How to Use Body Language to Help Ace a Job Interview
You’ve prepped well for your job interview: your resume is in top shape, you’ve researched the company and you have answers ready for all the most common questions. But what about your body language? In turns out that when it comes to job interviews, there’s a lot of truth in the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.”
“Our words are only one way we communicate,” said emotional intelligence expert and speaker Harvey Deutschendorf. “Our bodies convey our thoughts and feelings and send messages that others pick up to make judgements about us. It’s crucial to our success in all areas of life that we become aware of the messages our body language sends to others. By focusing on what our bodies are saying, we can ensure we send a complete message to make the desired impact.”
Most people have little body language quirks they’ve been using in conversations for years, but aren’t even aware of them. And in a stressful environment like a job interview, these can be magnified. But you can unlearn bad habits by making a conscious effort to be more aware of them when you speak to others. “Like any other habit, it comes down to practicing until it becomes natural,” said Deutschendorf.
Here are 15 ways you can use body language to help land your dream job.
Have a Firm Handshake
Your first contact with an interviewer is likely to be a handshake, so it’s an integral part of making a first impression. “People automatically make judgements about us based on the firmness of our handshakes,” Deutschendorf said. “A limp, weak handshake leaves a negative impression, suggesting that the person lacks confidence and interest. At the other end of the scale, a bone-crushing handshake sends a red flag; that the person is aggressive or needs to be dominant.”
According to Dr. Dustin York, Director of Undergraduate and Graduate Communication at Maryville University, the perfect handshake is made vertically — don’t put your hand on top of the interviewer’s — and make eye contact when you shake. “Shake a woman’s hand the same as you would shake a man’s, and firm your hand before the shake to stop it from getting crushed,” Dr. York said.
Be Aware of Personal Space
The amount of space a person is comfortable with varies from culture to culture, but in general, don’t stand too close to your interviewer, as this could make them uncomfortable, or even come across as aggressive, says Deutschendorf. Equally, standing too far away from the interviewer can signal that you’re uncomfortable with them, or lack confidence in yourself.
Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience actually determined how close is too close when you stand next to someone, based on when people start to feel threatened. Apparently, that invisible boundary is between eight and 16 inches from your face, with people with anxiety requiring more personal space.
Square Your Body During Conversation
Small body movements during an interview can send important messages. For example, turning away from your interviewer indicates that you’re uncomfortable, distrustful of that person, or not engaged or interested. To avoid this, make sure you’re facing the interviewer and square your body. “Keep your shoulders parallel, and lean toward the interviewer slightly to make it clear you’re giving them your undivided attention,” Deutschendorf said.
Dr. York recommends playing the “lava game” when you’re sitting down. For example, don’t let your back touch the back of the chair. “This forces you to sit only on the front half, either straight up or slightly forward,” he says. “People like others less if they are leaning away, which tends to happen if you sit all the way back in a chair.”
Use Power Positions
Sitting and standing up straight aren’t just good for your posture. These so-called “power positions” tell the other person that you are confident and have self-respect, says Deutschendorf. In a job interview, these positions tell the interviewer that you value the conversation and are interested in what they’re saying.
On the other hand, slouching indicates a lack of interest, both in what they’re saying and how they perceive you. “It can also be a sign of a lack of self-esteem,” Deutschendorf said.
Make Appropriate Eye Contact
If you only remember one body language tip for your job interview, it’s to maintain eye the right amount of eye contact. “A lack of eye contact can make it seem as if you have something to hide,” Deutschendorf said. “It can also be an indicator of a lack of interest or self-confidence, and looking down when you speak can be a sign of self-consciousness. On the other hand, intense, sustained eye contact can be seen as being aggressive or wanting to dominate.”
Deutschendorf recommends maintaining eye contact for a few seconds, then glancing to the side for a few seconds, keeping the conversation focused and respectful to the other person at all times. “It’s important to glance to the side instead of the floor as this may be perceived as a lack of self regard.” he said. “And never roll your eyes, as this communicates a lack of respect.”
Keep a Friendly Facial Expression
A natural smile is always the best facial expression during a job interview, as this helps people warm to you. But if smiling doesn’t come naturally, don’t force it. “A smile that looks forced may arouse suspicion and make the other person question your sincerity,” Deutschendorf said. “In this case, a neutral, pleasant expression is a better option.”
Basically, you want to strike a balance between being friendly and respectful. “A scowl or expression that is too severe can convey hostility, causing defensiveness and discomfort in the other person,” Deutschendorf said.
