Don’t let your body language trip you up in your next job interview

Let’s face it. An interview is pure performance. And every move matters. Your challenge? To confirm the stunning impression you made on paper. Here are 10 body language no-nos that may undermine your stellar credentials

Don’t: Rush like a runaway train

When the stakes are high, we often pick up the pace, and start speaking faster and faster. As if to make sure we can get our message across before someone more important interrupts us. This signals lack of confidence. So slow down. And embrace the pause. Give yourself time to think of what to say next. Let the interviewer reflect on what you’ve said. Slower pace and occasional pauses will give more weight to your words.

Don’t: Make yourself small

When we are nervous, we tend to “sit small”, with our arms inside the arm rests. Many people do it in the reception area — hunched over the phone on a low chair or sofa — waiting for the interviewer to arrive. This sends a message of weakness and low confidence. You should always sit straight, all the way back in the chair, with your arms on the arm rests and your feet planted on the floor.

Don’t: Touch yourself

Sounds weird. I know. Who would do that in an interview? Answer: many — if not most — of us. Whenever we are nervous, we touch, stroke, rub and massage different parts of our body, mainly the neck, the hands and the face, to calm ourselves down. Self-touch floods us with oxytocin and feel-good endorphins. It helps us to relax but, at the same time, makes us look insecure and nervous. In your next interview, keep your hands away from your body. Use them to emphasise or illustrate the points you make, the way you do when you talk with your friends.

Don’t: Use question inflection

“Hello. My name is Sam?” Going up at the end of the sentence makes it sound like you doubt what you are saying. Make sure that your voice stays strong until the end of each sentence. “Hello. My name is Sam.” Say it, don’t ask!

Don’t: Hide your hands

We are hardwired to look out for people’s hands to assess their intentions. Why? Throughout evolution, the human brain learnt — often the hard way — that other people’s hands may be dangerous. If hands were concealed, they could carry a stone, a knife or another weapon. They could do us harm. That’s why, even today, we instinctively mistrust people who keep their hands out of sight. So don’t hide your hands under the desk, in your pockets or behind your back. Keep them visible to the interviewer to show that they can trust you.

Don’t: Fidget

Tapping your fingertips on the arm rest, playing with your jewlery, and jiggling your leg up or down are all signs of boredom and impatience. They will make the interviewer wonder why you bothered to come to the interview at all. Take a deep breath and embrace stillness.

Don’t: Encroach on the interviewer’s territory

People mark their territory by spreading their belongings about. You can see such territorial displays in meeting rooms and boardrooms. High status individuals always claim more space — with their laptops, coffee mugs, documents — at the expense of others. In an interview, you need show deference to the interviewer who, in this moment, has more status that you do and will not appreciate your trespassing. Also, be mindful of the interviewer’s personal space. Don’t stand too close or lean too far over the table. This could crowd the interviewer and make them feel uncomfortable.

Don’t: Avoid eye contact

Looking down while speaking suggests timidity and insecurity. It weakens you in the eyes of the interviewer. Looking away, on the other hand, signals lack of interest or concentration. That doesn’t mean to say you should stare at the interviewer (creepy!). We all look away to reflect on what the other person has said or to think of how to respond. Try to keep steady eye contact 60–70% of the time on average.

Don’t: Look down your nose at the interviewer

Holding your nose up is a high-confidence non-verbal tell. It can also signal contempt (for example when we hear a question that we think is beneath us) and arrogance (when we feel superior to another person). Keep your head level to signal self-confidence but also show respect for the interviewer.

Don’t: Smile too much

Smile is the ultimate social glue: it helps us make friends, solve conflicts, and influence people. But smile, in its origin, is a submissive gesture. A human equivalent of a dog exposing the soft underbelly to the stronger rival. We smile to appease. We smile to get other people to like us. We smile to signal that we don’t pose a threat. Too much smiling for no reason is not a good idea, because it will undermine your credibility. Especially if you apply for executive positions. So smile but only when it happens naturally.

You might have noticed that most of the don’ts are the nonverbal signals of low confidence. And that’s the last thing you want to project in a job interview. Why? Because confidence is often equated with competence. You need to come across as confident to show the interviewer that you know your stuff.

However, confidence alone won’t cut it. To convince the interviewer that you’re the best candidate for the job, you also need to show warmth. People want to feel a connection with other people. And, at least for now, it’s people who hire people. So you need to show that you are likeable, friendly, and approachable. A great person to work with.

How to show it nonverbally? You signal confidence by your upright posture, purposeful movements, slower pace of speaking, and command of physical space. Warmth, on the other hand, is communicated by open body postures, palm-up hand gestures, positive eye contact, and occasional head nods and smiles. To build rapport and trust, you need to balance confidence with warmth. And drop the nonverbal cues that clash with them. Good luck with your next job interview!

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