Want to ace your next job interview? Take control of your body language!

“How to ace a job interview?” Recruitment specialists, when asked this question, talk a lot about how candidates should look, speak, and carry themselves. HOW you say it seems to be as important as WHAT you say. Have you ever wondered WHY?

When we interact with other people, we communicate via two channels, a verbal and a nonverbal one. By conservative estimates, our nonverbal cues — posture, eye contact, gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice — account for 60% of all communication.

The nonverbal channel is always on, broadcasting in real time about our emotions, attitudes and levels of confidence. What if it tells a different story than your words? Study after study shows that if our verbal message and our body language collide, people always believe what they see, not what they hear.

To make the right impression and land that dream job, you need to take control of both your verbal message and your body language. Here is how.

BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

Get into the zone

When I ask people how they would like to come across in an interview, they always say: confident. That’s easier said than done when your heart is racing, your hands are shaking, and your stomach is in knots from stress. Can you do something to boost your confidence before you walk through that door? The answer is yes.

A high stakes event like an interview always creates an adrenaline rush. To get rid of the nerves, do something physical. A few stretches, jumps or dance movements will do the trick. They will send the “ready” signal to your brain and prepare you for meeting your interviewers. All public performers — actors, speakers, athletes — have powerful confidence boosting routines. Just like a theatre play, an interview is, let’s face it, a performance. Warm up before you get up on stage.

Another way of boosting your confidence is to recall your powerful moments. In a study run by researchers from the New York University and Columbia University, participants who wrote about a time when they held power over other people were more likely be seen as influential during a group-work task. You can use the same strategy in a job interview: before the start of the meeting, think of a time you acted like a leader at work.

Clothes and grooming

Clothes and grooming begin to tell a tale about us before we say hello and introduce ourselves. They make a strong visual statement about how we see ourselves and how much importance we attach to the situation and people around us.

Clothing has an effect on both the wearer and the observer. On the one hand, a well tailored suit or dress will make you look more professional and competent in the eyes of the interviewer. On the other hand, it will make you feel more confident. When we are dressed to impress, we walk differently, we talk differently, we think differently about ourselves.

Dress to fit in

If you dress according to the environment, you will help the interviewer imagine you as a potential member of their team. That said, if you apply for a position with a start-up company where everyone is super casual, don’t turn up in shorts and flip flops. Dress according to the environment, but always look polished.

Don’t distract the interviewer

Eccentric ties, garish patterns and costume jewellery can cause the interviewer to spend more time checking out your outfit than analysing your professional skills. Your best bet for an interview are solids and small patterns.

Pay attention to grooming

Make sure that your shoes are polished, clothes are well-pressed and nails are manicured. Obvious? Not according to recruitment specialists who regularly complain about candidates who turn up looking like they’ve just rolled out of bed, on a bad day.

Match the colour of your outfit to the image you want to project

A Career Builder survey found that different clothing colors influence the impressions candidates make on hiring managers and HR professionals.

Twenty-three percent of interviewers recommended wearing blue, which suggests that the candidate is a team player, while 15% recommended black, which indicates leadership potential. Meanwhile, 25% said orange is the worst color to wear, and suggests that the candidate is unprofessional.

The wait

Remember that, while you wait for your interviewer to arrive, you might be observed by potential future co-workers. In the waiting area, sit upright, all the way in the chair. Confidence is about territory. And the more space you take up the more confident you look. Up to a point, that is, beyond which you will look arrogant.

When you sit down to wait, place your briefcase or purse to the left side of your chair. It will make things less awkward when you have to stand up to shake the interviewer’s hand and pick up your stuff.

THE INTERVIEW KICKOFF

The handshake

Touch is the the most basic form of communication, and the quickest way to connect with others. Always start an interview by shaking hands with the interviewer to create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

A study carried out by researchers from the University of Illinois found that people rate others much higher on competence, interest in doing business, and trustworthiness if they shake hands before getting down to business.

Here is how to get your handshake right:

  • Face the other person square on to give them your full attention.
  • Keep eye contact when offering your hand as a sign of respect and confidence.
  • Offer your hand in a vertical position. A handshake is all about equality. Offering your hand palm up is a sign of submissiveness and palm up — dominance.
  • Have palm to palm, web to web contact.
  • Give the same pressure you receive.
  • Smile!
  • When you break eye contact, don’t look down (it’s a submission signal). Rather, keep your head up and move your eyes to the side.

The walk

The way we walk, the energy and the speed, all reveal our emotional state. They show if we are alert and enthusiastic or lazy and indifferent. And they show if we care about time — ours and other people’s — a quality essential in the high-paced working environment of today.

As we walk, other people can check out our manners and habits, such as opening the door for others, good eye contact with strangers, and so on.

When you walk, take long purposeful strides, at a measured pace. Let your arms sway freely along your sides. Keep your back straight, hold your head level, and look ahead.