It’s hard to give a good overall impression through body language if you’re weighed down by luggage. If you’ve travelled a long distance to an interview, you may have a suitcase or other baggage. “How you manage your overall appearance contributes to your interviewer’s perception of you,” said body language expert and interview technique coach Nick H. Kamboj. Try to keep baggage to a minimum. Leave it with the hotel concierge or in a locker until after your interview.
Manage Your Clothes
You can apply Kamboj’s advice to your clothes, too. If you’re prone to nervous fidgeting, don’t wear anything that can be played with, like a scarf, a long necklace, or a top with sleeves that come down beyond your wrists.
Keep Your Hands in Plain Sight
Your hand gestures speak volumes, and if you use them to your advantage, they can help you have a positive interview experience. We use hand gestures frequently throughout our daily communications to express emotions, emphasize certain points and warn of impending dangers,” Kamboj said. “As such, our hands provide insight into what we are thinking.”
Try to make all hand gestures in plain sight of the interviewer, above the table or any other object that separates you from them. “When we do something wrong or have been deceptive in any way, we frequently hide our hands from the person we have deceived,” Kamboj said. “Research has found that when a person expresses their sentiments with their hands in plain sight, they resonate more positively with the interviewer and are perceived more genuinely and favorably than candidates who communicate with hidden hand gestures.”
Don’t Use the High Steeple
The “high steeple” hand gesture, which is associated with confidence and experience, is frequently used by professors, world leaders and expert witnesses in litigation proceedings. To make this gesture, you bring your hands together at the fingertips with each of the fingers spread to form the shape of a roof of a house. Keeping both hands connected in this way, you then slowly move them closer to your chin or your nose.
“This results in an air of authority,” Kamboj said. “However, it should not be used during an interview unless you are a mature applicant with many years of work experience. It could come across as arrogant instead of confident — in this case, there is a fine line and it’s best to err on the side of caution.”
Use the Middle Steeple Sparingly
The middle steeple gesture is identical to the high steeple gesture, except it is positioned toward the sternum or middle of your chest. “The general rule of thumb is that the lower the steeple gesture, the less confidence it displays,” Kamboj said. “Accordingly, the middle steeple demonstrates average confidence and the low steeple demonstrates the lowest confidence.”
Kamboj recommends using the middle steeple gesture only occasionally during an interview, and only when making a significant or serious point. “It shows thought and prudence as opposed to callousness or arrogance,” he said. “It also tells the interviewer that what you are about to say is sincere, and that you have confidence and humility.” From the middle steeple positions, he suggests opening your hands with your palms facing outward and moving your arms in a gently outward manner. “This emphasizes the sincerity of your statement,” he said.
Avoid the Low Steeple
The low steeple gesture is identical to the high and middle steeple gestures, but your hands are placed almost on your lap, which means they are below the table in a typical interview scenario — in itself not a good interview move.
“Never use this gesture during an interview,” Kamboj said. “It’s more appropriate in a personal situation, for example when apologizing to a loved one; when done effectively, the low steeple can demonstrate extreme humility and sincerity. But in the wrong scenario, it can communicate very low confidence.”
Display Open Palms
The palms are powerful players when it comes to body language. “Historically, open palms have communicated that the person is not hiding a concealed weapon or something malicious,” Kamboj said. “This means the listener is more likely to trust a person with open palms. During an interview, if you feel that the interviewer doesn’t believe what you are saying or seems to be sceptical, immediately display open palms.”
For best results, Kamboj suggests using the open palms gesture with your arms widely separated. “The combination of open palms and an exposed torso sends your interviewer the subtle message that you are completely exposed to an attack and that you trust them not to retaliate,” he said. “If the interviewer is objective and fair, the context of the interview should change to one of increased trust. However, if the interviewer has already made up their mind, it may take a little more effort to gain their trust.”
Don't Cross Your Arms
Aside from your face and your hands, your arms can reveal a lot about your personality, intentions and level of engagement during an interview. It’s crucial that you communicate with your arms separated, which means never crossing them across your body, or even touching them. “If you cross your arms during an interview, it immediately communicates to the interviewer that you are closed to open discussion, and give the impression of a negative position towards the interviewer as well as the interview itself,” Kamboj said.
Mirror the Interviewer
“Mirroring” is a well-known body language technique. It basically involves copying the body language of the other person in order to bond and build understanding. “Car sales people do this all the time,” said Dr. York. “The idea is that people will think, ‘People who sit, stand and walk like me, remind me of me. I like me, so I’ll like you more.’”
You may not even be aware that you use this technique, or that other people use it on you, as it can be very subtle. Smiling is an instinctive type of mirroring body language — most of the time, seeing someone smile makes you want to smile too. However, it’s not advisable to mirror everything movement your interviewer makes, as this will quickly become obvious and come across as forced and insincere.