The Importance of Body Language

  | James Innes

The role of body language during a job interview is little understood, yet can have a vital bearing on whether you will be successful in your job search or not. Many HR experts agree that body language accounts for 93% of messages you send out during the interview. That means only 7% of the message you convey comes out of your mouth! The conclusion is clear – you need to get your non-verbal communication right if you want to impress a potential employer.

Recruiters are trained to make informed assessments of candidates, based not only on how they communicate verbally but on how they communicate physically. Even if your interviewer has received no formal training, they are going to be inherently sensitive to certain nuances of body language – just like the rest of us. It’s instinctive.

There are a number of positive actions that you can use to your advantage in an interview situation:

Make and maintain eye contact – without actually staring! Eye contact is essential when trying to convey trust and confidence but should not be overdone as it can come across as aggressive.

Shake hands firmly – but not to the extent that first aid is required! Seriously, shake someone’s hand too firmly and it can imply arrogance and if you deliver a weak handshake it can suggest weakness. This is not just an old wives’ tale – it’s true. In surveys, recruiters regularly cite getting the handshake wrong as an immediate turn-off.

Keep your chin up (literally and metaphorically!) – smile with open lips and tilt your head slightly to show that you are attentive.

Maintain a good posture once you are seated. Sitting upright suggests you are comfortable and confident. Hunching down indicates you are nervous or lacking in confidence, whilst a sloppy posture gives the impression that you are a careless person.

Place your hands with your fingertips touching together – which, believe it or not, helps to convey a sense of authority. Just don’t overdo it because it’s become quite a well-known technique!

Remember to smile: Smile at someone and the chances are that they will smile back. It’s human nature; it’s a built-in reflex that we have, enabling us to immediately communicate our friendly and peaceful intentions – even at a distance. At certain moments during your interview, a big smile is called for – most particularly when you first meet and when you depart. However, you should try to keep a small smile lingering around your lips right the way through the interview – even if the going gets tough. It will definitely have a positive effect on your interviewer’s perception of you (firmly proved by psychologists) and you will even feel more positive yourself.

 There are, of course, an equal number of negative actions, some of which are obvious – such as picking your nails or nose – and others less so.

For example:

Crossing your arms implies defensiveness;

Feet tapping, playing with your pen, looking down, slouching suggests boredom.

Fidgeting, thumb-twiddling, playing with your hair infers nervousness

Postures such as hands on hips and pointing or wagging your index finger connote aggressiveness

The interviewer’s own body language can give you some insight into what they think of what you are saying – for example, if they’re getting bored! You can then react to that, for example by changing the subject fast!

An expert trick is to copy certain aspects of someone’s body language. Imitating someone else’s body language can have a positive subconscious effect on their impression of you. The theory is that they will feel that you are on the same wavelength as them and automatically become better disposed towards you. You should try to be subtle about it, of course – and avoid copying any negative behaviour! Of course, this is easier said than done, especially during the stress of an interview – but if you can master the technique it may give you a significant advantage.

Body language is fundamental to any interview process. You must at all times project a confident and respectful demeanour, not through words alone, but subtly through your body language.

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