DURING THE INTERVIEW

Sitting posture

Sit upright, all the way back in the chair, with your arms on the arm rests, to project an image of competence, confidence and credibility. If you perch on the edge of the chair, the interviewer will think you lack confidence and self-assurance. Lounging back in your chair, on the other hand, might be read as a sign of arrogance, disinterest, or disengagement.

Hand gestures

Show your palms

Our brain is hardwired to notice and respond to open hand gestures. In “The Definitive Book of Body Language”, Barbara and Allan Pease explain that an open palm has been linked to “truth, honesty, alleigance, and submission” throughout Western history. “Humans use their palms to show that they are unarmed and therefore not a threat”. Open hands signal trust, openness and honesty. Never hide your hands under the desk. Always keep them visible to the interviewer.

Use meaningful gestures

Your gestures should be meaningful. They should illustrate or emphasise what you are saying. Meaningful gestures will help the interviewer better understand and remember more — up to 40% — of your conversation. So when you, for example, list things or ideas, you could illustrate it by going 1–2–3 on your fingers. Or when you make a point, you can do the “cherrypicking” gesture, to indicate that you’re saying something important.

Stay within the box

Your gestures should be controlled and measured. Imagine you have a little box in front of you. It starts at your chest and ends at your waist. Try to stay within this box. Jazz hands will make you seem out of control whereas low hand gestures will make you seem weak and insecure.

Speak expressively

A study conducted in 2011 at the University of Michigan looked into how various speech characteristics influenced people’s decisions to participate in phone surveys. Researchers found that what mattered was tone, pause and pace. Low, relaxed, measured voices made the most impact on listeners. Pauses were found to matter most of all. The most influential speakers paused regularly and naturally. To project more confidence through your voice, try this:

  • Speak in a low tone. Low vocal tone exudes confidence and authority.
  • Avoid question inflection, or upspeak, especially when you introduce yourself. This makes it sound like you doubt what you are saying.
  • Vary the pitch and volume of your voice depending on what you are saying. If you use the same pitch and volume, you will sound boring, disinterested and disengaged.
  • Lose filler words, all those „ums” and „urs” and „sos”. They show your insecurity by giving away the fact that you are not comfortable with a pause. Embrace the pause. Don’t fill it.

Keep good eye contact

In a study run by Northeastern University researchers asked participants to watch videos of strangers talking to each other for the first time and then rate their intelligence. Results showed that the people who consistently made eye contact while speaking were considered more intelligent than those who didn’t.

Keeping eye contact with the interviewer will allow you not only to make a good impression but also show that you’re paying attention and engaging with the situation.

If there is more than one interviewer in the room, be sure to make eye contact with all of them. Address the person who asked the question, then hold eye contact with the other interviewer for a few seconds, before returning your attention to the first interviewer. You never know who’s making the final hiring decision. It might well be the person who sits there quietly and looks on.

Smile, but not too much

According to the latest research, for certain professions, smiling too much can undermine your success in a job interview.

In a study run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Northeastern University, and the University of Lausanne, researchers asked college students to role-play job interviews. They found that students who played candidates for leadership positions were less likely to get the hypothetical job when they smiled. In the same study, the researchers found that those applying for positions in sales and customer support increased their chances of getting hired when they smiled.

To sum up, if you go for a salesperson job, put a broad smile on your face, but if you’re after a managerial position, smile only when you have good reason for it.

Nod occasionally

Aside from keeping eye and face contact, nodding your head while listening is an additional way to show attentiveness. When you nod your head, you let the interviewer know that you understand what is being said and that you enjoy the conversation. Don’t go overboard with head nods, though. Excessive nodding is a sign of nervousness and can be interpreted as submissive.

Lean in

When we are engaged in a conversation, we naturally lean towards the person we are speaking to. Lean slightly forward to demonstrate interest but remember to respect the other person’s personal space. A personal space is a zone that we like to keep around ourselves. And we feel uncomfortable — or even threatened — when someone tries to invade this territory. That’s why you should give ample space to others and avoid crowding them at the table.

Mind your resting face

Resting face is the face we all make when we’re not talking to anyone and we’re just sitting there… waiting, drinking coffee or reading and we forget people are looking at us. The problem is that some of us are afflicted with what even psychologists now call a “bitchy resting face”. It’s a facial expression which unintentionally appears angry, annoyed or irritated. The BRF syndrome has been found to have a negative effect on how others see us. So when you’re in an interview, “just sitting there”, ALWAYS have a relaxed, pleasant look on your face.

Leave your mark

Don’t leave the interview in a hurry. But don’t linger on either. Get up with your interviewer and gather your belongings without rushing. If the interviewer is holding the door for you, thank them. If you’re leaving the room first, hold the door open for the interviewer. Exit the way you entered: shake hands confidently, smile, and say your goodbyes.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In a job interview, you want to present yourself as a confident, competent, and likeable person. Remember, for the interviewer the stakes are as high as they are for you. They want to be 100% sure that, if they hire you, you will not only do a good job but also fit in with the rest of the team. Strive to send a consistent message by making sure that your body tells the same story as your words.

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