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Interview body language dos and don’ts

1

You’ve spent hours rehearsing answers to possible interview questions and preparing what to ask at the end – but have you given a thought to your body language?

It takes just seconds for an interviewer to make judgments about a candidate – often before they even speak.

‘Human beings use many channels of communication to express themselves,’ explains Susan Quilliam, a business and personal coach and author of “Body Language”.

‘In the past, it was thought that verbal channels were the most important – i.e., what a person expresses in words and writing – but in recent years the study of non-verbal communication has made some interesting discoveries.

‘We now know that humans are highly skilled at reading each other’s body language to understand what a person is thinking and feeling, and that we do this subconsciously.’

In fact, experts estimate that 93 per cent of the information we receive about any situation comes non-verbally rather than verbally.

‘We make our initial judgments about a person based almost entirely on their body language in as little as 20 seconds,’ adds Susan.

In an interview situation, those seconds could have a major impact on your future.

Make eye contact

You’ll want to establish rapport with the interviewer as quickly as possible – and eye contact, along with a warm smile, is one of the best ways to make a connection.

‘Good eye contact tells your interviewer that you are confident enough to – literally – look them in the eye. It also creates a relationship between you, albeit temporarily, that makes them more sympathetic to you,’ says Susan.

While that may sound simple enough, getting it right isn’t always easy. The difference between just enough and too much can be subtle.

‘Hold eye contact too strongly or for too long and it can seem threatening,’ explains Susan.

‘Instead, look towards the interviewer’s eyes for a while, then away – focusing on their mouth as they speak rather than staring into their eyes.’

Don’t forget to smile either. If you’re feeling anxious you’re likely to frown, but a smile – even a nervous one – can help to get things off to a friendly start.

The hand shake

While most body language cues are interpreted subconsciously, the hand shake is a physical contact that the interview is likely to remember.

Confidence is key here – a limp handshake or a barely-there connection can be awkward, so take the offered hand confidently. While it should be firm, avoid a crushing pressure.

Few of us shake hands every day – if you’re not confident, enlist the help of friends to feedback on your handshake and practice until it comes naturally.

Take a seat…

Once the introductions and small talk is over, you’ll be invited to take a seat – here again, body language matters.

‘When you sit down, face your interviewer directly then angle yourself ever so slightly. Sitting opposite them shows you’re confident and honest, while positioning yourself at a slight angle avoids coming across as confrontational,’ explains Susan.

‘And try to avoid any positions that may seem even unconsciously sexual – crossed legs in a short skirt for her or open legs for him.’

Many candidates make the mistake of concentrating too hard on what they want to get across – rather than listening to what’s being asked. Paying attention – and demonstrating that through your body language – can help in more ways than one.

‘A slight tilt of the head as the interviewer talks will let them feel listened to and taken seriously – while some (but not too many gestures) as you talk will help them focus and pay more attention to what you’re saying,’ says Susan.

Sitting upright and leaning in slightly will also signal that you’re interested in what’s being said.

‘While it’s not a good idea to spend your interview grinning broadly, try to avoid scowling or frowning. An interviewer – like all other human beings – wants to feel you are friendly, so smiling appropriately at their comments, as well as nodding when you agree, will help them warm to you,’ adds Susan.

Mirror with confidence

A more advanced form of building rapport is to use the mirroring technique – where you deliberately match your body language to that of the other person.

‘There’s a lot been written about the importance of “mirroring” gesture and expression as a way to build rapport quickly. It does work, but only when it’s genuinely a sign that you are in tune with your interviewer; mirror as a deliberate strategy and any experienced interviewer will spot your intention and mark you down,’ warns Susan.

‘A better and more subtle way is to relax, soften your body language, and observe your interviewer, allowing yourself to follow their posture, gesture and expression naturally as you feel more in tune with them. 

Body language beyond the interview

Improving your awareness of body language doesn’t just help during the interview – it can also prove useful throughout the rest of your career.

‘You can use your own body language to create rapport and cooperation in others by making sure that you are “in step” with them.

‘For example, a stressful meeting can often be de-stressed by pitching your voice tone to match others – then when you’ve got their attention, gradually lowering the volume of what you are saying to calm the atmosphere.’

While knowledge of body language can be useful for spotting what people are thinking and feeling, Susan is keen to point out that there are no “rules”.

‘You can’t say one signal means one thing, such as crossed arms and defensiveness – it could be that someone is crossing their arms to keep warm in a cold room. But if you know that a colleague usually does cross his arms when he’s defensive, remember that signal and – if you see it – act to defuse the situation.’

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