is perceived as a lack of interest or confidence in what you are saying.”
Demonstrate energy, positivity and enthusiasm
Use your hands and body movement to emphasise and animate your points and project a dynamic presence – but don’t get carried away, says Whaley.
“Show passion and belief in your achievements and views. Don’t say, ‘I really enjoy the challenge of managing others’, but you are slumped in your chair looking at the floor.”
As well as having your own body language mastered, take notice of how your interviewers are behaving too, says Whaley. Are they confused, bored, agitated, disengaged, entertained, trying to ask the next question?
“Read their non-verbal cues and adapt your responses accordingly and you will make their job easier and demonstrate yourself to be a skilled communicator,” she explains. “Nod and smile to show you understand and subtly try mirroring the interviewer’s posture and pose. This builds rapport and empathy.”
Don’t let your body language betray how nervous you are
You can’t stop the nervous looking behaviours that your body produces, but you can countermeasure them with confident ones, explains Bowden.
“If you choose to perform the behaviours of a confident person – even when you don’t feel it – your interviewer will have a theory of mind that you are confident and will then cherry pick data about you that substantiates their bias.”
On the other hand, if they can’t find that data, they will just use their imagination and make it up, Bowden warns.
Touching your face and crossing your arms are not necessarily an indicator of stress or deceit, says Bowden, “but enough people have read inaccurate body language books that say it is.”
Meanwhile, leg shaking, hair playing, pen clicking, teeth sucking and clock watching never make a great impression, adds Whaley.
Don’t arrive unprepared
According to Phipps, one of the best ways to avoid nerves tripping you up is to prepare before the interview.
“Practise, practise, practise with a friend or family members and get their feedback on how they perceive you,” he says. Video yourself to see how you come across or sit in front of a mirror and notice what is going on with your body as you engage with others. “You’ll be surprised at just what you do that you don’t realise, as most of our body language is unconscious,” he explains.
Don’t stress yourself out unnecessarily by arriving late. “Unless you want to arrive at the interview breathless, red-faced and in an emotional frenzy, leave lots of time to get there,” says Kingsley.
Plan to arrive early and go for a coffee. “With time to spare you can do some deep breathing to calm your nerves, check you’re looking the way you want to, and visualise yourself as conveying strength, confidence and power,” she adds.
“Remember, great actors use their bodies to give a convincing performance; act the part and you’ll feel the part.”